a:b testing your newslettersEarlier this year, I’ve written a few posts on email marketing. In those posts I’ve also mentioned that doing A/B testing for your newsletters (or other forms of email marketing) are a must. However, there are a lot of things you can test, so what should you be focussing on?

In this post I’ll try to answer that question by explaining what you can test. I won’t go into detail of testing examples, but I will tell you what you should pay attention to when testing.

Subject line

With most email campaign tools, you’ll have the possibility to test the subject line. This means you’ll be able to give your newsletter a number of different subject lines. If you have 2 different subject lines, ordinarily 50% of your newsletter list gets the first variation, and the other 50% gets the other variation.

Testing your subject lines is really only good for testing your open rate and not your click rate. The subject line won’t affect your click rate, since it doesn’t affect anything within the body of the email you’re sending. That being said, testing your subject lines is still very important, as you actually want as much people as possible to read what you’ve sent them, right?

One set of rules that our friend Jordie van Rijn (a great email marketer) taught us and has helped us since is C.U.R.V.E:

  • Curiosity: try to pique the readers’ interest by asking them a question.
  • Urgency: create urgency by having limited time offers or offering things that need to be done now.
  • Relevance: Make sure you’re putting the content that’s most relevant to your audience in your subject.
  • Value: Convey the value of the newsletter by offering something exclusive (this can be an exclusive product offer, but also exclusive content).
  • Emotion: Use punctuation, such as exclamation marks, to elicit emotional responses from your readers.

From name

Another thing you can almost always test, is your from name. This is exactly what it says: the name that shows from whom the emails are coming:

Inbox – thijs yoast com


This is, again, something that will only have an effect on your open rate. However, this is one that people tend to forget about, because it’s such a small thing to change. However, the from name can actually be pretty important. This will be the first thing people will see when your email arrives, so it had better be good. Testing this will make sure it is.

Send time

I’m not sure whether all email campaign tools offer this A/B testing option, but MailChimp does. You can test what send time (MailChimp calls this “delivery time”) works best for your audience. You need to do some work here beforehand though, because you’ll be setting the time the variations go out yourself.

So try to find out when most of your emails are opened or at least when most of your audience is awake. Especially if your emails go to an international group of people, like ours, this might be a good thing to test. Sending your emails at the right time can actually make sure more people see it and pay attention to it.


This is the big one. This is where you can go all-out and test basically anything you like. Everything within the content section of your email can be tested, and that’s a lot. You have to really think about what you want to test and treat these A/B tests as you would any other. I’ve written a post which will explain this: Hypothesize first, then test.

I always prefer to begin with this one, because this one is as late in the readers process as possible. This is my personal preference, because I just don’t like the idea of optimizing a part of the process (say, the subject) when what they see next (such as your email’s content) will undo all the optimization you did before.

Just a few ideas of what you could think about when wanting to test your email’s content:

  • Your email’s header;
  • An index summarizing your email;
  • More (or less) images;
  • Different tone of voice;
  • More buttons instead of text links;
  • More ideas on Jordie’s blog.

Before testing

When you start testing, most email campaign tools will offer you two options:

  • send your variations to your complete list, or
  • send your variations to a percentage of that list, declare a winner and then send the winner to the remaining people who haven’t received a newsletter yet.

I’d strongly urge you to use the first option. Let me tell you why. First of all, sending multiple variations to just a sample of your list means that you’re cutting down on “respondents”. You’ll have less data than when you send it to the complete list.

However, if your list is big enough, this probably won’t matter much. The reason I’d still choose the first option is that the winning variation gets sent out hours (or days) later. Especially for newsletters this can be quite crucial, because, well, then it’s not really “news” anymore. This also means you have less control over at what time the mail gets sent out. And as I’ve already said: send time can be quite important.

If timing is of less importance to the emails you’re sending out, then you could probably go for the second option, because then the remaining people in your list will always get the winner.


So you’ve thought up some brilliant variations of your newsletter, its subject, from name or send time. Time to send out that newsletter. Once you’ve sent it out, there’s nothing you can do, you just have to wait until the first results come trickling (or flooding) in. Make sure you take notice of the differences in results. Which version got the highest open rate? Which version had the highest click rate?

In this, click rate always has my preference, because then they’ll probably end up on your site, where you have a lot more opportunities for selling, for example. However, we also always use custom campaigns on all the links in our newsletter. And since we’ve set up eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics, we can see which version of our newsletter actually got the most revenue. And if you have a business to run, that’s probably the metric that you want to see increasing.

And unless you’ve set up some kind of eCommerce tracking within your email campaign tool, this metric won’t be available in their results. So don’t value the results of these tools too much. Make sure you focus on what’s important for your business and check those metrics.

Also: don’t be too quick to judge. I usually wait for a few days up to a week before I draw my conclusions, because a lot of people will still be opening and engaging your email after a few days.

Happy testing!

What do you think of the steps and rules we’ve set for ourselves? Do you have similar ideas that you follow? Or maybe something completely different? Let us know in the comments!

This post first appeared as A/B testing your newsletters on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Multivariate testingWe’ve written quite some posts on Conversion Rate Optimization and A/B testing on yoast.com in the last few years. However, we’ve never really touched the subject of multivariate testing. In this post I’ll explain what multivariate testing is, its pros and cons and when you should (and should not) be using it.

What is multivariate testing?

Explaining what multivariate testing is, seems quite easy. In fact, when you look up multivariate testing on Wikipedia, it says the following:

“In internet marketing, multivariate testing is a process by which more than one component of a website may be tested in a live environment. It can be thought of in simple terms as numerous A/B tests performed on one page at the same time.”

However, I find this to be oversimplifying things a bit. With A/B tests you’re testing different versions of a complete page. This is not what you do with a multivariate test (MVT). With an MVT you’re testing elements within a page.

So lets say you have 2 versions of a headline, 2 versions of an image and 2 versions of a block of text. With a multivariate test you will test every possible combination against the others to figure out which combination yields the best conversion rate. And this is where things get tricky, because in the setup I mentioned above, there are already 8 combinations (2 x 2 x 2 = 8):

  1. Headline A + Image A + Textblock A
  2. Headline A + Image A + Textblock B
  3. Headline A + Image B + Textblock A
  4. Headline A + Image B + Textblock B
  5. Headline B + Image A + Textblock A
  6. Headline B + Image A + Textblock B
  7. Headline B + Image B + Textblock A
  8. Headline B + Image B + Textblock B


The first advantage of multivariate testing is that you can see the effect small changes on your site have. Of course, small changes can also be tested with an A/B test, but that’s suboptimal as you can only test one small change at a time. Generally, A/B tests are used for the big changes and multivariate testing is used for optimizing smaller elements.

Also, by using a multivariate setup, you’re actually able to not only test the effect of changing one element, but you’re also able to test the combined effect (interaction effect) of several elements. Will changing an element still have the same effect if you change another element on that same page? These are questions you wouldn’t be able to answer with an A/B test, but you can answer them with multivariate tests. With multivariate tests you can pretty accurately see what the effect of each element is in which setup or situation.


The biggest drawback of multivariate testing is that you need an even bigger amount of traffic and especially conversions than you do for an A/B test. I always say you should have at least 100 conversions on each variation. So if your multivariate test has 3 different versions of 3 different elements, you’ll need at least 2700 conversions (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 combinations with each at least 100 conversions).

And that’s a lot for most websites, especially if we’re talking sales on a specific product. For most websites this also means that the page needs to have quite some traffic on it, since most conversion rates aren’t that high.

Lastly, the multivariate test setup looks at a lot more variables than an A/B test and also looks at how these variables interact. This means there’s a lot bigger chance that mistakes or errors can occur in the reporting. So you should check your multivariate test results even more than your A/B test results.

When to use multivariate testing

As I’ve already mentioned above, multivariate tests are used to test smaller elements on a page. You’re testing small variations of the same element, instead of overhauling the complete page as you would in an A/B test. So first and foremost, multivariate testing isn’t supposed to be used as a starting point.

Obviously, before starting to test at all, there are a few things you have to do. First of all, you should check whether there’s even enough traffic and conversions on the page you want to run a multivariate test on. Since an MVT setup increases your amount of variations really quickly, it’s important that you have an abundance of traffic and conversions. You usually already know whether your traffic and conversion rate are up to par, because you’ve already A/B tested the page in question.

What’s next?

The next step is to find out what kind of changes you think are needed for that page. To do this you first need to be clear on what the goal of the page is. What do you want people to do on your page? Write down what you think could be the cause of visitors not completing this goal. You can find this out by being critical yourself, doing user testing (or even just a survey) and looking at your analytics.

Now you know what your page’s goal is and what could be causing a lower conversion rate on this goal. The next step is that you need to find out what you could possibly change to make more people fulfill that goal. You have to think of different versions of the factors that could be hurting your conversion rate.

When your traffic and amount of conversions are acceptable, you’ve found your page’s goal and causes for it being suboptimally completed, you should formulate hypotheses. Write down what you’ll be changing, what effect you expect this to have and maybe even why. For instance:

  • If we shorten the checkout form, more people will complete their purchase.

To my mind, hypotheses are even more important for multivariate testing, because it is so easy to just add a few more variations. Formulating hypotheses will prevent you from randomly adding new variations. Make sure you have a hypothesis for every single variation you’re creating.

Multivariate or A/B?

If you find your hypotheses are about changes that drastically change the page’s layout or look, then you’re better off choosing for an A/B test. As said, A/B tests give you the possibility to find out whether one (version of a) page performs better than the other.

If however, you find that your hypotheses are about small changes (f.i. text on your call-to-actions) then multivariate testing could be a good choice. But you have to be sure your page meets the criteria for multivariate testing that I mentioned above.

What do you think?

Multivariate testing isn’t as easy as it might seem. It’s something you should only get into if you know what you’re doing. So I’m wondering: have you ever tried multivariate testing? And did you follow my steps? Or do you have other steps you think should be followed? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as Multivariate testing: what it is and when to use it on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Interpreting your A/B test resultsWe’ve written a few posts on how to set up your A/B tests. However, the setup of your A/B tests is only the first step, obviously. Once you’ve set up a test and you’re getting some results, what should you do then?

In this post I’ll be explaining how you can interpret your A/B test results and what you should look out for.

Test duration

Before you can actually start interpreting your A/B test results, you need to be sure that your test has been running for at least 7 days. This means that you’ll have corrected for the fact that some days get you more traffic, sales or anything else than others.

There are some guides out there telling you to run until your test is at least 95% significant. Marieke has explained to great detail why this is oftentimes not a smart thing to do. Please be aware that this is not a hard requirement to our minds.

Interpreting your results

Sometimes it can be hard to actually know what’s going on when looking at the results of your A/B test. So let me walk you through what I always look at in the results:

Interpreting your A/B test results - graph

We’re using Convert for our A/B tests, and when a test is done, it will us a chart that looks something like this one. There’s a lot going on here, which can be quite daunting. First of all, it shows quite clearly that Variation 1 is the winner. However, I’m always very careful when it comes to this. Let me show you why:

Interpreting your A/B test results - chart

This chart shows you that there’s a pretty big jump in the conversion rate, the improvement is 150% and a nice confidence level. However, it also shows us that all this has been calculated over just 18 conversions. Over 10,000 visits, and just 18 conversions. I prefer to have at least 100 conversions on each variation, so this is pretty slim. Now we know that while this result is pretty awesome, we have to be careful in using this data to support any future action.

So, what’s next?

The next thing I’ll check is the graph:

Interpreting your A/B test results - graph 2

I always take a look at the trend of the test. This graph shows the conversion rate of the original version, the variation, the total visitors and the average conversion rate. The original version (blue line in this case) and the variation (purple line) should not be too close during the duration of the test. If there’s just a spike at the end that made the test variation the winner, you know the results aren’t trustworthy. In this case, it looks pretty good, as the variation outperformed the original pretty soon. But don’t get too ecstatic and stay aware of the low number of actual conversions, in this case.

Be sure you also look at the Y-axis (the vertical one) to make sure the differences aren’t really small. The Y-axis tends to change with results, so small differences can look like big ones.

Other statistics

Convert will give you quite some other statistics that could be interesting and important to look at:


The conversion rate and amount of conversions are obvious ones, but I’m mostly interested in the revenue stats. Which version got you the most total revenue and revenue per visitor? But maybe you’re looking for a higher adoption rate of your product (more people using your product) instead of more revenue. In this case you should look at the bottom one: average products sold per visitor.

These statistics will be available per variation and will give you some detailed information on what the difference between the variations actually was. So be sure to look at these and use them for your interpretation!

Implementing the winning variation

In this case, we have chosen to implement the test variation, but we’ve also kept a close eye on the amount of sales and the revenue. We have checked the amount of sales and revenue against the weeks before, to be sure it wasn’t a fluke during the tests. And I implore you to do the same. It will probably not go wrong a lot, but when it does, you’ll be sorry for it. So stay aware of the fact that these tests are not perfect.

Over to you

Have you ever run a test without knowing what to do with the results? Did you ever make the wrong choice? Or you simply have something to mention about this post? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as Interpreting your A/B test results on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

About headlines and taglinesAt Yoast we see a lot of websites on a daily basis. One thing we notice when looking at these websites is how poorly the website’s or page’s goal is communicated a lot of the time. A really good and fast way to convey your goal is by using headlines and taglines.

In this post I’ll tell you how to use your headlines and taglines to your advantage by having them communicate a clear message that people will understand. Because you want people to understand what your website or page is about, right?

What are headlines and taglines?

Before jumping into this post, it might be useful to explain what headlines and taglines actually are. Wikipedia explains a headline in the following way:

The headline is the text indicating the nature of the article below it.

So the headline is basically a page’s or post’s title. And as Wikipedia so eloquently states it; that title should indicate what that page or post is about.

And Wikipedia explains the tagline as follows:

In entertainment, a tagline (or tag line) is a small amount of text which serves to clarify a thought for, or designed with a form of, dramatic effect.

I don’t completely agree with a tagline being for dramatic effect, but I do agree with the fact that a tagline serves to clarify a thought. Usually, it serves to clarify or specify the headline. A tagline is also something that’s not as mandatory as the headline. A page has to have a headline, but it doesn’t have to have a tagline. Especially not if the headline is clear enough in itself.

Why use headlines and taglines?

As I mentioned above, headlines and taglines are a good and fast way to tell people what your website is about. And this matters, because people want to understand what your website is about, so they know if you have what they want. People don’t want to spend 30 minutes (or 5, for that matter) searching your website to see if you do. They’ll just go to a website with a clearer message.

Additionally, having to think about a decent headlines and/or tagline for your website and its pages, actually forces you to think about your core business. What is it that you’re trying to convey? If a page’s headline is getting too complicated, it might be a good idea to think about making multiple pages for what you’re trying to do, for instance.

Don’t assume people know you

When you’ve figured out what your core business or purpose for a page is, it can actually be quite hard to write this down in such a way that it’s understandable for everyone. As Michiel said in his post about clarity and focus:

We want clarity. It’s the experience we get when visiting that website for the very first time: do we get the website? Is it clear what the benefits are for us visitors? And where or how can I get these benefits?

Don’t think that people will understand what you’re talking about, just because they’re on your site. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a person visiting your website for the first time. Is it clear what you’re offering by just reading the headline and/or tagline? For this post the headline is “About headlines and taglines”. That’s simple, short and clear. People will know just by reading that headline what the post will be about.

Of course, for a single post it’s much easier to write what it’s about than for your entire website or business. So you should take some time in formulating your core business and goals. If you think you found a decent headline, it might be a good idea to have someone outside of your business to check it out and let them tell you if they understand. And keep doing that until they understand.

Headlines that work

There are quite a few ways you can make sure people will understand your headline and even fulfill the goal of your page. I’ll give you a few tips here:

Action oriented headlines

If possible, try to write your headlines in an action oriented way. You can do this by using verbs and sentences that imply an action for the visitor. For instance, we could have a headline saying: “Keep your site optimized with the WordPress SEO Premium plugin!”. This shows people one of the core values of the plugin, and making it active will motivate a lot more people to actually try it.

Combine your headline with a tagline

Combining your headline with a tagline will give people a very concise and clear explanation of your headline. Not all headlines need one per se, but usually the effect of having a tagline (or sub headline, whatever you want to call it) is a positive one. The tagline is another chance to make sure people will be intrigued and to clarify for your visitors.

Have a clear headline

This is probably the hardest to do, because how do you know what is clear to people? This is something you should definitely test. But in any case, you need to make sure it’s as specific and concrete as possible. Again, it all comes down to clarity.

Be clear!

By now you must get my main point: you have to be clear! If people can’t understand your website or what you’re selling/offering, they won’t stick around to figure it out. Especially when people are looking for something, they won’t do anything else than just scan the page they land on. So be sure that what they’re scanning is as clear and concise as possible.

What do you think? Have you tried some nice headline variations that worked out really well for you? Or have anything else to mention? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as About headlines and taglines on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Your website needs better formsOne of the things we notice are hardly ever optimized on most websites are forms. Forms are an integral part of just about every website. However, for some reason, people don’t (want to) spend much time thinking about these.

There’s a lot of different forms your website can have. However, I think most of them boil down to this: a contact form, a ‘request a quote’ form or a checkout form. These three all have different ways of how to optimize them, as the goal for them is different.

In this post I’ll share my views on how you should optimize each variety and how to optimize forms in general.

You need to have a form

This might sound silly, but the amount of websites we encounter during our Website Reviews that don’t have a contact form or any other kind of form where they should definitely have one, is worrisome. Some websites don’t even have a contact page.

Oh and just so we understand each other; a mailto link on a page is not the same as a contact form.

Focus your form

Just as with everything else on your website, you need to focus your forms. No matter what kind of form it is, make sure you break it down to the bare necessities. If you don’t need personal information, don’t ask for it. The fewer the fields, the shorter the form and the higher the response rate on that form.

These fields do need to be clearly visible. Don’t be tempted to use ‘slick’ form design that will basically make the fields transparent. It must be clear where people should enter the details.

And, of course, make sure your call-to-action (the send button, in this case) is visible and clear. We can’t stress this enough. If people can’t find that button, then all the form optimization in the world won’t help you.

Decent erroring and validation

One of the other things that can be implemented for any kind of form are inline erroring and validation. People don’t want to be told they’ve made a mistake filling out your form after they already hit the send button. Make sure these errors and validations appear right when the user is done filling out the field.

Not only can you be too late with your messages, you can also be too vague, or just completely wrong. For instance: don’t tell people a certain field is not filled out correctly, but rather tell them what’s wrong with how they filled it out, so they don’t unwittingly repeat the mistake (multiple times in a row…). Or, another great one: do not tell people their password for a login is wrong, when in fact they’re entering the wrong email address. I can go all day with this; my annoyances are many.

It’s so simple: make sure people understand how to fill out your form and, in the rare event of a mistake, make the errors so ridiculously clear, they won’t ever be able to reproduce it.

Contact forms

Contact forms are probably the most common kinds of forms you’ll find on the web. However, we see a lot of contact forms that look like no one ever thought about them.


I always look at the contact form as the equivalent of someone coming up to a salesperson in a physical shop. In an actual store, you’d expect the salesperson to be open, friendly and helpful. Now consider what you’d think about that salesperson if he/she was telling you “Tell me your name, date of birth and occupation before you ask me any questions!”. That would probably result in you walking out the door, right? So why should your website be any different?

Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit (although I have seen contact forms asking this and more), but the point remains clear. When it’s possible to walk up to someone and ask a question right off the bat in a physical store, this should be possible on websites as well.

Tone of voice

The tone of voice is very important for people to feel safe enough to ask a question. And tone of voice is just as much determined by what’s said as by what’s not said. So not having any text near your contact form will not absolve you from needing a decent tone of voice. You need to invite visitors to ask you a question and explain the process of how you’ll handle their question. The last thing you want to do is confuse or piss off a customer right before they wanted to ask you a question. They’ll either leave your site or they’ll be angry while contacting you.

‘Request a quote’ form

I wanted to make a separate section of this kind of form, because it can definitely be helpful to ask for more information in a ‘request a quote’ form. It all depends on the setup of your business, your website and your form. The same premise still holds though: if you don’t really need certain information, don’t ask for it.

Pricing information

Half the time I see a ‘request a quote’ button or form, I feel kind of cheated. These kinds of forms really make me feel the website owner just doesn’t want to share their usual pricing, because they can see if they can make more money off of you. So you should be clear about the reason you’re not communicating your prices. Preferably even show people a price range they can expect. This will not only filter out people that aren’t interested in that price range, but it’ll also give people like me a better idea of what they can expect. And that alone can help increase your response rate and conversion rate.

Checkout form

I’ve done a post on how we optimized our checkout page in November 2013, and most of that design still holds. There are some things you should definitely implement though:

Progress bar

This actually goes for every form you have on your website. You should implement a progress bar that shows people how far along in your form they are. This gives them a lot of insight in the whole process and will most likely increase your form’s completion rate.


Try to make it as clear as possible what all the options and details of the transaction are. What is the price, the product they’re buying, the payment options, etc. All of this should be very clear and quickly visible. The use of logos, product images, etc. can really help in this process.

How are you doing?

Are your website’s forms up to par? Or do they need some more optimization? If you’re not sure or want to have us take a look at them (and the rest of your site), take a look at our Website Reviews!

This post first appeared as Your website needs (better) forms on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

the perfect progress barWe’ve done quite some posts on conversion rate optimization and nearly always named progress bars in them. People value progress bars, and if they don’t function according to what they’re used to, they’ll get worried. That makes you wonder, right? Apparently progress bars work, but what makes them work?

In this post I’ll be diving in deep into what seems to be quite a small subject. I’ll explain how you can make the perfect progress bar. Of course, perfection is arguable and what works on your site might not work on another, so let me start by saying that I’m talking about a general perfection. These are things that, in general, work best.

What’s a progress bar?

For those of you left completely in the dark as to what a progress bar actually is, let me explain. A progress bar is a bar that, surprisingly, shows your progress of a certain task. This can be, for instance, the completing of a survey or completing a purchase. I’ll mainly be focusing on the latter; completing purchases.

Let me show you what a progress bar can look like. Here’s ours, which you’ll find in our checkout:

Progress bar YoastSo as you can see, this progress bar just shows you where you are in the entire purchase process and what steps you’ve already completed.

What makes a perfect progress bar?

There are a few things that make a progress bar “perfect”. Obviously, this is a perfection and you should always test whether this setup is actually the best way to go for your site. I’ve constituted two things that make a progress bar perfect. These things are Usability and Psychological Triggers.


No breadcrumb
This might seem silly, but I’ve actually come across quite some websites that make their progress bars look like a breadcrumb. If the placing and look of your progress bar looks like a breadcrumb, it simply won’t work. Even worse is actually using your breadcrumbs to simultaneously be your progress bar:

Progress bar 1800PetMedsThis is totally unclear, and will not give you any benefit at all. This does not work.

Highlight the current step
A big part of the idea of the progress bar is that it’s visible for people where they are. Highlighting the step where your visitors currently are is very important. This is something the progress bar above doesn’t do very well, if at all.

Explain the steps
This is usually done right, but it’s still important enough to mention. You have to explain the steps in the progress bar, just as we’ve done. “Select payment method” is pretty clear as to what that step’s for. Next to this explanation it’s also smart to show the number of the steps, because that makes it that much more visible to the visitors how much more they have to go.

Here’s a screenshot of the progress bar on Zalando:

Progress bar ZalandoWhile these explain the steps pretty nicely, it begins and highlights a step that’s nothing to do with your progress. I’d always encourage you to show your visitors the connection on your website is secure, but this is simply not the place.

It looks like the first step, but it isn’t, as the next arrow starts with 1. So why is it in the same bar? On the current page they’re actually asking me to login, which to the most users doesn’t have anything to do with a “secure connection”. So this really isn’t explanatory at all.

The location of the progress bar is obviously really important. If people can’t see it, the value of having one is naught. People will have to be able to continually view it, to also be able to continually view their progress.

Psychological triggers

Sense of movement
I’ve actually written a complete post about visual direction and attention. This will work just as well with your progress bars. The sense of movement is, among other things, triggered by arrow shaped forms. This will give the visitor the feeling they’re actually moving along.

Point of entry
At our own progress bar, people get in at the second step when they’ve added a product to their cart. And with good cause, as they’ve already taken the biggest step: deciding to buy something! However, this does give the users a boost as they’re already a quarter of the way there!

Validating completed steps
If people have completed a step, don’t just move them on to the next step. Use your progress bar to show them they’ve successfully completed the previous step(s). We do that by showing the green check mark after every step. This increases a person’s self-efficacy, which basically increases our motivation to complete a task.

Size of steps
This is a small thing which we’re not actually doing ourselves, but still one I wanted to mention. The steps of the progress bar could actually indicate the time it would usually take to complete a step. This can be done by making the more time consuming steps a bigger portion of the progress bar than the less time consuming steps. In fact, studies show that a slow start with a quick finish is highly preferred by people. So the longer parts of the progress bar can be placed at the start, and the shorter ones at the end.

However, this is the complete opposite of what Villar, Callegaro & Yang have found in their study. This shows that you’ll need to find out what works best for your site, if there’s any difference to be found. But it does keep you thinking, which is never a bad thing, when optimizing your website.


So there are eight things that you should or should not do to make your progress bar perfect:

  1. Do not make it look like a breadcrumb;
  2. Highlight the current step;
  3. Explain every step;
  4. Place it within view;
  5. Add visual triggers that imply movement;
  6. Skip the first step;
  7. Validate completed steps;
  8. Think about the time spent on each step.

I feel these are the things that every progress bar should have, as they’ll make the whole process the most clear. It simply makes it easier and more transparent for your users. And that’s exactly what you want. And this is just one little part of all the things we’ll point out during a Diamond Review, so do check those out as well!

I’m curious to hear whether you think I’m right, or completely wrong. Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

This is a republish: we’ve made some minor changes to it. We decided to republish it, because this post and its content are still applicable and important now.

Testimonials trust salesAt Yoast we’ve seen a lot of websites of every calibre. Because I personally like conversion rate optimization so much, I always like the webshops we get to review. A lot of these webshops have various things they’re doing right or wrong, but there’s one thing I’ve found that almost every website can improve on: testimonials. A lot of websites do actually have testimonials, but just having them simply isn’t enough.

So I’ll try to explain what I think is necessary and what steps you could take to find out how testimonials can work best for you. I’ll obviously start with explaining why I think testimonials work in the first place.

Note: In this post I’ll use the word testimonials for both testimonials and (product) reviews. I chose to do this, because I feel the two are actually the same thing. There’s only one real difference: reviews can actually be negative.

Why testimonials work

Testimonials are mostly said to work on the basis of social proof. Social proof is a psychological process in which people copy the behavior of others, in an attempt to reflect correct behavior. So a well-known person or at least someone you can identify with has used this product or service and was blown away by it. That must mean the product is just the right thing for you as well. This is probably true, and social proof probably does contribute for a large part in the effectiveness of testimonials.

However, I personally feel this isn’t the only reason why testimonials work. Or at least it shouldn’t be. A lot of the testimonials we encounter on webshops are fairly vague, but even those vague ones shed some light on the workings of a product or service. And this is exactly what testimonials should do as well, as far as I’m concerned. Not only should a testimonial talk about the fact that your product is awesome, it should talk about why it’s awesome, how it works and why it worked for the person writing the testimonial. And then you’re only halfway there. You should also have testimonials about the buying process on your site, the delivery and maybe even someone using your 30 day money back guarantee. Let your visitors know that every aspect of your webshop has been used successfully and satisfactory by other people.

We’re actually arriving at a gray area here, where testimonials start overlapping (product) reviews. And in my opinion, that’s exactly how it should be. You see, as soon as they’re overlapping you’re actually getting the best of both worlds. Not only will the social proof process kick in, but your experience products can actually change into search products. Simply put: the benefits of your products will become a lot more clear, making them easier for potential customers to purchase.

When testimonials work

Testimonials are powerful in creating trust, and not just for online shops. The same actually goes for sales. Research has found that positive reviews can significantly increase sales. In fact, testimonials have been found to be a more important cue for judging the trustworthiness of an online store than the actual overall reputation of that store. But obviously you can’t just slap on some glorifying texts on your site. Your testimonials will have to earn the trust they’ll evoke in your site’s visitors.

In the case of product reviews even negative reviews can actually be useful, if you can show visitors you’ve adequately responded to the customer who gave the negative review. It’s only normal to receive negative reviews. So how you react to those negative reviews is important, especially for future customers. This is also precisely why you shouldn’t remove negative reviews or submit fake ones. Your reviews need to look real and trustworthy. And they’ll only truly look that way if they actually are real.


Recently, storytelling is all the rage and for good reason. Research has shown that stories can have positive influence on a customer’s perception of a brand as well as the willingness to purchase. Stories can actually affect behavior, granted that the story resonates with your visitor.

And that’s exactly where it becomes tough. It’s really quite easy to state that “stories sell”, but how would you go about obtaining stories that your audience would feel captivated by? Sure, if you offer services or products that are problem solving to begin with, this is easy. Just have a few of your customers write up the issues they had and how your services or products helped them solve these problems.

It’s a totally different story (literally) if you’re selling clothes, for instance. You simply can’t go having customers state “I was naked my entire life until I found this piece of clothing!”. In these cases you’ll have to get a little creative and maybe ask customers to write about the (hopefully superior) quality of your products and how they last longer, for instance. And if it’s a clothing brand that’s sold in other webshops as well, let your customers write about why they’re using your webshop in particular. Is it your superior customer service? Your site’s superior usability? The speediness of delivery? Have your customers write about this.

The use of photos with testimonials

Photos are almost considered a “sure thing” within internet marketing and CRO circles. In fact, research from just 3 years ago stated the use of pictures increased the perceived trustworthiness of a statement. And they claim it doesn’t matter whether the picture is relevant or the information next to the picture accurate. While I think these are cool findings, I don’t think it is always this simple and depends highly on your audience.

To make matters worse, there are studies that found photographs only increase the perceived trustworthiness of poorly performing vendors, and decreased that of vendors with good reputation. And then you have the differences in reactions to images between cultures, which means you might actually have to make use of different tactics in different continents.

As you can see, science isn’t really definitive about the use of photos. And the downside of all these studies is: they’re not specifically about testimonials. At Yoast we do always recommend using photos with testimonials, because it seems to add to the credibility of those testimonials. But the best way to go would be to test if the results are actually positive for your site.

Influential people

If you’ve read more about testimonials, you’ll probably have read about the impact of “influential people”. There are some people that are so well-known in their field of work that their opinion really carries weight. Their opinion carries weight due to the Halo effect. Wikipedia has this to say about the Halo effect in marketing:

The halo effect is also present in the field of brand marketing. One common halo effect is when the perceived positive features of a particular item extend to a broader brand.

So with testimonials from influential people, the product will be perceived as better or more trustworthy. As you’ve read, this can even transfer to your entire brand.

Obviously there’s one major criterium for this: the person would have to be viewed as an influential person in the field you’re offering products or services. If we were to have a great testimonial for our WordPress SEO Premium plugin by Beyoncé, it probably wouldn’t carry much weight at all.

Placement of testimonials

During our website reviews we’ve noticed that quite a few of the websites that do have testimonials, just don’t place them prominently. Testimonials are great, but if they’re only on the testimonial page and nowhere else, odds are not a lot of people will find them. So you need to put them on pages where people will find them. So on your landing pages and near call-to-actions would probably be good spots.

Over to you

This all makes good sense, right? So stop just having testimonials, and start using them!

Is there anything I missed? Or do you have something else to contribute? Let me know!

This post first appeared as Testimonials: increase your visitor’s trust on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Online ShoppingLast week, we had an email from somebody who was pretty desperate. He had set up an online shop, filled it with thousands and thousands of products and in the three or four months after release, still nobody had found his shop or ordered his products. The online shop at hand sells women’s cloths.

This guy isn’t the only one with that mindset. Unfortunately, a lot of people still think the internet will magically bring them a fortune without any more promotional work to be done. “If you build it, they will come”. If only.

Now we could easily sell people like this a review, and then have them rebuild their shop. But it only seems fair to guide the ignorant a bit, right? Here are some things to consider when setting up a webshop.

What’s the Unique Selling Point (USP) of your online shop?

A Unique Selling Point (or Proposition) is the main reason for a customer to switch products or shops. It’s the thing that makes your online shop better than the all the other out there. The concept was “first proposed as a theory to explain a pattern in successful advertising campaigns of the early 1940s” (from Wikipedia). I’ve also heard people saying the USP is dead and replaced by UBR, the Unique Buying Reason. Whatever you call it, your webshop needs it to stand out from the crowd.

Have you thought about this? Why is your collection of shoes better than the next? Perhaps you kept the environment in mind, like a lot of others? It’s tough to find that one reason why you’re better than the competition.

With your USP in mind, you can start building your online shop. In our reviews, we’ve found more than once that an online shop is just a collection of products and the human factor is entirely left out. That doesn’t mean you should add a live chat or whatever, but you should focus on a great About Us page. And for instance loads of positive testimonials and reviews for both your products and your shop as a whole. Something that’s left out even more is a blog. If you have a unique product or service, you must have something to say about it.

What’s the main eye catcher on the homepage?

Why would anyone list all their available products on their homepage? One of my favorite words is ‘clutter’. I just really dislike an online shop that shows a million different options for me to click on. I either already know exactly what I want to purchase and use Google to find it, or I visit your shop to see what you have that will make my life a bit easier. That’s a bit black and white, but it does emphasize the need for a great call-to-action on the homepage of your online shop.

A lot of online shops use sliders as their call-to-action. You already know our take on sliders, but unfortunately a lot of shops do use them. Especially when cloths are involved, an online shop comes up with great images in a slider. Apart from the discussion if static images or copy would convert better, you should at least create an obvious link or button on that slider. If possible, keep the same look for that link or button for every slide. And keep it in the same place.

Unlike thinking of a decent USP, it really isn’t hard to set up a decent call-to-action. Think along the lines of featured products or links to your sale or outlet page. Perhaps even a special page you’ve created for your summer collection.

Did you write great content for your product pages?

This will take some effort. Most online shops we’ve reviewed in the past year used manufacturer descriptions for their product pages. Just import that database or XML file and you’ll have a content filled webshop and Google will start showing your product pages in their search result pages. Think again.

This is probably the most common reason for cross-domain duplicate content for online shops. Most of your competitors will use that exact same description. So you can either:

  1. Forget about ranking with your product pages (which can be a valid decision sometimes), or
  2. Write unique product descriptions (or have someone write them for you).

Option one is only valid when you have common products that are offered all over the internet. You should at least use Product schemas and allow for customer reviews (unique content!), so you can focus on other content to make your site rank. Choose your categories with care and set up killer category pages. Maintain or set up that blog on your website. In short: focus on your Unique Selling Point.

The second option is much, much harder. Not if your webshop only has ten products of course, but with thousands of products it’s a whole different ball game. Hiring a copywriter might not be a bad idea in this case. It’s amazing in how many ways a good copywriter can tell the same story over and over again for similar products of the same brand. And prevent that duplicate content by doing so.

Do you create a safe environment for your customer-to-be?

Make sure a visitor feels safe enough to submit personal stuff like credit card details on your website. That doesn’t mean your online shop should just contain a lot of security signs. Yes, these should be added, but a secure feeling is also enhanced by other things, such as testimonials. And how about inline validation? Feeling secure is also about doing things right yourself.

An obvious one that is unfortunately forgotten by a lot of online shops: contact details. That large telephone number in your header makes sure I know I can contact someone if things go wrong. That address in the footer tells me you have an actual location I can go to with my complaint or damaged goods. It seems like some online shop owners just want to sell and prefer not to be contacted afterwards at all.

One more thing: Refund policies and Money Back Guarantees. Most of the times these are defined by law, so why not display these clearly on your website? A lot of your customers don’t realize they are protected anyway and don’t have a lot to worry about when purchasing anything from your shop. Listing these near checkout buttons is a great way to take away that last doubt.

Does your internal search work like it should?

Another pet peeve of mine. When you do a search in a webshop for “iPhone cable” and the results give back Galaxy covers. This might be personal, but when I do a search in a shop, I would like to:

  • See an image of the product,
  • view the product price so I can already compare products in the search results,
  • add cheaper items to my cart directly from these search results,
  • have a clear ‘click here for more details’ link,
  • be able to list all items instead of having to click to the next page (I can scroll really fast, you know),
  • have these results ordered by relevance.

If you do this right, I’d be in and out your online shop in no time and you can send over all these great products you offer.

Gives you something to think about, right?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In our reviews we cover this, and a lot more, so if you’re willing to spend money on getting our opinion, get one of our website reviews.

Also, if you run a website or build websites: you must have customer stories about this, or additional considerations. Perhaps you were that ignorant online shop owner in a past life? I’m looking forward to your additions in the comments.

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

In the last month I’ve been speaking at a few conferences with a talk I’ve dubbed “The Psychology behind Conversion”. In this talk I’m trying to explain why everyone who maintains a website should be interested in psychology and how it can help them.

Being interested in psychology, especially when applied to the web, is more than just reading Cialdini’s Influence. Don’t get me wrong by the way, that book is awesome. But there are just so much more psychological processes at work than people are probably aware of. One of the most important ones, to my mind, is visual attention. People undoubtedly understand that attention is of importance when it comes to doing, well, anything really. So the same goes for visiting websites. But in my opinion it is not just attention, but visual attention that’s most important for visiting websites.

Visual attention

There are a lot of processes playing their part in this. We are very visual beings, and not being able to see, especially when you’re used to seeing, impairs us more than anything. It literally helps us understand our world. Our sight can even influence our other senses, such as taste.

So it’s of great importance to direct your visitor’s visual attention to those parts of your website you want them to see. To make sure you’re keeping their visual attention. In this post, I will discuss three aspects of visual attention: visual cueing, facial distraction and perceptual incongruence.

Visual cueing

Visual cueing basically means directing your visitors’ gazes. You can do this with colors or textual directions, but the most effective way is shapes. And there’s one shape that’s unparalleled when it comes to visual cueing: the arrow. Now, I use the term ‘arrow’ in a broad term, as it can be an actual arrow, or more of a triangle shape.

On wheelofpersuasion.com you can find a great explanation on this. Especially this picture makes it very clear:

Van der Valk visual cueing

So adding those simple triangles in the images resulted in a huge increase in people scrolling down to the bottom of the page. But even more amazing: they had a 57% increase in conversion. So this already shows that keeping and directing your visitor’s visual attention pays off. Obviously, this is a process that every parallax website should be taking advantage of!

Facial distraction

The second aspect of visual attention I would like to discuss is facial distraction. If you’re interested in usability, eyetracking, conversion, or just read too many blogs, you’ve probably seen this image:

baby front

Visual heatmap from Usable World

What you see on this visual heatmap is a classic example of facial distraction. People will look back at the baby’s face a lot more than they’ll actually read the text. This works for any kind of picture of a person. It doesn’t have to be a baby. It doesn’t even have to be a real person; avatars such as the ones we use will render the same effect!

So I shouldn’t use pictures of people?

Of course you should! Adding pictures of people to your website adds credibility and a sort of personality to your site. As long as it aren’t stock photos. All I’m saying is that you should make these pictures work for you.

When babies are about 9 months old, their mothers will start pointing and looking at objects to try and direct the baby’s attention to that object. This is called joint attention. And this is exactly the process you should be using to direct your visitors’ gazes to where you want them to go. The follow picture will probably explain it much better than I can:

baby sideways

Visual heatmap from Usable World

As you can see, people will look where the baby is looking. Again, this works with just about anything that we can recognize as a (depiction of a) human face. You might’ve noticed our WordPress plugins page has avatars that are all looking toward the text. This is no coincidence ;)


So definitely show pictures of people on your website, but also make sure they’re not distracting your visitors. Have these pictures help you direct your visitors’ attention instead.

Perceptual incongruence

The third aspect of visual attention I want to discuss  is my personal favorite, probably because it’s a difficult word. However, the psychology behind it is pretty cool as well. Perceptual incongruence is basically a process where we automatically pay attention to things we don’t understand. Let me show you a video to try and explain it:

12 seconds into the video, you’ll notice that a glass is tilted sideways, without the liquid spilling out. This is something that our brain interprets as ‘weird’. It is not what’s supposed to happen, so we automatically and involuntarily pay attention to it. And for the ones who think this is just a fluke or a gimmick: within 5 seconds the Bacardi logo pops up.

However, you should be careful with this process. If there are a lot of distractions from this perceptual incongruence, such as other moving or bright elements on your website, its effect could be negated. The perceptual incongruence process will be negated by another process called ‘selective attention’. People should not be able to easily focus on, or be distracted by, other things. Simply because this would mean they won’t see the unexpected element which should trigger the perceptual incongruence process. This is all probably best explained by another video:

Did you notice anything strange? Most people actually don’t. And that’s because people were specifically instructed not to take notice of anything else. So the key here is to surprise your visitors in a place where there aren’t any (or a lot of) other distractions. If you surprise them there, they will pay attention. And once you’ve got their attention, be sure that you make it count! This is exactly what we tell (and teach) people in our Conversion Reviews and Diamond Reviews.

Over to you

These are just a few of the psychological and visual triggers you can use to direct your visitors’ gaze and attention. Maybe you’ve heard about a few others that you thought were awesome? Or maybe you have something to say about this post? Let me know!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Google Analytics provides us with lots of information about our visitors. However, we are in complete ignorance about the motivations of our visitors to buy our products.  Why do people shop online?  And how can we influence their motives and make them buy (more of) our products?

Thijs already gave lots of useful insights in how to optimize the conversion of your website in several of his recent posts about conversion rate optimization. Thijs and I are currently working on an extensive study about online purchasing behavior and conversion optimization. For our research we are reading a lot of scientific articles about what makes people buy products online. In this post, I’ll make an overview of some of the most valuable insights about peoples motives to purchase online. And: what you could do with these insights to increase your sales!

Utilitarian & hedonic motives


In most studies investigating the motives people have to shop online, researchers distinguish hedonic motives from utilitarian motives (e.g. To, Liao & Lin, 2007). Utilitarian motives are rational, critical and goal oriented. These people shop to find the right product for the right price.

Next to utilitarian motives, there are hedonic motives. The reason that hedonic consumers love to shop is simply because they enjoy the shopping process. They search for happiness, fantasy, sensuality or enjoyment and they find that in shopping.

While visitors with utilitarian motives should be convinced by rational arguments, the hedonic shoppers will be converted by emotions. Of course, anticipating on utilitarian or on hedonic motives will have totally different consequences for the design and the layout of your website. I will discuss both utilitarian motives (cognitions and trust) as well as hedonic motives (emotions) in more detail below.

Rational motives (utilitarian)

Utilitarian motives are rational. Utilitarian buyers shop to gather information or simply to immediately purchase a product. Utilitarian buyers have a shopping plan and know what they want. These buyers shop online because it saves them money or because they want to find the cheapest product. They also shop online because it is convenient, it saves them time or because they have more products to choose from.

As long as the benefits outgrow the costs, you can easily persuade a utilitarian buyer to buy your product. Wanting to persuade utilitarian buyers means you have to offer good products for a good price, with good information and with a good and swift service.

Some products especially appeal to an utilitarian audience. If you would try to sell WordPress-plugins for instance, chances are big that your audience will have rational motives to buy your products. Few of our clients will be in search of fantasy or sensuality when they consider buying one of our products.

Trust (utilitarian)

Important for the utilitarian buyer is trust. Is this webshop genuine? Will I get my purchases in time? Toufaily, Souiden & Ladhari (2013) claim that online shopping is more prone to uncertainty and risks than traditional shopping. Technological advances have improved security levels, but the lack of psychical contact with both product and vendor make it hard for consumers to trust online shops. This makes the costs for an online transaction higher.

As utilitarian buyers are more convinced that the payment is secure on a website, they are more likely to buy. Thus, making sure your payment is secure will increase the likelihood people buy online. But you should also make an effort to show your visitors who you are. How can they contact you when they are not satisfied? Make sure names (and possibly pictures) of (customer service) employees appear on your website.

Emotions (Hedonic)

Hedonic motives are not rational, but emotional. In an article in Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, Lopez and Ruiz (2011) investigate (among other things) the influence of emotions on online purchasing behavior. They state that several studies have shown that positive emotions, such as enjoyment, predict whether people in fact return to your website.  Research of Bosnjak, Galesic and Tuten (2007) even shows that emotions are more important than cognitions in online shopping.

Lopez and Ruiz recommend companies dealing with hedonic products such as perfumes, jewellery or vacations to evoke emotional responses when communicating their products through the website. The reason for this, Lopez and Ruiz claim, is that “most of its consumers may not be interested in the specific composition of the fragrance or the way the jewel has been cut, but in the sensations the consumer would feel in case of purchasing.” If you try to sell luxury goods you could do your advantage with this marketing technique. The design of your website plays a big role in evoking positive emotions like fun, happiness and relaxation.

Bear in mind that hedonic shopping can influence unplanned shopping behavior. Evoking an emotion could well lead to impulsive shopping behaviour. If you want to increase your sales, you should anticipate on this by offering products in a way that people experience as enjoyable and fun.

How do I know what the motives of my visitors are?

Maybe (a part of) your audience has hedonic motives. But how do you find out? And how do you know whether your audience finds your webshop trustworthy? Google Analytics does not give you that kind of information.

For most websites, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what motives most of your visitors will have. Simply looking at your product will give you a good idea. If you are offering a luxurious item, chances are big you are dealing with a hedonic audience. But still, if you really want to anticipate on the motives of your visitors, you should measure their motives.

Measuring the motives of your audiences is hard but not at all impossible. You can use packages such as PollDaddy to make an online survey and simply ask your audience what their motives are.  Making the questionnaire is the hardest part of measuring the motives of your audience. Simply asking whether their motives are hedonic or utilitarian doesn’t cut it ;-). If you would want to measure shopping motives, I would advice you to read some studies on motives and learn from the questionnaires these studies used.


Website visitors can have different motives to visit your website. They could be rational, goal-oriented buyers with a clear plan and idea of what they want. In that case, providing quality information and offering a fair price while making the appearance of your website trustworthy would be important to increase conversion. But if you appeal to a hedonic audience, your website should evoke positive emotions in order to persuade your audience to buy your products.

You should keep the motives and the way to appeal to your audience solidly in mind while shaping and altering your website.


Bosnjak, M., Galesic, M., & Tuten, T. (2007). Personality determinants of online shopping: Explaining online purchase intentions using a hierarchical approach. Journal of Business Research.

López, I., & Ruiz, S. (2011). Explaining website effectiveness: The hedonic–utilitarian dual mediation hypothesis. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications.

To, P.-L., Liao, C., & Lin, T.-H. (2007). Shopping motivations on Internet: A study based on utilitarian and hedonic value. Technovation.

Toufaily, E., Souiden, N., & Ladhari, R. (2013). Consumer trust toward retail websites: Comparison between pure click and click-and-brick retailers. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services20(6), 538-548. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969698913000581

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!