Optimizing Signup or Trial Conversion

Optimizing Signup or Trial Conversion
Marc McDougall is a UI/UX designer specializing in helping SaaS companies book more demos and trials by optimizing their sites for conversions. In this guide, he outlines best practices for high-conversion flows and the steps for iterative A/B testing.

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Questions covered in this guide

What aspects of conversion can you optimize?

Look at the whole funnel that gets people into the trial or demo – there’s almost always opportunity to improve the initial conversions that lead to MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads). Getting prospects to commit to a call with sales after they’ve been emailing back and forth, that’s a conversion. Getting them to click on your ad in the first place, that’s the conversion. Getting them to go to your landing page after they’ve gone through a blog post that ranked organically on Google, that’s a conversion.

What does conversion mean?

For a demo – there are multiple “streams” that a prospect could flow through to eventually become an MQL.  For a demo, the main “stream” is the primary user journey with either organic or paid traffic to the homepage or a landing page. From there, a conversion takes place with the prospect signing up for, and then showing up to a demo as a qualified buyer.

For a trial – someone signs up for a trial, and they activate, meaning they start paying for your trial, and they stick around, developing a very positive view of your company.

What do healthy conversion rates look like for demos and trials?

It’s all about the ROI, not the percentage – there are no industry averages; every company is unique. I’ve seen conversion rates in the realm of 60 or 70%. And for certain campaigns, I’ve seen conversion rates as low as 1%, but that low rate meant a lot of revenue for the company because each deal was really valuable.

What are the best practices?

Compelling messaging – natural, value-based tone
Messaging checklist:
  • The problem you solve and your unique value proposition is clear within the first few seconds of a customer visiting your page.
  • The first header (h1) explains the problem you solve.
  • You’re using existing customers’ actual words to describe the problem.
Designed for defined personas
Persona checklist:
  • You have a deep understanding of the type(s) of people who buy your product (wants, fears, desires, etc.)
  • You have a list of “pre-sale” questions that each persona must have answered before they will buy, bucketed by each persona, and ranked from most to least important for each persona.
  • You have answered the most important questions somewhere on the page.
Simple customer journey – remove the friction
Customer journey checklist:
  • There is a single, persistent Call To Action (CTA) used throughout the page.
  • Visitors can sign up for a free trial or demo in (at most) 20 seconds.
  • When a visitor comes to the site in a new browser, there is no more than one notification or popup to dismiss.
  • The site navigation has fewer than 6 top-level items.
  • There is a simple way for anyone that wants to get in touch with sales to do so (phone number, Intercom, etc.)
  • There is a newsletter or lead magnet opt-in to catch anyone in the “interested’ phase of the buying cycle.
Natural copywriting
Copywriting checklist:
  • The language is natural, without cold, corporate buzzwords (think: “synergy”, “coordinate”, “enable”, etc.)
  • There are no text blocks longer than 40 words, or wider than 650px.
  • The text is easy to read, and compliant with WGAC AA (accessibility guidelines)
Fast-loading pages
Page load time checklist:
  • The site loads in under 2 seconds on mobile 3G connections
  • All image files on the site are compressed
  • Defer scripts that are not critical to initial page load
  • Lazy-load images and videos only when the user scrolls to them
Mobile checklist:
  • The problem you solve for customers is clear within seconds of someone visiting the page on mobile
  • There are no buttons or other clickable elements too close together
  • It’s easy for people to call to contact you with their phone when browsing on their phone
  • Pop-ups/overlays don’t get in the way of browsing the site on mobile
  • Mobile navigation is at least as easy to use as desktop navigation
  • After testing on a handful of devices (phones & tablets), there are no mobile UI/UX issues

Under what circumstances should you dig into conversion?

5K+ site visits per week – optimizing conversion is more powerful if you have sufficient traffic. I often engage with companies that get 5-10K visits per week.

If you’re not satisfied with your marketing ROI – it all comes back to profitability – are you satisfied with how much each conversion or trial conversion costs to produce relative to the lifetime value of that conversion?

If there’s been a drop in performance – look at the historical performance of the marketing site to see if there’s been a significant drop recently. If there has been, that’s an obvious sign that there’s an opportunity to improve by bringing performance back up.

Qualitative assessment – if I look at the site, and I think “if I was a customer using this, would I have been more likely to convert if there was a heavy-handed improvement in the design of the site and the customer flow?” Sometimes you just know by gut feel.

What are the steps in the optimization process?  

Define target segments – what’s the core business, and what are the different customer segments that it targets?

Review product and onboarding experience – sign up for the product, see what actually happens when you do this. What does onboarding look like, what do the emails look like after you’ve signed up for a free trial?

Interview customers and customer-facing employees – interview people on the ground floor of sales and marketing, the people who are sending cold emails, doing prospecting, on phone calls with customers all the time. Ask: what do they think is causing the disconnect, where are the pain points that your customers are experiencing? 

Interview buyers – get on the phone with those customers and ask: how did you learn about this solution? What’s your role? What problem are you trying to solve (or what do you think you’re trying to solve)?

Develop a hypothesis based on the issues uncovered, make a hypothesis about what will move the needle when it comes to conversion.

A/B Testing or complete redesign either start A/B testing new layouts and new copy changes. If there are severe problems, start with a heavy-handed redesign project.

How do you know when to stop?

When your tests stop providing meaningful improvements – when you can’t show that you’ve run tests that have meaningfully provided new leads that month, you’re probably getting to the point where you’ve squeezed the sponge completely dry. At that point it’s time to start talking about investing in a AdWords campaign to really drive traffic to that landing page.

How long does the process take?

Redesign an overhaul usually takes 3-8 months (and you can optimize further from there).

Optimization   you can start testing within a couple weeks, and then continue to optimize iteratively. You might get the point of diminishing marginal returns after a year of solid optimization work.

What tools or resources do you use as a part of the optimization process?

Something for analytics – to get some high-level understanding of how people are experiencing the flow today, e.g. Google Analytics, HotJar, FullStory.

Something for A/B testing – I prefer to work with Google Optimize; it’s a really robust A/B testing platform that does just about everything we need.

Something for landing pages – usually WordPress, but sometimes other landing page-specific tools.

How can you augment conversion design with human touch-points?

Use coordinated sales touchpoints to make prospects feel connected – this is one of the reasons why I really like working in B2B, because usually, in the enterprise space there’s a lot more value to be gained with each conversion, so you can afford to do things that don’t scale as much. If the company can afford to add a human touch to conversions, I like to look at the emails that are being sent out by sales, the sales conversations that are being recorded, etc. There’s a lot of opportunity to do really creative stuff, like sending people video emails or audio messages on LinkedIn, that get them to come back and check you out and feel connected to your brand.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Make sure it’s immediately clear what you do – make sure it’s clear to a customer what you do, and how you’re meaningfully different from your competition. That needs to be obvious the moment I land on your page.

What are the common pitfalls?

Page speed if your page doesn’t load up, there’s no chance customers will figure out what it is you do.

Bad, long copy – really bad copywriting, huge chunks of text, massive paragraphs- you see this everywhere. No one’s ever reading that stuff. Get rid of it, burn it, reduce it to like one sentence max. And not a run-on sentence – we’re talking a complete seven or eight word sentence.

Distracting design – if the site is too busy, it starts to cause a lot of visual strain. As opposed to a very intentional visual hierarchy, you want me to look at all of these things at once. In SaaS, there’s a lot of this, because they’ve got webinars, they’ve got exit intent pop ups, they’ve got intercom, they’ve got all these things clamoring for the user’s attention.

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