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All you need to know about mobile call-to-action buttons to increase conversions. Don’t miss out on these call-to-action (CTA) button design guidelines.

The world is mobile. Some users may not even own a desktop and, with the probable exception of work, they prefer mobile. And we say “probable” because nowadays some workplaces offer tablets. So, let’s  not forget about tablets.

You want every visitor to count towards your conversion goals, and this includes your mobile conversion goals.

Mobile best practices don’t really exist. Every audience is different, and we have the tests to prove it. What works for one business doesn’t always work for others.

There is an almost infinite number of things that you can consider for testing on a website. And many of them aren’t worth testing.

We are going to share some design ideas for your website’s mobile call-to-action buttons, so you can test them and discover what works for yours.

Conversion Sciences’ Guidelines for Mobile Call-to-Action Buttons

We’ll split these ideas into three major categories: placement, copy, and design. You can elaborate your own list of ideas — we call them hypotheses — based on what you know about your visitors and your website that could result in a lift in conversions.
Remember, there are no best practice unicorns hidden in this article.

Before delving into CTA button placement, copy, and design, let’s review some mobile conversion testing concepts.

Understand your mobile ecommerce visitor segments.

Mobile visitors are in a fundamentally different context than their desktop counterparts

Most mobile websites are responsive designs, designed first for the desktop. This only gets you 50% of the way to a high-converting mobile website. Why? Because a mobile visitor is immersed in a context that is essentially different than the one for desktop visitors. They are waiting for a table, standing in line at the bank, or relaxing on their couch. Often, they are better positioned to start a conversation than to finish a transaction.

This is one reason we often see mobile conversion rates that are a half or a quarter of desktop conversion rates.

As we test for conversions the mobile version will evolve and differentiate itself from the desktop version. We have to make different decisions on which calls to action to use, which calls to action to prioritize, where to place them, whether to use text or icons, and so on.

It is not obvious how to design your mobile call-to-action buttons to maximize conversions.

Always Test your Mobile CTA Buttons

Consider the symbol for infinity. The infinity symbol represents to us the fact that there is an almost infinite number of things that you can consider for testing on a website. From the operating system to the type of visitor and everything in between.

The number of tests we could elaborate could really reach infinity.

Placement, size, call to action text, stickiness, and frequency all combine to increase the number of possibilities. And don’t forget to consider interactions with other elements. Is that chat icon covering up your mobile call to action button?

Note: In the following sections, we run the design tips, ideas and guidelines from the top organically ranking articles on mobile call-to-action button by the conversion scientist himself: Brian Massey, who’s been a conversion optimization expert since 2007.

Discover what he has to say on mobile call-to-action button placement, copy and design. You’ll be surprised and learn a ton from his answers.

How to Identify the Optimal Placement for your Mobile CTA Buttons

Your visitors’ thumbs are spending too much time on your screens and your mobile conversion rate is suffering. – Brian Massey, Conversion Scientist®.

Conversion Sciences Team: mobile call-to-action button placement best practices

We found articles on this topic that recommended organizing mobile CTAs according to their priority. For example, on an ecommerce site, following eye movement from top to bottom, these calls to action were “Continue shopping”, “View your cart” and finally, “Check out”.

Is this correct and what guidelines would you give somebody regarding mobile call-to-action button placement?

Brian Massey: What you mention isn’t wrong, but on mobile it’s actually very different.

For mobile websites, the first question we ask is, which call to action do we optimize for.

How hard is it to take action on a mobile device? Forms are more difficult to fill out on a mobile device than using a keyboard.

This is one reason for lower mobile conversion rates. The longer your forms, the lower your conversion rates.

On this particular ecommerce website example, their visitor has to go through a four step registration process to buy from this e-retailer on desktop.

If your signup process requires them to find a piece of information, such as a password or account number, your mobile conversion rates will drop.

So, if we want to prioritize those on mobile, which is the call to action to optimize for? We may find that the best option is optimizing for collecting emails.

For those mobile visitors that are actually shopping, or trying to solve a problem, there are three broad segments.

  • Mobile-yes. These visitors subscribe or purchase on their phones as if it were a desktop.
  • Mobile-maybe. These visitors need to be motivated to complete a transaction. They are hampered by the environment they are in, or a lack of trust or skill with their phones.
  • Mobile-nope. These visitors will not buy on mobile.

CST: Can you tell us more about these mobile ecommerce visitor segments?

Mobile-yes visitors may be well-served by the calls to action of your default responsive design. You can estimate this segment by the number of completed mobile transactions you get.

Mobile-maybes may need a call to action that doesn’t require as much effort. You may only be able to get an email address or permission to text them. Offering to save their cart or give them a discount in exchange for permission to contact them may be the best option. This segment is estimated by your abandoners. Those who start filling out your form or press the add to cart buttons, but don’t finish the transaction.

Mobile-nopes may respond to the calls to action of the Mobile-maybes. Some percentage will call. Test click-to-call as a call to action, especially if you are offering a service or product that is complex to buy. When our clients are optimizing for phone calls, they have higher conversion rates on mobile than on desktop. You can estimate this segment as the visitors who spend time on your site, but don’t take any action.

Which segments are the largest on your site? Mobile-yes, mobile-maybe, or mobile-nope. This information will help you decide which calls to action to try first.

If you are good at email, you have more reason to prioritize mobile calls to action that generate email addresses. Here’s a real-life example. Someone is standing in line at the bank and they are shopping at an ecommerce store for fun. You’re not going to get a sale from them. But if your revenue per recipient (email revenue divided by emails sent) on your emails is higher than your mobile revenue per visitor (mobile revenue divided by mobile visitors), then you should have an offer to get a discount or save their work. Let them browse, and capture their email to convert them into sales later.

CST: Now we know which CTAs to optimize for, what is the next step?

Massey: On a mobile site there are many call-to-action buttons. Ultimately, the question we need to answer is, which calls to action are going to stay permanently on the screen.

Which ones are scroll-to, and which ones are permanent. Which ones are in an overlay or on a footer. Which ones should be on a sticky header or a sticky footer.

Sometimes a top sticky works, sometimes a bottom sticky works. The top sticky is higher in the visual hierarchy. The bottom sticky is closer to the thumb. So really, it’s something you have to test.

Mobile User Behavior Tracking to Identify Possible CTA Button Placements

Let’s dive deeper into how mobile user behavior tracking can help us identify the best possible call-to-action button placement.

CST: How do you define which call to action goes where on a landing page?

Massey: The ones that are most valuable on mobile, should go in a sticky header or footer.

CST: OK. So basically, it’s opposite to  everything we’ve read, right?

Massey: What did everybody else say?

CST: Almost every article repeated the same concepts. Make sure the eye flows towards the most important call-to-action. Consider the visitor’s natural scanning pattern.

Massey: Visual hierarchy is an issue on desktop, but not really an issue on mobile. On desktop, it’s important to control the eye. On a mobile site, it’s important to control the thumb.

On desktop the eye is king. On phones, the thumb is queen. On the desktop we use the visual hierarchy to help the visitor look in the right places. On mobile, we are a slave to their thumbs.

According to research done by Stephen Hoober 75% of users touch their screen only with their thumb, even though less than 50% hold the phone with one hand.

The thumb is almighty.

If you look at the heat maps from mobile devices, the scroll goes a lot further than it does on desktop sites.

Mobile phone users are more likely to scroll to the bottom of a page, and bounce. We’ve found a nice 6 percent increase in conversion rates when we place a call-to-action at the bottom of the page, instead of the copyright text in your footer. We call this a “dripping pan”. If they are scrolling your whole page then they are quite engaged. You should always have a call to action at the bottom.

Mobile visitors are much more likely to see the footer of your site. They bounce at the bottom after fast scrolling. For desktop users, the footer is a graveyard, where only the desperate look.

Sometimes a top sticky works, sometimes a bottom sticky works. The top sticky is higher in the visual hierarchy. The bottom sticky is closer to the thumb. So really, it’s something you have to test.

CST: We also read that Gutenberg (top left to bottom right) is the most important pattern on mobile.

Massey: Gutenberg is like reading. It does not apply to mobile web page either. These are all good for desktop users. The F-pattern is more relevant to search result pages on the desktop. There’s more of a C-pattern on the screens with mobile devices, but the pattern in mobile is more top to bottom.

CST: Can you track eye behavior on mobile screens?

Massey: It’s harder to do eye tracking on small-screen mobile devices, because it’s hard to see where the eye is looking. This information is gathered from the camera, and on a small screen, the eyes are not going to move that much.

Therefore, eye tracking is important for desktop and large-screen tablets. Scroll and tap tracking is a better gauge of activity on mobile.

CST: What happens when people take a pause from scrolling?

Massey: Then it’s hotter on the scroll tracking. That portion of the page is hotter. It means they are paying more attention and it could be a great place to add a mobile call-to-action button.

CST: How can we use scroll tracking to improve mobile conversions?

Massey: Let me show you an example. The page on the right has a scroll problem. You can tell because the hot white area is where a lot of people are seeing it, and the dark areas are where few people are seeing it. It could be that they are not scrolling because they are engaged or because this copy is boring them so they’re leaving.

How can we use scroll tracking to improve mobile conversions? A real-life example.

How we use scroll tracking to improve mobile conversions. A real-life example.

Less than 25% of the visitors are seeing the call to action on this page. Furthermore, there are several calls-to-action on this very long page, and very few people are seeing them. Scroll tracking helps identify these conversion issues.

In order for your call to action (CTA) to work, people have to see it.

We can clearly see how people are consuming the mobile page. Eye tracking is not effective on a mobile device. Scroll tracking is a better guide.

CST: Most articles speak about adopting a specific visual hierarchy of CTA buttons to direct the visitor’s actions. Is this true?

Massey: That is mostly desktop-oriented advice. The visual hierarchy is more important on desktop because we’re looking at a large body of stuff, and we have to understand the priority of things on that page. With mobile, we’ve got people scrolling through and they need to just see what their options are as they’re scrolling down.

Therefore, you may place mobile call-to-action buttons side by side, or make them sticky. Side by side buttons tend to be given equal consideration, and with sticky buttons, visitors get to choose when to take action.

CST: Is placing a sticky View Cart by the hamburger menu always the best option for an e-retailer?

Massey: It’s possible, but that’s not always the best combination.

If you have a site with a large catalog of products, you might put a search icon in the sticky header. If that works, you might try putting a search field there. Discoverability and capturing their email address might be the most important elements to increase mobile conversions

Most ideas don’t make it to the top of our hypothesis list because they’re low impact. But sticky CTAs are among the first things we test on mobile sites.

We call a sticky header a “headband”, and a sticky footer “sticky shoes”.

Getting your sticky elements right is very important. Test both.

You may be surprised by how much you can include in a headband. We’ve had successful tests with a headband that contained, the company logo, call-to-click phone number, live chat call to action, hamburger menu, and a request information call to action.

Example of many calls to action on a mobile headband. Discoverability and capturing their email address might be the most important elements to increase mobile conversions.

Example of many calls to action on a mobile headband.

If your revenue per visitor is higher on mobile than your revenue per recipient, which is the email revenue, then you would place “View cart” on the sticky menu. On product pages, you might want “Add to cart” to be on your sticky header.

CST: Some studies claim that you should have a clear call-to-action button that takes users 3 seconds or less to see. True or false?

Massey: Well, the page needs to load faster than 3 seconds. This is true for lead generation, but not so much for ecommerce, and it’s very important for content pages.

CST: Can we place more than one CTA per mobile page?

Massey: You must. You must increase the number of calls to action on mobile. You want to avoid having your mobile visitor having to scroll to find the call to action. Especially if you don’t have a sticky header.

And you should always put a dripping pan, which is the call to action at the bottom of the page. Therefore, if someone reads all the way to the bottom of the page, they are probably pretty interested in the topic.

CST: What are the best top placements for mobile call-to-action buttons?

Massey: There are two things about mobile calls to action that the power of the thumb dictate:

  • More frequent calls to down the page. For fast scrollers, you’ll want to have a call to action when their scanning has delivered the answer they were looking for. These can be one call to action repeated or content-relevant calls to action (Like the weak “Learn More”)
  • Keeping calls to action on the page. Headbands and sticky shoes should be the first elements you optimize.
  • The dripping pan. Have a call to action at the bottom of the page for when the visitor “bounces” off the bottom.

CST: Before we move onto mobile button design, white space and button color, what’s your best advice on mobile call-to-action button placement?

Massey: First, you need to define what goes in the sticky header. Should it be a sticky header or a sticky footer? Then define which of these items should go in that header or footer:

Best guidelines for placement, copy and design of mobile call-to-action buttons. List of options calls to action you can place on the sticky header.

List of options calls to action you can place on the sticky header.

And then you could define how you treat those elements. In other words, it’s about designing the calls to action.

Crafting your Mobile CTA Button Copy

Your mobile CTA button copy needs to be descriptive. The call-to-action button should tell visitors what is going to happen when they click it. It should be relevant, clear, and compelling. For example, “Get instant access” is compelling and clear.

Some studies show that if you say “my” instead of “your” then you’ll have an increase in conversion rates. But this doesn’t always happen.

Test creating a sense of urgency with your audience.

Placing the privacy policy under the mobile call-to-action buttons is called risk reversal, and can help for lead generation. There is a whole science behind risk reversal near the CTA button. Trust symbols, ratings and reviews, stars, testimonials – anything that makes the person feel more comfortable clicking that CTA button.

This section’s advice on call-to-action copy is actually valid for both mobile and desktop buttons.

Mobile CTA Button Design

Button size is really important, especially on small screens. Make sure your responsive design does not reduce the size of your buttons, and follow IOS standards on button size. In the Human Interface Guidelines, Apple recommends a minimum target size that is 44 pixels wide by 44 pixels tall. Try to avoid text buttons, as they are too small to tap and may lack sufficient contrast to be visible.

Adhering to these standards will not only help you with conversion, but with user experience and SEO as well.

The next thing to take into consideration is contrast. Not the color of the button per se, but the contrast in colors.

A button on mobile needs to look like a button, and, if it doesn’t, you may want to add round corners, raised borders, shadows, etc. And if there’s any doubt that this is a button, add an arrow of some sort to point at the button.

Our experience indicates that buttons that look like actual buttons tend to perform better. On the other hand, we have also found that ghost buttons – those whose background is the same as the page – can be invisible. As usual, you have to test to find out.

Vary the boldness of mobile CTAs based on priority if you have several buttons together.

If you are working with a platform like Magento, Shopify or WordPress, you may be limited by the theme’s responsive design. In these cases, you should consider either a theme that allows you to present two different designs, one for large-screen visitors and one for small screens. You may be able to alter the theme’s template to deliver a different experience to small screen devices. There are tools on the market that let you change the site in the visitor’s browser with JavaScript. This is similar to what we use to AB test. The server serves the same page, but as this is a mobile phone, it makes adjustments in the visitor’s browser.

Sales funnel or full funnel conversion optimization? Which should you use and when? It all depends on what you want to understand.

Full funnel conversion optimization – or the Conversion Sciences Profit Funnel™ – provides the analysis and insights needed to help positively impact your business bottom line. Analyzing a sales funnel helps improve those issues found in a specific buying process.

There is nothing wrong about analyzing a sales funnel conversion rate or a sales funnel model for a specific segment of a customer journey. But your online business will definitively benefit from performing a Profit Funnel™ or full-funnel conversion optimization as well.

A highly experienced team of conversion experts can leverage both models when optimizing, instead of narrowing the view and hurting profits. An inexperienced conversion consultant will only see a siloed series of sales funnels, evaluate them independently and make decisions based on their own unique ROAS instead of their interactions.

Deliver double-digit sales growth every year, year after year. Increase revenues and profit. And shorten your sales cycle with our ecommerce and lead generation solutions.

Let’s review the key differences between sales funnel and full funnel conversion optimization or Profit Funnel™. We’ll begin with a great example of both models, a definition of a full marketing funnel. Finally, we’ll cover their differences in scope and the metrics used by each funnel.

Happy customers means returning customers. The starting point for full funnel conversion optimization is the customer blueprint and guess whose CRO audit services include a map of the customer journey for your online shop? Conversion Sciences.

Happy customers means returning customers. The starting point for full funnel conversion optimization is the customer blueprint and guess whose CRO audit services include a map of the customer journey for your online shop?

Example of Sales Funnel vs Full Funnel Conversion Optimization

Imagine an addiction treatment center that offers both low-cost at-home testing kits and treatment programs. Their at-home drug testing kit sells for $10, and it costs $5 to manufacture and ship. Their treatment programs start at $15,000.

They have an effective social media presence, paid campaigns to engage and attract their target market. And they also provide valuable resources for people with addiction problems and for their loved on their website. These range from informational articles to online quizzes to help find out whether or not one is suffering from an addiction and what is the best course of action.

Ok. Time to tackle sales funnel optimization. If they analyze their PPC sales funnel they will realize that it is costing them $20 in ad spend to convert each home testing kit sale. This added to the manufacturing and shipping costs may lead them to determine that this $10 sale is costing the company $25. But they are not looking at their profit margins, they are simply calculating Return on Ad Spend or ROAS.

Thus, they may decide to turn off the ad spend and stop this failing campaign because they “lose” $15 per sale. Or they may attempt to improve a Google Ads campaign that is already performing quite well.

But what if this addiction treatment center looks at the full-marketing funnel or Profit Funnel™ instead?

They would find that 20% of their customers have repeated their kit purchase every 3 months.

By the same token, they have not estimated the impact that their content development and social media efforts have on those conversions. And they were attributing the sale to the last touch-point.

As the buyer journey is not limited to a single channel, analyzing a single sales funnel could narrow your business focus and marketing assessment scope.

Moreover, this treatment center finds that 2% of the people who purchase their $10 test later sends a loved one to their center for a $15k treatment program. Those $20 in ad spend for each testing kit sale got the family to notice their services and inquire about their drug-rehab program. Therefore, for every 100 tests they sell, an average of 2 patients will join their treatment program generating a minimum of $30,000 in revenue.

Before I became the CMO, I was more focused on how we were spending our marketing budget than on how marketing could help drive long-term business objectives.But thinking like this holds businesses back. Marketing should be valued for its long-term potential, rather than its short-term efficiencies.

-Monty Sharma, CEO and CMO, Jenny Craig

So, What is Full Funnel Conversion Optimization or Profit Funnel™ Optimization?

As we have noticed, a full funnel evaluates the 360 degree customer journey with a company or brand. Its goal is not only to acquire a customer but also to understand, nurture and improve their relationship and experience with the brand.

It focuses on not only pre but post-transaction because it takes into account how this will affect the probability of increased number of subscription renewals or sales, lower customer rotation, lower customer acquisition costs, and increased profit margins.

As we can clearly see, even though it’s called a funnel, this model looks more like an infinite loop with many potential touch-points throughout the buyers journey, over time and across a multitude of devices and online/offline experiences.

Have you even thought of people interacting with your site or buying from you via Alexa? Full funnel analysis and optimization will deliver a more cohesive personalized experience to your online customer segments.

Have you even thought of people interacting with your site or buying from you via Alexa? Photo: Grant Ritchie via Unsplash.

1. Sales Funnel vs Profit Funnel™ or Full Funnel Optimization: Differences in Scope

One of the main differences between sales funnel and a full funnel conversion optimization is its scope. The oftentimes narrow span of a sales funnel is overshadowed by the number of elements or touch-points that a Profit Funnel™ considers.

Let’s check them out.

Single Path vs Infinite Loop: Are you optimizing for Omni channel yet?

The most evident difference between the sales and the Profit Funnel™ models lies in their reach. Highly restricted to a specific conversion path for the sales funnel versus a very broad view of the customer journey for the latter.

While most sales funnels are focused on a single transaction (such as a lead, sale or subscription) the full funnel or Profit Funnel™ acknowledges the entire lifetime of a potential customer or client. Its purpose is to allow us to take a step back and look at the entire customer journey or full marketing funnel and help optimize by what is most profitable without discarding the customer experience.

One Decision Maker vs Multiple Stakeholders

Have you been optimizing for a single decision-maker? Maybe you were leaving some marketing personas out of the equation. The higher the ticket price, especially for B2Bs, the higher the likelihood of having more than a single decision-maker involved in the purchasing process. Most companies will include different stakeholders’ input through the funnel and each one of them may further or delay that coveted B2B sale.

Sales funnel conversion optimization targets one person. Profit funnels recognize there is often more than one decision-maker.

Conversion Sciences Profit Funnel™ recognizes and accounts for this fact. Trying to optimize a single funnel to convert this lead is short-sighted, when understanding the 360 degree customer journey and optimizing for it, will significantly increase conversions and boost profit margins.

Single Device vs Cross-Device

We often find – when auditing a client’s conversion efforts – that their sales funnels don’t include mobile customers. Addressing this gap via mobile conversion optimization efforts has increased their profits manyfold.

The Profit Funnel™ recognizes the value of determining which of those platforms holds the highest potential for each particular conversion and finding a way to best optimize each path.

Sales funnels often focus on increasing conversions on a certain page on either mobile, tablet, or desktop. Thus, leaving out the reality that customers will interact with your brand, product or service in multiple ways and through as many devices as exist.

Have you even thought of people interacting with your site or buying from you via Alexa?

Full Funnel Conversion Optimization Enables a More Personalized Online Experience

The data-driven strategy of optimizing the full marketing funnel helps you identify consumer segments. Behavioral information can be collected in-store, online, and post-visit. The insights derived from this analysis helps you craft and deliver online personalized experiences to boost conversions and increase their contribution to your bottom line. All the while deriving insights to improving your marketing strategy.

“You are engaging with the consumer on an intimate level — they are telling you what products are interesting. That customer data is one of the most important things to grow your brand.” – Kate Kibler, Timberland’s VP of direct-to-consumer.

For high-traffic sites, Conversion Sciences offers the latest martech stacks – ML and AI-powered – via the Conversion Catalyst AI™. Our Conversion Catalyst AI™ builds a predictive model that identifies which visitors are ready to buy, and delivers the perfect experience so that they are more likely to buy from you. So you can deliver the most optimized experience be it on your website, on wearable devices, voice search, augmented-reality or any of the myriad of experiences the IoT brings us.

Full funnel analysis and optimization will deliver a more cohesive personalized experience to your online customer segments.

2. Sales Funnel vs Full Funnel Conversion Optimization Metrics

It’s hard to take a look at your full marketing funnel and try to gauge how well it’s working besides ROI and profit margins. But following those metrics without fully understanding which effort or efforts made the difference, is no way to run a business either. But lucky you. Full funnel is optimized with your bottom line in mind and a bespoke full funnel attribution will help you identify what’s helping and what’s hindering your conversions.

Therefore, the difference between sales funnel and full funnel conversion optimization is that you will end up concentrating your marketing spend on those efforts who bring in profitable returns. Much better than looking at a measly conversion rate. right? ;)

Sales funnel conversion optimization targets one person while Profit funnels recognize there is often more than one decision-maker.

Sales funnel conversion optimization targets one person while Profit funnels recognize there is often more than one decision-maker.


Are you narrowing your business focus down to sales funnels and conversion rates? Are you making decisions that affect your whole business by a simple ROAS? Or are you leveraging a 360 degree customer blueprint to improve your company’s profit margins?

Do you need your customer journey mapped? Check out Conversion Sciences conversion rate optimization audit services.

In the addiction treatment center example, when the sales funnel was not profitable (its ROAS was negative), they could have shut down the ad campaign. But when they looked at the full funnel (in-patient treatment registrations), the ad investment was profitable and it justified the initial losses in the funnel. It had a positive ROI.

Thus, by using both metrics, you can isolate those efforts whose ROAS may be positive but not their ROI, which takes into consideration not a single digitally advertised campaign but how each contributes to the business profit margins. And you can spare from killing efforts with negative ROAS because, in the end, their revenue-generating power is much larger than the one calculated from the revenue from ad campaign/cost of ad campaign.

By doing so, you change the focus to driving business performance, not just advertising performance.

Single Attribution vs Custom Attribution

Going back to the addiction treatment center example. There are things they do that contribute to their bottom line – such as informational blog posts, quizzes, etc. But their attribution model assigned the conversion value to a single Google Ads campaign.

People have several contacts with a brand before they even consider converting on that landing page, clicking on that PPC ad or that Instagram shoppable image. Which means that any and all contributions along the 360 degree funnel, or full funnel or Profit Funnel™ must be taken into account and their value toward each of the conversions (testing kit purchase, treatment) attributed properly to measure its impact on revenues and on profit margins.

While a single touch attribution model is a fast and simple way to allocate credit to a campaign, full funnel must use a bespoke or custom attribution model to understand what is working and what is not.

It’s common yet dangerous and naive to make assumptions about which touchpoint to attribute credit for a conversion. Oftentimes these assumptions are created from unrecognized personal bias and proven false through data analysis. This is one of the biggest reasons that analyzing all metrics is vital to a company’s long-term success.

How do you bring a data-driven approach to your website redesign? BigCommerce hired Chris Nolan to do just that. Here’s how he used data to drive a Market-first redesign.

When we lose an employee to another company, I feel a mix of pride and saltiness. I’m proud that working here turns otherwise ordinary men and women into highly valuable data-driven performance marketers.

But I hate getting my employees poached.

In 2018, it was time for one of our employees to step into a bigger role. After working with us for years, Chris Nolan (not the Batman director) stepped into a big role in a company with Big in its name.

Chris was tapped to be the cornerstone hire for the growth team at BigCommerce. We miss him, but have enjoyed seeing how a Conversion Scientist takes on a big organization like BigCommerce.

His challenge is the same challenge that “woke” marketers are facing in every industry. How do I get an entrenched culture to adopt data and testing.

“Market-First” Strategies with Chris Nolan

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You might say that Chris jumped out of his lab coat and into the fire with BigCommerce, as they recently redesigned their entire site. There is no bigger challenge to a growth marketer than an “all in” redesign.

BigCommerce homepage before the website redesign

BigCommerce homepage before the website redesign.

BigCommerce homepage after the website redesign

BigCommerce homepage after the website redesign

I invited Chris to come onto the podcast to share the challenges and triumphs of a new hire nudging a culture from the bottom during a website relaunch.

Buckle up.

Chris is the Senior Growth Strategy Manager at BigCommerce. Businesses build their e-commerce websites on BigCommerce technology. They recently completed a website redesign.

Chris started his marketing journey because he had a passion for human behavior. This episode is jam-packed as he walks us through agency relationships, differentiating mobile from desktop sites and how to think ‘market-first’ to get the right site experience for your next redesign.

Self Care Tip

Championing change in an organization is a long journey, but the victories come all along the way. So, when you get back to the office, do something to take care of yourself. Book a massage. Put a meditation session on your calendar. Invite a close friend to your favorite restaurant. Get a jog or workout in.

These are scientifically proven ways we make ourselves better marketers, too.

Resources and links discussed

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How is conversion optimization ensuring that website redesigns always deliver an improvement in performance? Brian Massey and Joel Harvey can tell you. And they do.

Poker is one of those games that, like digital marketing, requires a left-brain/right-brain approach. To begin with, good poker players know the percentages. They know that the two four’s in their hand gives them a 12% chance of winning in a typical game. That’s their left-brain, data-driven knowledge.

Then you add in all of the right-brain stuff. Emotion. Reading the other players’ faces. Controlling your own face. Tells. And past behaviors.

Yep, that’s digital marketing. But there’s one move that throws all of that out the window.

Taking the Risk out of Website Redesigns with Joel Harvey

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You may have seen it in the World Series of Poker on TV, or in a James Bond movie. One player pushes his entire stack of chips into the center of the table and says, “All in”. What he’s saying is, if he loses this hand, he loses everything. All of the other players have to ask themselves, “WIll I match his entire stack?” or should I get out now.

Going all in smashes everything. It may mean that you’re ignoring the data in one big high-stakes bluff. Or it may mean that you’re trying to ratchet up the emotion, scaring the rest of the table into making a bad decision.

There is an equivalent to “going all in” in digital marketing as well. It’s called a website redesign.

This is one of the biggest budgeted projects a company will do. When someone throws a lot of money at the marketing department, it can be hard to resist.

Sure, it could have a huge impact on the financial prospects of the firm. It can also cause you to lose everything.

Poker players have one advantage over digital marketers when going all in: They can see their cards. They know their percentage. Digital marketers? Well, they have past performance from the current site..

But do they use it?

Joel Harvey and Brian Massey Intended Consequences The new way to redesign

Joel Harvey and Brian Massey Intended Consequences The new way to redesign

On today’s show, I’m pulling in Joel Harvey – Chief Operating Officer at Conversion Sciences. Joel’s role is to make sure we live up to our company motto: “Always deliver remarkable results.”

Check out our conversion-centered website redesign method that guarantees results in weeks, not months.

Joel and I are talking website redesigns today. And we’re going to tell you something that may blow your mind. Website redesigns don’t have to be an all or nothing hand. You don’t have to push all of your budget in and wait 3, or 6 or even 12 months later.

Listen to find out how we stack the odds in our favor, guaranteeing a winning hand.

  • The website redesign needs to be profitable – not pretty.
  • Users tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • Slow and steady wins the [website redesign] race.
  • Demand data.

When an agency comes to you and asks you to pick something, that’s an opportunity for you to say, “Wait a minute! You guys go off and collect some data and tell me which one of these is going to be victorious.” You shouldn’t be guessing. They shouldn’t be guessing.

Website Redesign Tip

The all-in approach isn’t just limited to website redesigns. Individual campaigns are usually all-in affairs as well.

When you get back to the office, open a spreadsheet and start writing out the assumptions that you’re making when designing that email, social media ad, or landing page.

You should quickly have a few dozen.

  • “We need to be clever in our headline”
  • “We need to have a picture on the page”
  • “We need icons on our website.”
  • “Video is required.”

Many of these may be well supported by past experience or best practices.

For each, you should ask, “Do I have a way of finding out if this assumption is a good one.”

You may be able to look at the performance of past pages. You may be able to see which email subject lines worked best in the past. You may create different versions of ads and see which delivers the best result.

Now you’re looking at your cards, and you’ll rarely win a hand if you don’t.

Resources and links discussed

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 All you ever wanted to know about performing website due diligence and how to not doo due diligence when buying sites.

I’m at the Ungagged Conference and enjoyed sitting in on a presentation by Bryan O’Neil of

Are you looking for a Website, or a Web Business?

— Bryan O’neil,

Website Due Diligence Issues to Consider

When considering investing in a web business, consider the following.

  • Traffic source: Is it dependent on free search?
  • Proft
  • On-going development: Does it require additional investment?
  • Dependence on Third-party API’s: Facebook, Twitter and others can change access to data at any time.

There are other considerations for website due diligence as well.

Calculate Revenue per Visit

The Revenue per Visit (RPV) is the revenue generated by a site divided by the number of visitors. If this number is small, you may have trouble building traffic, because the cost of the traffic is higher than the revenue.

For a better analysis, consider measuring Profit per Visit.

Avoid Traffic Arbitrage

If the site is not something you would use, you might have a business built on traffic arbitrage. Arbitrage is acquiring traffic, and then sending it advertisers or affiliates for more than you paid.

This is not a web business.

Does the Website have a Future?

Sites with a limited future are not a good long-term investment. When performing website due diligence, be careful of sites that are at the mercy of time or other businesses.

Websites that focus on a single event have a built in expiration date.

Sites that fix something in someone else’s product can be eliminated by upgrades to that product.

Sites tat provide a product that is simply “better” than the competition can be marketed out of existence

Websites that depend on loopholes should be avoided, as loopholes can be closed.

Avoid trying to figure things out after you buy.

— Bryan O’neil,

Website Due Diligence: 7 Business Buying Myths

O’Neil offer seven myths about buying a business that you should avoid.

Myth #1: The site’s backlink profile is important

Dependence on organic traffic is dangerous.

Myth #2: Financial verification is most important

Businesses with good financial verification can fail if they don’t have a future.

Myth #3: Escrow can save you from a bad decision.

Escrow is where you give money to a third party during a period of inspection and verification.

Do your due diligence before you enter escrow. Don’t make yourself a target for scammers.

Entering escrow also tie up your capital, limiting your options.

Myth #4: Website due diligence is just too expensive.

Due diligence is expensive, especially if done by a third party.

But, when you compare it to the purchase price, it can be quite affordable.

Calculate your Website Due Diligence Percent:

DDP = Cost of Due Diligence / Purchase Price of Website.

Myth #5: Screen shots are viable proof of financial performance.

Business owners can forge screen shots showing success. This is a sign of a scammer.

Make the seller jump through hoops.

— Bryan O’neil,

Myth #6: Your broker can do due diligence.

Avoid any broker that claims they have done due diligence for you.

Brokers work for the SELLER.

Myth #7: You can rely on apps to do your website due diligence.

Nope. You need the human element in the process.

Due Diligence when Buying Websites by Bryan O’neil of

Here is my instagraph infographic of his presentation on due diligence mistakes when buying Websites.

Avoid Doo Due Diligence When Buying Websites - All About Website Due Diligence: Advice from

Due Diligence when Buying Websites by Bryan O’Niel

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The Power of Three
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Running a business website is no different from a Monopoly game. You have scarce resources to spend building the site and attracting traffic. Find out how to optimize for scarcity and win the game!

Monopoly is the quintessential game of American capitalism. For better or worse, it focuses the player on one goal: maximizing the number of dollars in your pile. Everyone has their own strategy and their preferred properties to own and build. Your little sister may only buy properties if she likes the color.

Excellent monopoly players learn their opponents’ strategy and then adapt to respond to the environment they are in.

If you look beyond the “greed is good” focus on money, you will realize that playing the game teaches the principles of scarcity and optimization.

The number dollars you start with is scarce. You must make the most of your limited resources.

You want to be ready when lady luck glances your way. When a dog, a car, or a hat finally lands your property, you better be ready.

Running a business website is no different. You inevitably have scarce resources to spend building the site and attracting traffic.

And when those visitors finally land on your site, you better be ready. This is the job of optimization.

If you viewed your web page as a Monopoly board, would it change your priorities and behavior?

Like houses and hotels, would the right elements be on your page be there?

Too often, we don’t think about our web pages as scarce resources that have to be optimized. Too often, we use our little sister’s “pretty property” strategy. Trust me. She still hates to lose.

Monopoly game board. Discover how to optimize for scarcity and grow your business.

Discover how to optimize for scarcity and grow your business.

What is Scarcity

Scarcity means having less resources than needed to achieve a goal. In Monopoly, we can’t own all the properties and have hotels on all properties. We have to deal with scarcity. Our money supply is limited, as is our opportunity to buy properties. The desire to compete brings out our analytical nature and we scheme to make the most of the resources we have as opposed to the resources we want. We do this because we know we have an opponent that is actively working to undo us. Again, do we think about our web page the same way?

Examples of Scarcity on our Web Pages

In reality, we do have opponents in our web strategy. Not just one, but many. In fact, we usually have more opponents than competitors. Some of these opponents include:

  • Limited attention span
  • Lack of common reference and knowledge base
  • Low-resolution computer monitors
  • Negative emotional association with specific words or images
  • Slow connection speeds

As you think about the opponents listed above, you will recognize scarcity working against your ultimate goal. Vigorously compete against these opponents on your site with the same vigor you compete in Monopoly, and you’ll be more likely to “pass GO and collect $200.”

How to Optimize for Scarcity

Something amazing happens on the Monopoly board that doesn’t naturally happen on our web page.

In Monopoly, we quit caring about how glamorous a property is and instead focus on how much money it will make for us.

In contrast, it is the very rare individual who walks into a web planning meeting without being focused on making the most beautiful page possible. If we played Monopoly the same way, we would focus on acquiring and building hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place and be done. If you try this approach, either in Monopoly or on your website, you lose.

If you don’t pull your weight, you’re gone!

Without emotion, we require properties to pay their way. They have a job to do and we expect them to do it well. The properties’ job is generating revenue.

Is there an element on your web page that isn’t pulling its weight? As optimizers, our job is to identify the converting elements on a page and remove the non-converting elements.

How to Optimize for Scarcity: Testing to see which properties are performing

Such was the case for one client’s site, when we set out to improve the home page. We followed this process to find out which elements led to conversions:

  1. We set up Google to score on bounce rate while watching conversions.
  2. We used click-tracking software heat mapping to identify content that was not getting clicked. This website has 4 clickable icons that take the user to additional content. We found that the 2 outer icons had low activity and decided to test them against alternate icons.
  3. The experiment executed quickly with the following results:
    • 10% improvement in bounce rate
    • 56% improvement in conversions
Small changes have a big impact on conversions.

Fig 1. Small changes have a big impact on conversions.

That felt good – let’s do it again

After experiencing success, it seemed like a good idea to try again. This time we identified one icon that was under-performing, so we replaced it with another one that led to a converting page. The result here is interesting. Looking at the heat map alone indicates the replaced icon is more desirable. But looking at the numbers reveals it was not the right choice.

More clicks do not necessarily mean more conversions.

Fig 2. More clicks do not necessarily mean more conversions.

As shown on the heat map above, replacing the 3rd icon attracted many more clicks on the “B” version of the page. However, both the bounce rate and the conversion rate took a hit.

  • Bounce rate degraded 4%
  • Conversion rate decreased 56%

This experiment shows why it is essential to test and scrutinize the results. Two nearly identical hypotheses with two nearly identical changes led to opposite results. My initial inclination was to ignore the results and push the change through. But I put on my Monopoly head and determined the measurable results of the change should trump how I felt about the change.

No Experiment is a Failure

It would be easy to walk away from the second experiment and view it as a total loss. In the same way that losses are our teachers in Monopoly, losses should be our teachers in web optimization experiments. Just as every Monopoly opponent is unique, our clients and website visitors are unique.

To better understand the behavior we observed, we sought to learn more by asking some basic questions:

  • Why did higher clicks on the replaced icon also correspond to a higher bounce rate? (Hint:  something else didn’t get clicked as much!)
  • What was appealing about the new icon?
  • Why did the site conversion rate drop?
  • What was the net gain/loss of each individual conversion metric?
  • Did the new copy corresponding to the new icon have a negative impact?
  • Would alternate copy change the site performance?
  • Did the new icon and copy add clarity and relevance?
  • Did the new icon and copy add anxiety or distraction?

It is important to learn from each experiment regardless of the results. Applying this discipline is critical in understanding the unique functionality of your website and what increases or decreases conversions.

Failing to learn from a “failed” experiment is like failing to learn the tactics of your Monopoly opponent. You will face them again, and you want to be prepared when you do.

So What Should You Do?

Like many 12-step programs, the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem. Say out loud, “I care more about how pretty my web page is than how much money it makes.” Let that sink in and prepare to change. Make a personal commitment to website profitability based on hard data. Then approach your web pages with the kind of profit-focused attention to scarcity and optimization that wins Monopoly games.

  • Make a list of the individual components on your web page – especially above the fold.
  • Write the purpose of each component next to it.
  • Ask yourself if each component contributes to profit – and eliminate those that don’t.
  • Ask yourself if there is anything that could replace the existing components that would drive more profit.
  • Test, test, test.

Nobody is immune to personal biases and individual favorites. If you want to maximize the functionality of your website, you need to put a structure in place that always tests and always trusts data over opinion. When you earn how to optimize for scarcity, you win. When you make a habit of doing that, you will be the same formidable opponent that you are in Monopoly.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The Power of Three
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Fitt’s Law states that the time it takes to move a mouse to a CTA button is a function of the distance to the button and its size. Just like shooting pool.

According to Fitt’s Law, clicking a button on your site can be modeled like a pool shot. It’s a fun way of saying that you should make buttons big and put them where the visitor expects them to be. If you’re looking for good ideas for testing button design, consider the game of pool.

Most of us have at one time or another found ourselves at the end of a pool cue with “a lot of green” between us and the ball we want to sink. There is a lot of table between the cue ball and the ball we want to hit just right.

Thanks to an excellent article on, I’ve discovered that visitors to our website may be experiencing the same thing. Author Nate Desmond introduced Fitt’s Law, which he states this way:

Fitt’s Law proposes that time required to move your mouse to a target area (like a sign-up button) is a function of (1) distance to the target and (2) size of the target.

In a game of pool, the distance to the target changes constantly. This is equivalent to the distance from where a visitor’s mouse is and where your call to action button is.

In general, the rules of a pool shot are pretty simple.

Fitt’s Law Corollary: The Closer the Cue Ball to the Target Ball, the Easier the Shot

Shooting pool is like webpage development. It’s easier to accurately hit a target ball that is close to the cue ball.

It’s easier to accurately hit a target ball that is close to the cue ball.

The further the ball is from the cue ball, the harder the shot.

It’s counter-intuituve that the distance to the hole doesn’t matter as much as the distance from the cue ball.

If you strike the cue ball hard enough, it doesn’t really matter how far the target ball is from the pocket. What does matter is how far the target ball is from the cue ball. The shot is easier to line up and there is less distance for the cue ball to bend if you add a little accidental spin. When you put spin on the ball, it’s called “English”. Accidental spin is generally called “cussing”.

The Cue Ball is Where the Mouse Is — or Wants — to Be

To continue stretching our metaphor beyond recognition, we can liken the white cue ball to where the mouse is on a web page.
Part of the problem with this approach is that we really don’t know where the visitor’s mouse is on the page when it loads. We might assume it’s in the upper-left corner, where the website address is entered. This is true for only a small percentage of your visitors who enter your site by typing your domain. Others will come from internal links, ads and search results.

You can't just cram your click target into the upper left corner of your pages.

You can’t just cram your click target into the upper left corner of your pages.

It’s probably not helpful to put your call to action buttons in the upper left corner of  your pages.

For some, it will be where the visitor is looking on the page. For some percentage of our visitors, the location of their mouse predicts where they look on the screen. This would tell you that the most visually interesting items on your page will be magnets for visitor eyes and for the visitor’s mouse.

What are the most visually interesting points on your page? You can determine this by using several eye-tracking predictors like AttentionWizard and Feng-GUI. In the following example, the red circles indicate the most visually attractive aspects of the page, and predict how the visitors’ eyes will explore the page.

National Business Furniture eye Tracking: The visitors' eyes don't come close the the click target "Add to Cart" button.

The visitors’ eyes don’t come close the the click target “Add to Cart” button.

The Add to Cart button – our target ball – really isn’t close to most of the high-contrast items on the page. The distance from the “mouse” to the button is long. Plus, the button is relatively small and doesn’t stand out from other elements on the page.

Compare that to the following competitor.

World Market Eye Tracking: The click target is "closer" to where the eyes -- and mouse -- are likely to be on this page.

The click target is “closer” to where the eyes — and mouse — are likely to be on this page.

In this case, the Add to Cart button is one of the most visually interesting things on the page. Furthermore, it is near other highly-visible elements. The effective “distance” is much smaller and the visual “size” is larger.

This gives us two very helpful rules of thumb:

  1. Make your click targets visually interesting.
  2. Place your click targets close to things that are visually interesting.

We recommend that the click-targets on landing pages and product pages bet the most visually prominent items on the page.

Place Buttons Where They are Expected to Be

Probably a more effective way to reduce the distance between the mouse and a click target is to put your buttons where they are expected to be. We have been trained that the “end” of a page is the lower-right corner. This is where it has made sense to put buttons since the days of Web 1.0. As a result, we expect the lower-right to take us to the next step.

This concept is lost on the following page.

The "Cancel" button is in a disastrous place. Visitors expect the lower-right button to be the next step.

The “Cancel” button is in a disastrous place. Visitors expect the lower-right button to be the next step.

Here, the right-most button – the one most likely to be targeted — is “Cancel”. This button clears out all of the form information. Is there really ever a good reason to clear out a form? No. So don’t make it the lower-right click target.

This is close:

The Add to Cart button is not in the expected place on this ecommerce product page.

The Add to Cart button is not in the expected place on this ecommerce product page.

This is closer:

The add to cart button here is closer to the desired place. The box around it will deflect visitors' gazes.

The add to cart button here is closer to the desired place. The box around it will deflect visitors’ gazes.

This is closest:

The add to cart button here is the last thing in the lower right part of the page. Perfect next step.

The add to cart button here is the last thing in the lower right part of the page. Perfect next step.

If Something’s In the Way, the Shot is Harder (and so is the click)

One of the major challenges in pool is, of course, other balls. This is also the problem on webpages (not the balls).

The hardest shot is when things are in the way, for pool and webpages.

The hardest shot is when things are in the way, for pool and webpages.

Designers (should) know how to remove things that make click targets disappear. White space is one technique that removes blocks.

Lot's of white space around this click target make it easier to see and click. Leverage white space to make the button appear bigger.

Lot’s of white space around this click target make it easier to see and click.

Solid lines form barriers to the eye’s movement.

Elements crowd out this Add to Cart button, making it almost invisible.

Elements crowd out this Add to Cart button, making it almost invisible.

Major and Minor Choices for Button Design

One technique that we use that takes advantage of Fitt’s Law is major and minor choices. We make the choice that we desire less smaller and harder to click. We make the choice we want the visitor to choose big and bright.

Here we see that the designer made the “Learn More” button more visually prominent – making it closer – while making the “Watch video” link more distant – less visually prominent.

Which of these two click targets is "closer" due to the visual attractiveness? The order should probably have been reversed.

Which of these two click targets is “closer” due to the visual attractiveness? The order should probably have been reversed.

Language Makes the Hole Bigger

While there really is no way to get bigger pocket holes on a pool table, there is a way to do so with click targets. The language you use on buttons and in links will make it easier for visitors to take action.

Make your visitors excellent pool players by giving them easy shots.

Make your visitors excellent pool players by giving them easy shots.

“Submit” does not generate a large pocket to aim at. The language should tell the visitor what will happen if they click, and what they will get.

  • Download the eBook
  • Get Your Free Report
  • Get Instant Access
  • Add to Cart
  • Checkout
  • Request a Call

These make the visitor a better shot by offering them something of value as a part of the click target.

Some popovers have begun using the inverse of this technique to discourage visitors from abandoning.

Some popovers have begun using the inverse of this technique - Fitt's Law - to discourage visitors from abandoning.


Give Your Visitors a Better Shot with Better Button Design

If a webpage is indeed like a pool table, it makes sense to give your visitors the best shot at clicking on the right button or link.

  1. Anticipate where your visitors eyes and mouse cursor will be on the page.
  2. Place click targets physically close to these places.
  3. Make click targets visually significant and place them near other visually significant items.
  4. Remove blocks that make click targets disappear. Use white space and eliminate competing elements on the page.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conversation or argument and it suddenly hits you that the two of you aren’t talking about the same thing? Then you have that brilliant “aha” moment where you can actually start making some progress.

One workplace conversation that can be particularly tricky is whether your company should redesign its website. It’s important to make sure everyone is talking about the same thing when you talk about redesign because it’s costly, risky, and emotionally charged.

There are a few common reasons companies choose to redesign their websites:

  • The site performs poorly
  • The desire to be “mobile-friendly”
  • The site is “dated”
  • The desire to be “unique”

These reasons have a common denominator: you’re not happy with a very particular aspect of your site. There are many ways you can approach finding a solution to the problem, and we – the universal We – attach the word “redesign” to those solutions even though it means one of many methods are used to get the result we want.

Synonyms for redesign from

Synonyms for redesign from

According to, the above are some of the more common synonyms for “redesign”. The way Conversion Sciences uses this term is very industry-specific, so it has a certain jargon-y quality. Someone working in marketing at a tech or ecommerce company probably understands our jargon more than their colleagues in other departments.

If you’re that marketing person and you’re trying to convince your boss and other departments that you need conversion optimization, it’s really important that you’re all speaking the same language. You might be experiencing some miscommunication and not even realize it.

What are the different ways each of you might be using the word “redesign”?

Before you dismiss it as juvenile to keep returning to basic, dictionary definitions of “redesign”, make a mental tally of important people who don’t work in marketing, conversion optimization, or graphic design.

  • Your CEO and CFO, maybe your boss
  • Your customer service representatives answering chat, phone calls, and emails
  • Your customers

All of us feel great satisfaction in knowing the real definition, but ultimately being right isn’t helpful if no one understands each other.

A Full Redesign: Starting Over From Scratch

When we say “redesign” in its purest sense, we mean a brand spanking new website. You hired a designer, you have a new color palette and CSS, you completely threw out the old. Every page is new, the entire structure is different.

Redesign can be used to mean a brand spanking new experience

“Redesign” can be used to mean a brand spanking new experience

When Conversion Sciences cautions against redesigns, this is the definition we’re using. We say there are only two good reasons to undertake a website redesign:

  1. You are re-branding or
  2. Your CMS (content management system) is too limiting

When I worked at Westbank Library our website used a proprietary CMS built by the company that built our ILS (integrated library system). An ILS is used to search for books or connect to an online resource or check to see when books are due back. In other words, an ILS isn’t meant to be the platform for a very specific kind of online application.

Westbank's homepage in 2008, built with a CMS that was only intended to be used for online library catalogs

Westbank’s homepage in 2008, built with a CMS that was only intended to be used for online library catalogs (screenshot via the Way Back Machine)

The ILS wouldn’t support some very important non-book-related features:

  • We couldn’t optimize the site for the search engines
  • We couldn’t embed a calendar
  • We couldn’t choose which photos appeared where on the page
  • We couldn’t create customized landing pages for special events
  • We couldn’t make the site ADA compliant
  • We couldn’t add widgets other libraries were using

We needed a new site built on a new CMS, one that met our present-day needs. The only way to do that was to dump the old one. The new website was built using Drupal, and it meant everything was new. The change was necessary and long overdue.

Westbank's new homepage after the from-scratch redesign

Westbank’s new homepage after the from-scratch redesign (screenshot via the Way Back Machine, which is why the images aren’t loading)

We were excited that on smartphones, the phone number was tel-linked and that the site was now searchable without going back to Google. Best of all, we had an actual, legitimate calendar. Before the redesign, the best we could do was make a list of what was going on.

Calendar of events on old site

Calendar of events on old site

After the redesign, people could see an actual calendar with clickable events where they could go find more information.

Calendar of events on new site

Calendar of events on new site

Without a doubt, the new site was an immense improvement. The lack of functionality on the old site was crippling us.
In this case, a full redesign was justified, but the results weren’t what we had hoped.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The Power of Three
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Conversion Optimization as Redesign: Making Incremental Changes

When the new site launched, our traffic went through the roof – hundreds of times more people were visiting our website. But since the change was long overdue, people who used the old site for a decade were totally lost.

Dozens of people called us saying “I can’t find anything on this new website, you need to redesign it!” and dozens more sent us angry emails saying the same. With the amount of time we spent working on the new website, it was disheartening to hear. Small public libraries don’t have the resources to do projects like this often – and in some cases, they can’t do projects like it at all. We knew we’d been fortunate, and we were suddenly terrified we had blown our only chance to fix our site. There were very serious discussions of applying for grants, then hiring a new design team to start over.

But after spending time talking to our patrons, we’d find out what they actually meant by “redesign”.

In one case, a gentlemen received an email reminding him to renew his books and included a link for him to do it online. Before our redesign, that link took him to his library account where he was automatically logged in on his home computer. All he had to do was click “renew”. After the redesign, this link took him to our homepage, so he had no idea where to go. When we say that your landing pages need to fulfill the promises you’ve made in your ad, this is a great example of what we’re talking about. Instead of changing the design of anything, we needed to fix that link.

Another way we knew people were lost is by analyzing how they used the site.

One problem in particular was how people used our site’s search box. All of the searches were for titles of popular books and movies, but the search box wasn’t connected to the online catalog. Our old site had one search box, and its only use was to look for books and movies. Everyone assumed the new search box had the same function, but it didn’t.

Our search bar at the launch of our new site.

Search options on the new website

We used the data from our search box the same way you can use heat maps. You can accommodate how your visitors are already using your site with the data you gather. Instead of forcing them to use our search box the way we wanted, we changed it to do what they wanted.

But that change meant our visitors, once again, didn’t have a site search option.

We changed the site search bar to be a catalog search, but it still wasn't perfect

We changed the site search bar to be a catalog search, but it still wasn’t perfect

From this point, we found a widget that gave us a more dynamic search bar. Then we replaced images at the bottom of the page that linked to adult, teen, and children’s programs with widgets featuring new books and the library’s Instagram account. And we featured upcoming events more prominently, moved the contact information into the footer, added navigational links along the top of the page, and worked to make the site ADA compliant. The current homepage design is very different compared to what it was when we first rolled out the new website.

The homepage as it is now

The homepage as it is now

These changes were slow-going, careful, and made one at a time. The redesign 1.0 and current iteration look similar because of branding and tabbed browsing, but for library patrons, these are two very disparate experiences. It is safe to say the new homepage underwent another redesign, but you might hesitate to use that word because the changes didn’t happen all at once.


Looking back at synonyms of “redesign”…

Redesign can be used to describe incremental changes

“Redesign” can be used to describe incremental changes

The website wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to work with. We couldn’t start over every time we realized the site could be doing better.

Big Swings as Redesign: Changing Several Variables at Once

We use the term “big swing” to talk about sweeping changes we make on a page. Often these changes are on a page that’s particularly important or special, like a homepage or landing page.

It means we’ve changed several features all at once instead of testing one thing at a time. The downside of this strategy is that no matter how the page performs after the test goes live, we don’t really know why. If the page continues to perform with the exact same conversion rate, we don’t really know why: our changes may have offset each other.

Big, sweeping changes are exciting when they are successful, and people love to share these kinds of successes. They make great headlines and engaging stories. They give us hope that our big change will work out the way we want, or perhaps even better than we imagine. The problem is that there are usually third variables at play in these stories.

Think about the diet book industry. Every book boasts of its followers’ drastic life improvements due entirely to the diet. But when someone starts to pay attention to what she eats, she may also make other changes like exercising more, quitting smoking, and getting more frequent checkups with her doctor. Was her success really due to the diet book? Or was it purely chance since she made so many other changes? There’s no way to know.

Michael Scott’s Big Swing

Humans have the potential to be rational, logical creatures, but we often fall prey to our emotions when we make decisions, dole out praise, or attach blame. In an episode of The Office, Office Manager Michael Scott has the brilliant, big idea to send out paper shipments with five golden tickets tucked into the boxes at random. Each ticket awarded a 10% discount to its recipient.

The promotion quickly goes south when Dunder Mifflin’s largest client receives all five tickets, and there are no disclaimers or expiration dates. Michael arranges for a fall guy who will be fired for the idea, but then finds out this client has decided to send Dunder Mifflin even more business because of the discount. Naturally Michael wants the credit but doesn’t want to be reprimanded for almost bankrupting the company.

Michael Scott dressed as Willy Wonka, presenting his Golden Ticket idea

Michael Scott dressed as Willy Wonka, presenting his Golden Ticket idea

The Golden Ticket promotion was a big swing because Dunder Mifflin didn’t isolate the variable Michael was hoping to test: will current clients be more loyal to Dunder Mifflin because of a special, one-time-only, 10% discount?

The consequences of the Golden Ticket run the gamut of possible results of big swings:

  • Positive Result: When it seemed like the promotion would put Dunder Mifflin out of business, the responsible party was fired
  • Negative Result: When it became apparent the promotion would solidify a relationship with an important client, the responsible party was publicly commended
  • Neutral Result: Dunder Mifflin lost a huge amount of revenue due to the promotion, then gained more revenue, also due to the promotion

Big Swings at Conversion Sciences

In a staff meeting last week, Conversion Scientist Megan Hoover told us, “We completely redesigned this landing page for our client, and it was a big improvement”. In a different staff meeting, fellow Conversion Scientist Chris Nolan told us, “Our first test was to redesign our client’s homepage, and it was a huge success”.

Conversion Sciences doesn’t do website redesigns, we do conversion optimization. So what did Megan and Chris mean?

  • We switched from two columns to three
  • We wrote a new headline
  • We changed the copy
  • We changed the wording on the call to action

These changes mean they were speaking accurately when they described their big swings as “redesigns”.

Redesign describes what we do when we do big swings

“Redesign” describes what we do when we make big swings

We didn’t change the functionality of the page, the page’s purpose, or the CMS. We definitely made some big changes, but we certainly didn’t start from scratch, and all of the changes were very localized to a landing page and a homepage.

It’s worth noting that even though it’s tough to measure results when you make a big swing type of redesign, we still take the risk sometimes because Conversion Sciences has run so many successful tests. We are very good at making educated hypotheses about what kinds of changes will work well together, but we don’t attempt these big changes often. There is a lot of room for error in the big swing.

What is Your Desired End Result?

We covered three approaches to redesign in this post:

  1. Throw-out the old, start from scratch
  2. Incremental changes
  3. Big swings

Let’s return to the most common reasons a company chooses to redesign:

  • The site performs poorly
  • The desire to be “mobile-friendly”
  • The site is “dated”
  • The desire to be “unique”

When you have the conversation at work about redesigning your site, try starting with the end goal.

If you work backwards, the conversation has a good chance of staying on track because it’s likely that everyone wants the same thing, even if it comes out of their mouths sounding very different. I’m willing to bet that everyone wants a home page with lower bounce rates. Everyone wants to reduce cart abandonment rates. Everyone wants more downloads of your industry reports. Everyone wants to sell more merchandise.

Redesigns are seductive. They come with big budgets and a chance to make a visible impact. The question at the heart of my arguments is this: do you need a website redesign, or do you need a website optimization program?

An optimization program can begin delivering results within weeks. Full redesigns take months and months to develop. An optimization program tells you which of your assumptions are good ones. Full redesigns are big gambles.

With a short Conversion Strategy Session, you will be able to make the case for a full redesign or optimization program for your growing online business. Request your free session.
Brian Massey

On Monday, Conversion Sciences launched a revamped website. As you will learn in our Lab Coat Lessons Webinar, a website redesign can be a very dangerous undertaking.

Sixty percent of our business comes through our website (the remainder being referrals). Any significant drop in traffic or conversion rate will hit our bottom line hard.

It’s still early for us, but we will share five client redesigns we’ve been involved with and why they were or were not successful. Watch the webinar replay.


What Not to Do in a Website Redesign

There is a lot that can change in a redesign. The sentiment seems to be that, since everything is changing anyway, what can it hurt to add a few more modifications, updates and rewrites? It can hurt a lot, as it turns out.

A redesign is a collection of changes, all based on assumptions about what visitors want. Some of those assumptions will be right on. Some will be sadly misdirected. The more you add, the more likely you are to introduce some random poison pill feature into the mix.

Any website redesign is a mix of good and bad assumptions.

Any website redesign is a mix of good and bad assumptions.

With our redesign, we did the opposite. Our primary goal was to improve the search engine performance of our amazing content (like this). We were tempted to rewrite dated pages, redesign elements we’ve grown tired of and photoshop our pictures to make us look more fit.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The Power of Three
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We will do these things, but not until we’ve baselined the structural changes we launched on Monday.

The heartbreak comes when more of your changes decrease conversions than increase them.

Things can get ugly when more of your redesign ideas hurt than they help.

Things can get ugly when more of your redesign ideas hurt than they help.

If you didn’t roll out changes step-by-step, you just don’t know which changes hurt you and which helped.

An even more insidious result is when more of your changes increased performance. In this situation, the marketing department pats itself on the back and goes on about its business.

When the good decisions outweigh the bad, the bad decisions are hidden.

When the good decisions outweigh the bad, the bad decisions are hidden.

But how much better could business be if the bad decisions were tested away? Usually, much better. The positive decisions overshadow the mistakes that still linger on the site sucking the revenue out of the business.

JJ Abrams has shown that he can revitalize a beloved film franchise, turning it into a blockbuster. Isn’t this what you want for your website? Find out how he did it in our webinar, The JJ Abrams School of Website Redesign.

We’ll show you five different approaches to data-driven redesign. One should fit your situation.

Meanwhile, check out how to take the risk out of your website redesign. I’ll write more about what we’re learning from our redesign soon.

So you just read an article on how your website needs to be mobile responsive. That makes sense. More people are using their phones these days than ever before. It would be wise to have a site that adjusts to a mobile user’s needs.

But then you stumble across a new headline, this one talking about the need for a separate “mobile optimized” website. Is that the same thing as responsive?
Now there’s a new article talking about “adaptive” sites, and another one demanding you use “dynamic” web design to reach mobile users.


Why web-design people? Why?

Each of these terms describes a method for delivering your website content to mobile users. Today, we are going to break down the differences between each one, so you can finally understand what’s going on the next time you talk with your website designer.

Before we begin, if you aren’t convinced that mobile design matters, check out this article on Why You Can’t Ignore Mobile Traffic.

The Different Types Of Mobile Website Development

While mobile web development is an ever-expanding field, there are three common classifications you are likely to come across.

  1. Responsive Design
  2. Adaptive Design (aka Dynamic Serving)
  3. Separate, Mobile-Optimized Design

Each of these are different, but it’s likely you will hear them being used interchangeably at times, which can add to the confusion.
To simplify things and provide a visual baseline, I’ve created the following spectrum:

This spectrum helps us understand the method we’re using to deliver website content to users

This spectrum helps us understand the method we’re using to deliver website content to users.

Each end of the spectrum represents an extreme. On the far left, we have the exact same site delivered to users on every device. In other words, there is no mobile site developed at all.

On the far right, we have a completely different site being delivered to mobile users with no crossover.

Each of the web development methods we’ll discuss fall within this spectrum.

1. Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design delivers a comparatively similar experience to a desktop experience.

Responsive web design delivers a comparatively similar experience to a desktop experience.

Responsive web design delivers the exact same website across every device, with the ONLY difference being layout.

Responsive design uses “fluid grids” to adjust site content to any possible screen size, allowing for an optimal viewing experience regardless of the device been used. This is particularly useful in a world where new devices with new screen sizes are created every other day.

Whether the site is being viewed on a tablet, smartphone, or desktop, all the elements are the same with responsive web design.

Whether the site is being viewed on a tablet, smartphone, or desktop, all the elements are the same with responsive web design.

Responsive web design keeps all the elements of your site the same on every device.

  • Same headlines
  • Same copywriting
  • Same CTAs
  • Same everything

The only difference is that the layout adjusts for easier mobile consumption, typically arranging everything for quick, up-and-down scroll navigation. So instead of users having to scroll from left to right to see an image or repeatedly zoom in and out, the site images and elements automatically resize and rearrange to intuitively fit the screen being used.

Responsive design rearranges the exact same website for optimal viewing on any device.

On the plus side, responsive sites are cheap to build, easy to maintain and work for any screen size. You make one website and it works for every device. They are also great for SEO as there is no content overlap.
On the downside, responsive sites do not offer a fully mobile-optimized experience, as you are still offering essentially the same content to mobile users. When over half of your web traffic is probably coming via mobile device, this can mean you are leaving tons of mobile conversions on the table.

2. Adaptive Web Design (aka Dynamic Serving)

Adaptive web design does not necessarily deliver the exact same experience to desktop and mobile users

Adaptive web design does not necessarily deliver the exact same content to desktop and mobile users

While responsive web design delivers essentially the same website to all users, adaptive design, also know as “Dynamic serving”, delivers separate content to users based on their device.

For example, an adaptive designer might create three different designs, each with customized HTML & CSS, for desktop, tablet, and smartphone users. If a desktop user, smartphone user and tablet user were to browse the website, they would all see something fundamentally different while being on the same URL.

These separate designs can be 100% different or simply 10% different. The point is that separate HTML & CSS are being “served” to each device, allowing you to deliver a customized experience.

As you can see in the above image, the desktop, tablet, and smartphone displays all have fundamentally different content. Since they all have the same URL, we say this is an adaptive design.
Unlike responsive design, adaptive doesn’t use fluid grids to deliver flexible content across any device. Instead, it manually creates separate layouts for predefined screen sizes and displays the appropriate selection.

If the three categories of devices had standard sizes, this would be great, but as you can see…

Designing for every device is very difficult

Designing for every device is very difficult.

There are more devices out there than you could ever design for, and this can put adaptive designers at a disadvantage. For devices you don’t design for, the experience won’t be optimal.

Here’s a fantastic gif from CSS-Tricks that illustrates the difference between experiencing a responsive vs adaptive design as you change screen sizes. Responsive is on top and adaptive on the bottom.

Responsive design is demonstrated first, adaptive web design second

Responsive design is demonstrated first, adaptive web design second.

Adaptive design delivers a separate experience to predefined devices via the same URL.

On the plus side, adaptive design keeps everyone on the same URL while allowing you to provide a targeted, optimized experience to mobile users.
On the downside, dynamic design is technically complex and can be more expensive, as you are essentially designing a separate site for each device.

3. Designing a Separate, Mobile-Optimized Site

Mobile optimized sites deliver a very different experience than desktop

Mobile optimized sites deliver a very different experience than desktop.

While the term “mobile optimized” can mean a variety of things, when it’s time to design your mobile website, creating a mobile optimized site implies creating a separate, distinct website for your mobile users.
Unlike dynamic serving, this won’t take place via the same URL. Instead, it is most frequently accomplished via a subdomain, such as or something similar.
By rerouting mobile users to a separate website, you can completely control their mobile experience. And as we’ve learned from past discussions on mobile CRO, if you aren’t creating a mobile-centric experience, you won’t reach mobile viewers effectively.
Mobile users, and particularly smartphone users, behave very differently than desktop users.

Mobile users, and particularly smartphone users, behave very differently than desktop users.

Having a separate, mobile-optimized site can allow you to better reach a mobile audience.

Mobile optimized design delivers a separate experience to mobile users via a different URL.

As an additional upside, Google recognizes mobile-specific subdomains as being mobile-friendly and factors that favorably into its search results. In other words, it can have a positive impact on your SEO results.
You’ll want to be careful. If you forget to add the appropriate “canonical” tags, you can actually hurt your SEO results, as the search engines will penalize the mobile site as duplicate content. Many designers don’t think about marketing or SEO in their designs (this is exactly why I began offering design to my copywriting clients), so be sure to inquire about this while vetting a potential designer.


I hope this has helped you gain a better understanding of web design and better equipped you to work with designers in the future.

Before we finish, it’s important to understand that many people use the terms we’ve mentioned here incorrectly.

Google treats “adaptive” and “responsive” interchangeably in its search results and many non-designers or sudo-designers with a cursory understanding will often use “adaptive” when they are discussing a responsive design. I myself mixed these terms up regularly until I got fed up with the poor-converting designs my copywriting clients were dealing with, and invested in creating a design solution for them.

“Mobile optimized” is not a term limited to the design world, so be sure to clarify that you are meaning a separate, URL-distinct mobile website when working with a designer.

About the Author

Jacob McMillen HeadshotJacob McMillen combines professional copywriting with clean web design, giving small-to-midsize businesses the high-converting websites they need to make meaningful online profits.

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