Conversion Optimization: The Holy Grail of Marketing

The market is always moving. When the Internet took off, the immediate goal was to build a website but it was then just an adjunct to the bricks and mortar store(s). Over time and particularly after Amazon took off, people realized that it was possible to operate without bricks and mortar completely, if enough people found and used the website. There was a lot of effort to make the websites easy to use, to load complete catalogues of inventory and tie sales back to inventory, and some websites even built a virtual model of people so that they could “try” on articles before buying.

All that was good but the key was if people could find the website when they searched. Search Engine Optimization became the next big thing. Google was the default search engine then and, even though they didn’t disclose the algorithms used, people were able to reverse engineer the websites depending on where they showed up in a search. The goal is to be on the first page – and near the top – as survey after survey revealed that the nature of people is to ignore the millions of hits to a search. The most relevant are usually on the first page, and if they aren’t, the people just rewrote the search. It took too long to search all of the hits otherwise. A side effect is that websites “landing” site are built to load quickly, due to people’s impatience with the slower loading sites. This also led to faster and faster data transmission and the phone companies built faster and faster transmission methods. And the hardware companies built phones, tablets, and laptops to take advantage of them – because most search is done on mobile devices.

So what is the next big thing? You have a website that loads quickly and is optimized to be found and ranked high by search engines, still mostly Google but Bing is catching up. Now you want to convert looks to sales. Conversion optimization is what you want and you want it to be as high as feasible. But, how do you do that?

All good salespeople work very hard at conversion optimization. They read body signals, try trial closes, move from interest to “owning” (see how Buick is offering 24 hour test drives. After 24 hours people think of it as theirs!), and even baldly ask questions such as, “What would it take for you to take this home today?” It is not so easy to do that through such an impersonal means as a website.

Jeremy Smith wrote an article on Marketing Land on September 3, 2015 that sheds light on this subject. It turns out that the best techniques aren’t using such minor tactics as button size or colors – they are really based on psychological factors of human decision-making. One of these is labeled as mere-exposure effect. In very simple terms this means that people generally prefer things with which they are most familiar. This is then also called the familiarity effect. And, most importantly, the mere-exposure effect builds dramatically based on the number of exposures or interactions between the subject and object.

There have been numerous studies, monographs, and papers on this subject. The late Robert Zajonc, a 20th century psychologist, was justly renowned for his research on this subject. He tested both verbal and auditory exposure and found that even when the objects were completely made-up nonsense, the more exposure the subjects had to them the more they liked them. This mere-exposure effect even works on animals. If certain frequencies and sounds are played to chicks before they are born, while they are still in the egg!, they prefer those frequencies and sounds when they hatch.

If mere-exposure effect has this effect, how can you make use of it?

1. Make your website look like other sites. Although we claim to value originality and independence, familiarity breeds acceptance. Notice how even the teenage rebels all look and dress alike? So, if your website layout and look doesn’t differ dramatically from other websites with similar offerings, it is accepted. In particular, features like “Buy” or “Checkout” buttons must be placed in similar locations and look the same as others. People don’t like change!

2. Mere-exposure of your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) increases the conversion optimization. A corollary to this is that you must understand your target audience as well as possible. There is no substitute for perceptive observation. Once you do, feature your USP, show your USP, talk about your USP, and display your USP to them over and over. Remember, familiarity fosters acceptance. Hollywood PR agents say, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” They understand this phenomenon viscerally.

3. Evaluate the effect of the mere-exposure on your target audience. There are infinite subgroups and niches and you want to maximize the effect on your selected demographic. For example, millennials are going to react much differently than baby boomers. Which one do you want as your audience?

4. Observing the mere-exposure effect is a cost-effective and valid way of cross-checking the conclusions of big data. There are discrepancies if you market on more than a few social media sites. Observation helps validate the data. In the words of the article, “When you define psychographic data to the extent of intuiting the mere-exposure effect, you’ve gained a powerful conversion optimization advantage.”

5. Study of the mere-exposure effect will reveal things the analytics can’t. Odd but true – the way people react when they are on a mobile device differs significantly from how they are on a home PC. In fact, if possible you should segregate the data from mobile searches from those from static devices. There are limitations to big data analytics due to the way they handle data processing, access, and collection. While familiarity fosters acceptance, too much “breeds contempt.” People just tire of the ads.

6. Your presence must be ubiquitous to foster conversion. There is a marketing rule of thumb that says people don’t even register your advertising until they have seen it seven times. And, there are innumerable other ads competing for their attention. To counter, you must do whatever is possible and feasible to make your advertising exposed in as many locations as you can.

Matthew Santos

About Matthew Santos

Matthew is one of our SEO leads at Foxtail. He brings the grit that allowed him to play D1 football to the office every day.

Foxtail Marketing is a digital marketing firm that provides content marketing, digital marketing, and lead generation services for small and mid-market companies.

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