Episode 119 | Posted on

The Psychology Behind Conversion Rate Optimization with Tim Ash

We used to think that people would make rational decisions if they were equipped with the right tools and knowledge. Marketers thought that people primarily made conscious buying decisions. We now know that it’s largely the other way around. People make unconscious decisions when it comes to making purchases or choosing products or services. The three things it takes for a behavior or action to occur are motivation, ability, and a trigger.

Tim Ash joins me in this conversation to dig deeper into this topic and to explain how it applies to marketing and conversion rates. His company, SiteTuners, focuses on optimizing all facets of business for conversion. In this episode, he’ll offer many powerful tips and strategies to help you optimize your conversion rate and grow your business presence.

In this Episode

  • [01:13] – Tim starts things off by talking about the best practices and optimization of conversion rate from the evergreen angle.
  • [02:25] – What are the differences between neuromarketing and behavioral economics?
  • [04:32] – Tim discusses how to structure online marketing to take advantage of the human tendency to opt for immediate gratification and discount future pain.
  • [07:09] – What Stephan has just been saying reminds Tim of BJ Fogg’s theory that states that you need three things for any behavior to occur.
  • [10:17] – Tim relates what he and Stephan have been discussing to the gaming industry, which he points out is now bigger than Hollywood.
  • [13:44] – Stephan brings us back to the idea of the trigger, the habit, and the reward. The way to replace the habit is to scramble the trigger, he explains.
  • [15:49] – Stephan discusses being at a conference and optimizing the process for getting as much of the audience as possible to whip out their phones and opt in.
  • [19:54] – Tim responds to Stephan’s example for how to get people to opt in, relating Stephan’s strategy to the theory he previously described by BJ Fogg.
  • [22:51] – Does Tim think it’s important to get someone’s first name, or that it’s better to just ask for an email address? He generally asks for the email address first.
  • [24:42] – Tim gives copies of his book away at his session, and recommends having physical copies available as a form of branding.
  • [25:33] – We learn whether Tim used any of his neuromarketing magic to get his impressive Amazon reviews. He and Stephan then discuss reviews in general, and whether it’s acceptable to ask for them.
  • [30:13] – Stephan returns to the concept of giving away books, using Tony Robbins’ strategy as an example.
  • [31:33] – What are Tim’s thoughts on how to optimize the opportunity of giving something physical away with a free-plus-shipping offer?
  • [35:04] – When the first edition of Tim’s book came out, it included several special offers. He found that they weren’t very effective.
  • [39:41] – Why did Tim feel the need to create a whole conference, Digital Growth Unleashed, when he already had a successful agency and a book?
  • [44:22] – Tim responds to Stephan’s question about which tool is the most important from a conversion standpoint.
  • [50:03] – Tim’s company has used SalesForce, but switched to Infusionsoft.
  • [51:03] – What are some of Tim’s favorite tips, tactics, and strategies for landing page optimization?
  • [56:39] – Tim offers some ways to get in touch with him for listeners who want to hear or learn more, or potentially work with him.


Today’s episode number 119, about conversion rate optimization or CRO, is gonna make you more dough. You can use what you learn here to increase your sales, leads, opt-ins, or all of the above. Here to make it all possible is Tim Ash, today’s guest. He’s the author of Landing Page Optimization and the CEO of SiteTuners which boasts clients like Sears, Google, Expedia, Facebook, American Express, Canon, and Nestle. Tim, it’s great to have you on the show.

Thanks, Stephan. Always a pleasure.

Let’s talk about optimization of conversion rate but from kind of the Evergreen sort of angle because there’s so much technology and there’s so much stuff that’s evolving so quickly. Just like in SEO, everything is evolving quickly but there’s some tried and true best practices that marketers should be aware of. Let’s start there. What would be some of those most important Evergreen best practices?

Let’s talk about evergreen and best practices separately. Best practices are things that work most of the time. There’s no such as that in the sense that you should always test because there’s so many differences in your audience, our brand strains, your value proposition, the call to action you’re asking to take. In a particular circumstance, it’s not clear which ‘best practices’ are gonna work. Sometimes they’re counterproductive or if you combine them they cancel each other out. You should always just innovate with the presentation of stuff. But I’d like your evergreen angle. I think that among internet marketers, there’s too much of an emphasis on the latest tools and tricks. There’s some really, really cool research in neuromarketing, behavioral economics, we’re finally kind of unlocking the brain and getting the fundamental biases that are there in all people. You can always take advantage of those or at least it’s good to have a really good grounding in those. That’s what I would say.

What’s the difference between neuromarketing and behavioral economics? I’ve heard about neuromarketing. In fact, we’ve had Roger Dooley on the show talking about neuromarketing but behavioral economics, what’s that?

There’s been a lot of work in the last 20, 30 years by folks in the economics community that have basically said that if you wanna see how people make decisions, you have to understand psychology. In the old days, economic theory was based on the notion that we’re all going to do what’s best for ourselves, and carefully weigh our options and make the rational decision. It turns out that we don’t do that at all. We take all kinds of shortcuts and heuristics and make decisions that are long term really bad for us because of what’s essentially evolved in our brains over time to get us here and what’s worked along the way. Traditionally, economics assumes we’re rational, behavioral economics says no, just watch what people do and you’ll find a lot of systematic but irrational stuff going on.

What would be an example of something that’s irrational and you just think, “Wow, I can’t believe people are doing this.”

Well, one thing that this cuts through a lot of different fields of economics and marketing as we tend to discount the future. We basically say, “A bird in the hand early is indeed worth to in the bush, because all that stuff you’re promising me tomorrow, or 10 years from now, it probably won’t happen. I might be dead before then.” Long term harmful things like smoking cigarettes or not saving for retirement. We always kind of want our payoff in the present at the expense of our long term well-being in the future. You can take advantage of things like that as a marketing person for example by structuring things like payment plans, you’ve probably seen this, “Buy your mattress today but don’t pay until 2027.” That kind of stuff because in the future, that pain doesn’t seem so bad, the future may never get here.

We always kind of want our payoff in the present at the expense of our long term well-being in the future.

How does that work to a marketer’s advantage online beyond just the obvious payment plans. How do you structure a website, or a landing page, or a funnel, so that you take advantage of this irrationality of human beings?

It would regard to this in the future discounting. Basically, if it’s pain, you wanna push it into the future where it’ll be felt less. If it’s pleasure, you wanna bring it forward and make it more immediate. You can play both sides of it. It’s not necessarily like the future is bad. Immediate gratification is much more compelling so you say things like instant access, or two-minute free quote, and things like that. That’s working in the present. Again, if you have money pain to spread out, then you try to push that off into the future–first month free, that sort of thing, pushes the pain of into the future.

How do you apply this idea to your own agency? People come in through various funnels where you speak at lots of conferences. You have your own conference and other marketing venues. People come into the funnels from wherever into your funnel. How do you implement this immediate gratification, irrationality into your process?

Well, for example, let’s say I’m speaking somewhere and I have a slide with an offer in the end. I can say, “I’m gonna send you something in a week,” or I can say, “Text Tim Ash to this number and you will immediately get a copy of my slide deck.” That’s immediate gratification. Then, boom, through your text messages, you get my powerpoint presentation. It’s like Pavlovian conditioning. You want me to press the paddle and get the reward. The reward can’t be hours from now or some indeterminate part of the future. You say, “You get it right now.” I think people underestimate how much we want. Literally, instant gratification.

There’s so much nuance to this too. I did a similar sort of thing where I started by offering the slides immediately during my presentation. You don’t have to take copious notes. You can just download my slides and you can get it right now. Then I had the innovation of instead of having to go to a website URL to get this and opt-in, I got them to text me instead. Some of the text I used TPNI Engage, formerly Instant Customer, and then I switched to using Leadpages, and Leaddigits.

Yeah, you can use Leadpages, Leaddigits, Infusionsoft text integration, there are a number of these marketing automation platforms that have that built-in, absolutely. You’re actually touching on something interesting for me which at one time, at one of my conferences, the keynote was B. J. Fogg, one who I have huge respect for. He’s in Northern California and very much involved in his behavioral economics and changing behaviors. One of the things he has is what he calls The Fogg, I believe, Behavioral Model which is for any behavior to occur you need three things. One is the motivation to do it and how badly do you want it. One is the ability to do it whether it’s financial or resources. The final one and the one that we can most easily play with is the trigger. What’s the mechanism for doing it? What’s the actual way you ask me to respond? Like you said, type in some URL into your web browser on your phone versus text to a six-digit number. Those are very different mechanical triggers, if you will, and the simpler you make the trigger, the more likely someone is to do it.

Right, that’s a very powerful way of thinking about it. Also, this applies to habits either breaking bad habits or starting new, positive habits. For example, if you think of habits as having three components, the trigger, the habit itself, and the reward, then let’s say that you binged a little bit too much on NetFlix.

No, I’ve never done that. You’re talking to the wrong guy here.

Let’s say that the trigger is sitting on the couch, and when you sit on the couch you go for the remote and there’s nice big red NetFlix button, at least on my remote. They make it so easy. It’s just a foregone conclusion. You sit on the couch, boom, next thing you know, you’re watching NetFlix.

Well, not only that. There’s even more evil sinister twist which is the next show on NetFlix autoplays, if you don’t do anything. That’s the negative option as it were. The FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, really comes down to on subscription based offers and free trials. The idea is is, “here’s a free trial,” and we start charging your card unless you cancel. That’s a very, very powerful mechanism and that goes to another very powerful heuristic from your marketing which is called the status quo bias. The status quo bias is you keep doing what you’re doing but the default is to do nothing. That’s the simplest thing to do. It’s the one that requires the least energy expenditure. If you do nothing and the next Netflix show fires up 15 seconds later, that’s a pretty powerful way to keep you binge watching.

Yeah. The way that they end these episodes with cliffhangers all the time. Every show is pretty much a Dan Brown novel in terms of–you can’t stop reading it at the end of the chapter of a Dan Brown novel. I don’t know if you’re read any of his stuff.

A couple of them, yeah.

Yeah, it’s really, really tough. You get these cliffhangers, you got the autoplay, and it’s not just Netflix. Amazon does it with Amazon Prime video, they all do it. Facebook and YouTube.

Right. In fact, if you look at that right now, I think it’s as of two or three years ago, the gaming industry, I don’t mean the gambling, I mean video games, is now bigger than Hollywood in terms of revenue. All of that can be laid at the feet of people that the game designers who really understand some of this stuff. Very similar to the incentives that you’d set-up in the casino. How often do you get pay offs, what kind of payoffs, does it jingle, does the remote vibrate in your hand when something happens. All of these little, seemingly subtle nudges, add up to behavior change. You may think you’re not being influenced by them but every little aspect of gamification is designed to keep you hooked.

Yeah. It is a science. In the casinos, a lot of people don’t realize what they’ve done to kind of put you in a time warp. There are no windows, there are no clocks anywhere. They use blue sky type of ceilings to make you feel like you’re outside during the day. They keep pumping in oxygen.

Extra concentrations of oxygen. They ply you with free drinks so your inhibitions and judgement will be off.

And they make the carpet really busy and ugly so that your eyes gravitate to the middle, not to the ceiling either, because a lot of times, the ceiling is very busy as well. They want you focused on machines. There’s a whole science just around the jingling sounds that the machines make and stuff to get the dopamine going. It’s just crazy what they do to manipulate us.

By the way, there’s a dopamine, you bring a brain chemical. I’m sure it’s a super exciting topic for some people, for me for example. But we have to really understand how these things work, and again, this is part of that evergreen foundation, understanding brain chemistry. There is basically positive reinforcement chemicals, and there is negative one. One key thing to understand about them is that the negative stuff stays in your system longer like stress hormones, like cortisol. Once those are released they might circulate for hours or days, worse. Most of the what you call the happy chemicals have a shelf life of a few seconds to maybe a couple of minutes. Dopamine, in particular, is a very, very powerful one. We share it with just about every life form from fruit flies on up. It’s a tried and true chemical. What it does is it keeps you motivated by anticipating something. It’s not the pay off. It’s not hitting the jackpot. It’s the little jingles along the way or it’s the sound that it makes while the roulette wheel is spinning. All of those things give you these little micro nudges to keep you going, to keep you on track, to not have you give up.

I would be not surprised if some of these casino type experts who know how to make it super addictive don’t get involved with the conversion optimization business as well. Optimizing for higher conversion rates because this stuff is applicable.

Oh, yeah. They’re doing  it even more directly. They are conversion optimizing the amount of money they suck out of your wallet per hour.

Yes. Let’s go back to this idea of the trigger, the habit, and the reward for a second. You sit on the couch and the trigger is sitting on the couch and the next thing you do is you grab the remote and then you’re binging on Netflix. The way to break this bad habit and replace it with a healthier habit is to scramble the trigger. Let’s say part of that triggering process is you sit on the couch and you immediately go for the remote. Take the remote and put it in, I don’t know, the bedroom, in a drawer, and instead of having the remote where it usually is, by the couch, have a favorite book that you’re in the middle of reading sitting there. Now, you’re gonna instill a new habit. You’re getting triggered by sitting on the couch, you go for the remote and instead there’s a book there. Oh, yeah. That’s right. Okay, I’m gonna read. I’m gonna read a chapter.

Yeah and I think that a lot of those things have to do with convenience and how much work you have to do. Again, since we want instant gratification and we don’t want to change anything we’re doing–I remember, my mom never really kept any cookies or candies in the house. Those are kept sealed and wrapped up for guests. But we’d be down in the family room and there’d always be a bowl of fresh fruit there, that’s where we used to watch TV. Instead of going to the kitchen and getting some kind of junkier crackers, we’re just too lazy, so what do you do, you literally reach and it’s within arm’s reach and grab a healthy fruit as a snack. It’s how you physically structure your environment can have a huge impact on the behavior.

I’m sure that would have applied those ideas to optimizing landing pages in your website overall.

Yeah, absolutely. What order you put things in. Their visual proximity on the screen. The amount of visual emphasis you give something as opposed to something else. All those are definitely powerful tools.

Let’s go back to this idea of you’re at a conference, you want to trigger everybody to whip out their phone, and to text you, to opt-in through whatever system you’ve got, let’s say it’s Leaddigits from Leadpages, or Infusionsoft whatever. Now, how do we optimize that process? I was thinking about this because I speak a lot as do you, I want more, and more people, and higher, and higher percentage of the audience to opt-in, best I might get half of the room which is pretty good.

Yeah, that’s solid.

If you got 500 people in the room and half of them opt-in, that’s pretty impressive. Then I thought it was an improvement that we went from just having people email or having people go to a website URL to texting, that was a definite improvement, I recommend that to all of our listeners. What if I offer something that’s more irresistible than just the slides. What if I offer, and I tried all these different things, different white papers, and even electronic copies of my book, or one of my three books. I would give them the choice and O’Reilly, my publisher, was really generous for a few years there, and they were letting as many people as were in my audience get one of my books for free, electronically. That was amazing. But even then, not everybody opted in. So then, I started bringing some physical copies of my book to give away, especially the big one, The Art of SEO, that’s 1000 pages, almost. That’s a hefty book. There’s something about a tangible, big $50 value book that’s being handed out that’s very compelling. That was really great bait. What I found while I was speaking one time, this is my best innovation so far on this process, maybe you can give me some further feedback on it, is I had some really great freebies, amazing like white papers and checklists, and things like that. I got, let’s say, half of the room. In the middle of my presentation, I also planned on giving away about 20 or 30 books, so I had all these boxes on the side. I gave away a couple books during the session. That’s another thing too. You should try this. This is really fun. Getting people to run up to the stage and almost run over each other to get a free book. This is so cool. I learned this from Dave Vanhoose who’s from Speaking Empire. You got this cool thing, let’s say a book you’re gonna give away, and you say something to the effect of, “Would you like a free book? Anybody want this book?” People will raise their hand and stuff, and they’ll just sheep usually. I was saying, “Yeah, yeah. Who wants it enough to come and get it?” Then people start looking at each other and they’re still sitting there, then somebody gets this idea like, “Oh, I should just come up on stage and go get the book.” Then other people follow but it’s a small group of people. That’s fun. Now you got them trained, and then say, “Well, actually I have another one. Who wants this one?” Then they know what to do and so now a bunch of people run up to the stage to get that book and they’re very competitive to get that book. Now I got them primed and I say, “By the way, that’s great. The two of you got books. I actually have a bunch more. I have boxes and boxes. See them over there? I’m gonna give those away at the end of the session. In order to get a book, you need to show me the Thank You page after you’ve opted in for all these goodies. Then everybody picked up their phone. People that opted-in earlier, let’s say it was half the room, okay, that’s great but I got the other half of the room when I told them they need to show me that they opted in, show me the Thank You screen on their phone when they come up to get a book. Even though I only had 30 books to give away, I got the entire room.

Yeah, that sounds pretty solid. Again, if I look at B.J. Fogg’s model, three things have to happen at the same time. Motivation, ability, and trigger need to combine to cause a particular behavior or action. If motivation goes to how bad they want it, that’s how good is your price. You’re right that making a physical book available is much more tangible than, “Hey, I will give you a code and you can download it on your Kindle.” That’s not the same as the physicality of a book. It’s amazing how many times people will just love getting a physical book from me and having me autograph it. That sends them into the near equivalent of rapture sometimes. But they wouldn’t feel the same if I just handed out a code, “Here, download it.” That’s just kind of an impersonal digital thing removed from the real world. I think the physicality of books definitely makes it a better motivator if you have real books present. Then if you look at the ability to do it, again, I like your idea of kind of priming tasks, if you want them to respond on the phone, then having done something that at least takes their phones out and say, for example, the beginning of the presentation, you can say, “How many of you have a phone?” Some people will raise their hand and most won’t. Then you say, “Okay, show me your phone. Hold it up. Now put it on silent because you’re gonna be just too enraptured with what I’m saying to even want to look at it.” Now, you’ve gotten them to take their phone out and interact with it. Whatever the pretext is, that improves their ability to use the phone to do something else later. Finally, like you say, the trigger whether it’s texting or some more complicated procedure really matters because how complex it is mechanically, how many actions I have to do on my phone to complete it, how many fields on your form. I prefer real simple trigger, text this to this. That’s it. What that does is it then sends them back in text message saying, “Great, about to give you what you asked for. What’s your name?” “Okay, It’s Tim.” “Okay great, Tim. What’s your email? We’ll send you a link to get it.” That way, you’re getting a double opt-in. You’re getting their phone number and their email. You’re doing it in these kind of bite size chunks so that the trigger each time is just give me one piece of information. Breaking down complex tasks into very simple triggers, making it a sequence instead of a long ask with several form fields is often another approach that I’ve taken.

That’s great advice. Do you think that it’s important to get the person’s first name? Because that’s an extra step and that applies also to things like opt-ins on websites like, “Okay, you get this free lead magnet. It’s really valuable. Free PDF but you need to give me your first name and email address or entire name or full name and email address.” Do you just think it’s better to lower the barrier to entry and drop that name field and just ask for the email address?

I think that, in general, a fewer form fields and less imposing forms are of course gonna get a higher conversion rate and higher effectiveness. It really depends on your specific situation. There is nothing onerous about a first name. I think most people are willing to give that up. But I have two personally, I either give out Tim which would be my real one or Mickey because Mickey Mouse is my alter ego. If you ever log into something and mickey.mouse@disney.com is taken that’s because I’ve been there before you.

That’s awesome. Why the alter ego of Mickey? I’m curious.

That way, when I started getting personalised the responses back to “Dear, Mickey,” then I know that it’s not something I really wanted.

Got it. Okay. That’s handy, I like that one. Okay, now, let’s say you’re texting, it’s an automated process here, and you said, “What was your first name?” before asking for the email address. Is that the best approach or would you be better off asking for their email address first in this text exchange when you’re up on stage trying to get them opt-in?

Generally, I’d ask for email first if you’re gonna ask for the name because email is what gives you the right to communicate with them. Then there’s some question about what constitutes a double opt-in which is a legal requirement for whether you’re allowed to communicate with them further. There’s an argument to be made that they’ve taken two affirmative steps that the whole process constitutes a double opt-in. If they texted you, that’s one opt-in. Then giving you their email address is the second.

Okay, got it.

But that’s speak to your lawyer, your mileage may vary, don’t hold me to that.

Yes, this is not legal advice. Do you give copies of your book away in your sessions? Is that typical, physical copies?

Yes and then making that tangible by having a stack of them and having them out, and having one of them facing forward on the table so they can see the cover, that’s also branding and of course some of them might remember that book, or wanna pick it up later even if they don’t react to it right away. I also like to have them up on the lectern if I do that, if that’s allowed by the venue because that often will end up in photograph that they take of the speaker on stage. Then there’s my stack of books right there as well.

I’m curious. Did you use any of your neuromarketing magic to get a lot of your Amazon reviews? Because you have a pretty nice stack of Amazon reviews, averaging like 4 ½ stars, 140 reviews, that’s impressive for your Landing Page Optimization book.

No, I’m afraid. That was the old fashioned way. I didn’t stack the deck at all or ask any of my friends to do reviews. That’s just organic based on people liking the book. It’s been through two editions and multiple printings. I think, at this point, there must be probably 60,000 copies out there. I think it’s just paying your dues is how I look at that part.

Okay. I know there is a fine line between encouraging people to use a review site like Yelp or to post a review on Amazon or iTunes whatever. For example, if a listener feels they’re compelled to tell me I’m doing a great job with my show, they could do that by posting a review onto iTunes.


But then there’s pushing the line a little too far where you say, “You could get some bonuses if you leave me a review, or even worse, if you leave a five star review, I’d be happy to give you all these cool bonuses.” Now you’re really in a dangerous territory.

I don’t know if that’s necessarily dangerous territory. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing wrong with incentivizing someone to reply or give a review. I’m gonna take this outside of the speaker realm, just in general. What if you wanted a testimonial or you want lots of positive reviews. One thing is most of these review systems on website aren’t set up properly. They’ll count all the reviews and as soon as somebody posts a review, that’s your ‘average’. Someone gives you a two out of five stars on their first review and you’re in the competitive product set or environment, chances are no one will gonna give you a second look and it’s based on just one person and the order effect and the fact that they left the review first. Unless you have six or seven reviews, you shouldn’t even show ‘average’ because it’s statistically meaningless. That initial bad start can really have a dampening effect on future people’s willingness to do reviews or people buying your product or service. My suggestion if you’re making such a platform is don’t show reviews until you get past a minimum threshold.

Don’t show reviews until you get past a minimum threshold. Click To Tweet

What if you don’t have a choice because it’s a review site? You don’t have a choice with Amazon reviews. You don’t have a choice with Yelp.

No. That’s true.

Whatever happens, happens. Yelp, for example, has very strict terms of service that you can’t even encourage people to leave a review, not even just a review. Don’t leave a positive review. Don’t leave a five star review. Just say, “Feel free to leave a review for us at Yelp.” That’s in violation of terms of service and can get you in big trouble with their site. You gotta navigate this area carefully. But if you aren’t thinking in terms of I want as many reviews, five star reviews on my Amazon book or whatever, as possible. Well, if it’s not even in your radar, it’s so less likely that you’re gonna get to that outcome.

Well, as far as an enforcement thing, I think they’re looking, and this is true of CAN-SPAM and double opt-in, and everything else, they’re looking for the egregious violators. People that make their business by gaming the system or cheating or sending out mass spams or stacking the deck on review sites. I really don’t think it’s realistically a danger for individual operators. It’s not like Yelp’s gonna police the fact that you in a presentation said, “Give my book a five-star review.” I really don’t think that’s enforceable. It’s a practical matter. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.

Let’s go back to this idea of giving away books. If they’re physical books then it’s more compelling thing. We will get back to the online world in just a minute but I wanna close this loop. This is really, I think, important. So many of these launch campaigns like Tony Robbins did a launch for his Unshakeable book, and his Money Master The Game book, by giving away tons and tons of books, physical books, that’s free, plus shipping. He didn’t give them away at conferences or speaking gigs or whatever. He gave them away for people opting in on the landing page. It was a free plus shipping offer so you still had to pay a little bit of money. It was $5 or $7 or whatever but it was a significant discount from what you would get if you bought it off Amazon. These campaigns tend to work really, really well. I know that Jeff Walker did campaign launch with his book called Launch. He made a lot of money by giving his books away, selling people on the backend on his online training, on the product launch formula, and so forth. What is your thought about how to optimize or maximize that opportunity of giving something physical away with a free plus shipping offer?

Well, I’m gonna take a step back and say I’m not an expert in this area. There’s a whole class of people that are out there doing product launches, and funnels, and what do we escalate to, you have your tripwire, you have your main offer, you have your upsell, and you’re kind of using a sieving strategy that start them off at zero, give them some value, and then eventually skim the cream, and someone might be willing to pay $50,000 to be in your mastermind every year. That’s obviously a fraction of the total, but you’re kind of picking them in, pushing them down, and letting them self-select in the escalating offers. That’s not necessarily the way that I do things. I run SiteTuners which is a top digital strategy agency focused on conversion and user experience. I run the Digital Growth Unleashed conference. I’ve done it in the context of what you might call the professional, world not consumer offers. I do think though that there’s definitely an advantage to having your own book, you mentioned O’Reilly as your publisher. O’Reilly Press was the publisher for my two books. This next book I’m working on, I’m definitely gonna self-publish, because you do have a lot more flexibility, unless you’re J.K Rowlings, there’s not gonna be some giant book tour, promotion, or the money that the publisher is gonna put behind you. If you have your own platform, and a big mouth, you’re responsible for getting your book out there. If you have a $30 cover price book, might sell for $18 on Amazon, the publisher’s price to the author might be $12 or something like that. If I wanna buy my own book and give it out to clients, which we do all the time, that’ll cost me $12. It’d be much better to self-publish and have that book cost you $5 to $7. That way, you have a lot more flexibility with tactics like you’re describing. I think, from that standpoint, self-publishing is an advantage.

I agree. With my latest book, the Google Power Search, I actually negotiated with O’Reilly to get the rights back so that I could self-publish the second edition of that and they agreed. Google Power Search first edition is an O’Reilly book. Second edition is self-published. I just placed an order with CreateSpace for a whole bunch of books that I think $2.50 each or something that I’ll be giving away to clients and giving away at conferences.

As far as it goes there’s a lot of self-publishing houses. Amazon has a division, obviously, to do that. I think it’s important to keep the format, the size, the quality of the book, and the cover and the paper, not to cheap out on that. It should still look like a professional book, and not just one of these little thin throw away pamphlet type book that self-publishers typically try to get you to do. You still have to write a good book and make it look nice.

The formatting is so important. I’m working out on a self-help book, Geek Revolution, that has beautiful illustrations in it. I had a really good illustrator. That’s gonna be a self-published book. You gotta pay attention to font size, and font face, and margins, and where you place the page numbers, and all those sorts of stuff, so it looks super professional. Because if it feels like a self-published book, you already lost it before they even started reading any of it.

Exactly. You did mention one other hook which is you can’t put into the end of your book. When we came out with the first edition of my book, we actually had a Google $50 off of AdWords coupon inside of it, full colored tear-out, we had on the back page a couple of special offers from my agency in the conference, found out that those aren’t really that effective surprisingly. Most people, once they read a book, they put it down. They’re not gonna view anything that’s in the book that you ask them to do.

That’s good to know. You know what, I actually included a bonus thing too with The Art of SEO. All these free videos and stuff. You had to email certain email address. Almost nobody, this is on the back cover of this 1000-page book, and I think videos are just a superior way of learning rather than trying to plow through 1000 pages. You just go through a bunch of free trainings and almost nobody would send the email. You could go to the library. You don’t even have to buy the book. Heck, you could go onto Amazon and look at the back cover of the book and see the email address that you need to email in order to get the free bonuses, and almost nobody, it’s just crazy.

Yeah and that was my experience too. If you’re giving away $100 off of a conference and things like that, you’d expect people to take advantage of it, but no, not too many takers, almost none, in fact. In fact, I would go further and say that even having a dedicated website for a book is probably overkill, and not a good use of your time. If you have an author, page or your personal website, and you talk about your speaking, and other things you might sell, and mention your books and have dedicated pages for each book, that’s probably okay, but a book website is probably not gonna be a financial payoff for you.

Yeah. Although, what I did figure out was if I wanted to have a New York Times bestselling book, and this is a goal of mine, I wanna have a New York Times bestselling book in the self-help space, and my book is gonna be titled Get Yourself Optimized, which also happens to be the title or the name of my other podcast show. We’re on Marketing Speak right now, but my podcast Get Yourself Optimized is about biohacking, and life transformation stuff, and optimizing your peer group, your partner intimacy, your sex life and all that, it’s a great, great show and I wanted to create 1000 true fans like Kevin Kelly states. I want to create that even before the book even was available. Putting that on a separate website, getyourselfoptimized.com is the home for the podcast and will be the home for the book as well.

You’re doing double duty. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s really right now supporting your podcast and that’s the reason to do it and to build a community around the podcast. I was just saying if all you’re gonna do is create a website for a book, it’s probably not worthwhile.

I would agree with that. Look for ways to dovetail at least two things together with a book website, so it’s not just a book website, because that’s not very compelling.

In a way, that kind of makes sense that a book is kind of a bounded experience. Somebody buys the book, they read the book, they may put in on the bookshelf, maybe pull it out. How often do you go back to older books? Unless they’re reference books and you use them constantly, it’s not likely to happen. In a way, you literally close the book, you’re done with it. If they bought it, they have it, and they’ve gotten the use side of it, there’s no reasons to have any post interactions with you because that consider the book a bounded event, if you will, that they’ve already experienced.

Let’s change topics here. You have this agency that helps some pretty big clients with optimizing their websites for higher conversion rate, SiteTuners, and you also have a conference that used to be called the Conversion Conference is now Digital Growth Unleashed, why did you feel a need with a successful agency, and a book, to create a whole conference? That seems like a ton of work. It’s not just like a seminar where you’re teaching, like Bruce Clay has his SEO training that he does, and he’s the star of his own show, but you have a whole conference with dozens of competitors speaking on your stage. What compelled you to create that?

Or you’d rather ask what possessed you to do that? I think it’s a combination of my own personal reasons and philosophical belief I have. Let me just break that down. When I started the Conversion Conference, this was back in 2010, I’ve been speaking about conversion rate optimization or landing page optimization which is what it was more commonly called back then at a number of digital marketing conferences. It was always kind of like, “Oh, we’re gonna talk about affiliate marketing but let’s talk about how to make that more efficient. We’re gonna talk about search engine optimization but let’s talk about how to make it more efficient.” There would always be a session that I would do on conversion rate optimization. What I really felt was this is really all backwards, that if you wanna think of it more of a hub and spoke model, regardless of your channels which are the spokes, everything converges to your online experience which is the hub. If you can make it that more efficient, you’re gonna amplify your profits across all of your traffic acquisition channels. There was no home for conversion rate optimization. That’s why I started the conversion conference initially.

But why not just have it be an event where you’re the star of the show? You are the show?

That was the second part, philosophically. I wanted our industry to be legitimized. I think that we accomplished that with Conversion Conference. It was the first show on the topic. There have been vendor shows where they just invite their clients or if they’re an agency or software vendors where the goal of the show is to lift up their user base, make them happy and maybe sign up more clients lock in loyalty. I really wanted something that was the big tent approach, if you will. If you know what you’re talking about, if you run an agency, if you talk about competition, it’s really to me missing the point. Unless you’re in a mature industry and you have really strong brands in it, you can say Coke versus Pepsi but you’d be hard pressed to come up with a number three. What is that? 7Up, is that RC cola? The gorillas nominate everything. If you have a stable and mature market with strong brands, you could talk about competition and market share, but if it’s a rapidly exploding, constantly innovating cauldron of internet marketing, no one has a strong brand. I don’t even remember the last time we had a competitive agency inside of an account that we’re bidding for. In fact, we have a policy, a general blanket response which is we don’t do competitive bid stuff or request for proposal. If you view us an interchangeable commodity, we obviously didn’t do a good job explaining what we do and we’re not a fit for you. We’re never gonna be the cheapest because we’re very, very strategic. If someone’s looking for the digital growth partners, essentially, it goes beyond the landing page or silly little green button or orange button, and split testing, then we’re a good fit for them. If not, then we’re never gonna convince them otherwise or win on price. I want everyone from the industry. I want all the marketing technology vendors, all the agency people, all the in-house people. It’s really a conscious decision to have that kind of industry level conferences as opposed to something more self-serving.

I feel similarly about participating with competing bids and responding to RFPs, they’re generally a waste of time. They already have their preferred vendor that they would like to work with, and by whatever requirements of the boss, whatever they have to get at least three bids or whatever. Those other two bids are just throw aways and a waste of the vendor or agencies’ time in responding. I don’t often response RFPs for SEO. What would you say is the most important tool from a conversion standpoint? Let’s say that from a conference standpoint for conversion, the most important conference would be yours, the Digital Growth Unleashed conference. From a tool standpoint, I know I didn’t wanna get too deep into tools because everything changes so quickly, but there’s so many tools out there, there’s Visual Website Optimizer, there’s Optimizely, there’s Unbounce, there’s Hotjar, there’s just tons and tons of different tools. Is there one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in your view or do they all pretty much compete head-to-head?

Well, they’re all very different and serve different parts of the ecosystem. That is great that you brought up tools, because there’s a reason we switch from Conversion Conference to Digital Growth Unleashed, and these parallels, like I said, more of the focus of our agency as well as it’s kind of mindset. Really, it’s hard to separate the online experience and offline stuff. What it takes to get the job done which includes your company culture, your brand, your back-end processes, and your marketing technology stack. When we work with clients, we touch all of those areas in the company, typically. Especially with mid-sized businesses, we’re working with the principles. I guess you could say we’re kind of digital McKenzie, for mid-sized companies. We work with enterprises usually within digital marketing but we also work with the principles of mid-sized companies and help them optimize their whole business. To me it’s a pretty artificial line that say, “Hey, let’s just do what’s on the website or what’s on the landing page.” Well, guess what, if you have a download the follow-up email sequence really matters. Now, you’re all of a sudden talking about deliverability of emails, whitelist, writing effective headlines for emails, all of that matters. Marketing automation, more of all form of that. What should the rules and triggers be? How do you message people differently based on they how they’ve interacted with you? Personalization is another big technology. Everybody shouldn’t be seeing the same ‘on average experience’. You should really tailor it to whether they’ve been there before, how they’ve interacted with your site, and so on. Marketing technology is so important that I broaden the focus of the Conversion Conference and that’s why it was renamed Digital Growth Unleashed. Now it kind of maps the optimizing the whole customer journey from attracting people to persuading them to serving them after you or you worked with them. The fourth track that we have is actually grow technology. There’s no one tool that’s kind of the super answer. There’s some suites. There’s some point tools that are really good. Some were aimed at small businesses, and others in big market, or enterprise and some have overlapping capabilities. My buddy Scott Brinker runs the MarTech conference, keeps track of this on a annual basis. His last evaluation of marketing technology said there are about 5,000 vendors in the space. I’m sure there’ll be some consolidation there but it’s such an important topic that anybody who’s trying to win without using some kind of marketing technology can’t keep up. Onboarding new marketing technologies as a process is what’s important. Having someone in your company that’s responsible for that, having someone that can define what does a pilot project look like, what’s our expectations of getting to break even or positive ROI. How do we find the right vendors for each type of technology, how do we manage the overall complexity of keeping all of those systems talking to each other without creating something brittle and unmanageable? Those are really important questions for CMO, CIO, level people.

Let’s say that we’re just narrowing down to, out of the tools, just split testing, and multivariate testing tools. Is there one that you like more than others?

I know you want an answer.

I know I do.

I’m gonna violently resist giving you one because what’s a split testing tool now, most of them are also doing segmentation and personalization. That’s, like I said, an important component. Backend communications, now you’re talking about customer relationship management systems, emails stuff now bleeds in the marketing automation and business intelligence. There’s no clear boundaries and how you select one is gonna depend on the size of your company. Your specific requirements, the amount of technical expertise you have in-house, of course, price of the software itself and more importantly the integration of some of these systems will cost you 10X the amount to integrate as they do the further annual licenses. Some of them are rapidly repositioning. For example Optimizely started out as kind of a free tool, now they’re trying to focus primarily on enterprise. They’ve had their own trajectory of what size companies they serve, for example.

I’m curious, do you have a clear favorite in the marketing automation space? Because there’s Eloqua. Is that how you pronounce it? I’m not sure.

Eloqua. There’s Marketo.

Marketo and HubSpot.

EDC at the lower end. There is Infusionsoft. Well, HubSpot is more of a sweet model. They have some of that. They also have rudimentary website builders, and a CRM built-in. One of the important things you have to decide is, “Am I gonna go with a suite where everything is kind of sort of there but in some limited form or do I have best of breed specialist point solutions that are great at what they do but then I have to do the plumbing again. I’m gonna talk to other things.” Again, that’s where complexity comes in. Do you want to be hamstring by a suite or do you wanna be the mechanic that’s gonna hook all these things together and maintain them on an ongoing basis? Neither one’s that wonderful.

Is there one that your company uses for your own internal marketing automation?

Yeah. We actually are on Salesforce as our CRM. That’s good for large scale enterprise account selling. That’s a little overkill for our agency, and if you wanted to get into their ecosystem of support, and partners, if you wanted a plugin–some of the plugins for Salesforce is outrageous as Salesforce is itself would cost you an order of magnitude more than Salesforce based licenses. We just decided we didn’t wanna be locked into that, and we moved to something that’s not particularly suited to B2B which is Infusionsoft, mostly B2C platform, but we managed to make it work for an agency.

Oh, cool. Yeah, I use that as well. Okay, so we’re getting close to time here. I wanted to get some evergreen tips and tricks in here for specific landing page optimization. Imagine this is like a lightning round session for the last five minutes here. What would be some of your favorite tips and tactics and strategies for folks?

The first is shoot your graphic designer in the head.

Oh my god.

Graphic designers can do more to undo a good landing page than anyone else. You have to be really clear on what the functional purpose of your page is. In my experience, most graphic designers are more comfortable with look and feel and visual embellishments, and you have to keep to very strict standards which is does this visual embellishment directly support the intended call to action on the page? If the answer is no, take it off. It’s that simple. No garish colors, no emotion or animation, unless that directly supports your intended call to action. Keep your designer on a short leash, perhaps is a better way of putting it, less violent.

Yes, less violent, that’s nice. You would say no to sliders, no to carousels.

Absolutely. Get those off. Anything that’s emotion activated. Anything moving in our visual field, we evaluate for threat to our survival, and it overrides everything. Putting motion on your landing page is like an atomic bomb. Nothing will withstand the blast radius around it and it’ll overshadow your well-crafted copy, and your graphics, and your call to action, everything.

Even if you had this beautiful design, your homepage has a video playing in the background…

Oh god. Don’t ever do that. Well, almost never do that. Parallax background videos are good on only two situations that we’ve discovered and both of them have the same thread which is, if you have an experiential aspect to what you’re doing, you want that video. You’re talking about Tony Robbins. When you come to Tony Robbins’ event, there’s Tony Robbins himself unleashing the giant within, there’s that pumped up audience, they’re laughing, enjoying themselves walking on coals whatever. They have a loop video, that gives you a sense of what the event is like.

That’s exactly what Tony does on his website tonyrobbins.com. The homepage has that video playing over and over again.

There you go. I didn’t even know that but it makes sense. Same thing for Destination Resorts. If you wanna show the golf course, the beach and everything else, that’s wonderful stuff. Any other setting, it’ll will destroy your conversion pretty much.

If you wanna show the golf course, the beach and everything else, that’s wonderful stuff. Any other setting, it’ll will destroy your conversion pretty much.

Interesting. Okay, cool. Any other tips and tricks in our last couple of minutes?

Yeah. I would say focus on pressure because people don’t make the right decisions, they just make decisions from the hip. If you can create time pressure, or out of stock pressure, or limited availability pressure, anything like that, pressure works surprisingly well. It may seem a little heavy handed but that’s where you might have the blinking countdown timers, and only so many left in stock, if you buy it the next 23 minutes you get it tomorrow which kind of combines pressure and like I said instant gratification aspect. There’s nothing wrong with applying pressure even if it’s artificial.

Yeah, so Expedia and Orbitz do this. Well, they are the same company but they’ll have X number of tickets left like only three tickets left or only five tickets left. That’s that limiter creating pressure.


Works really well. Got one more?

Yeah. One other thing that you might wanna consider is if you have some kind of offers and different plans for price points, always, always, always start with the most expensive one first. Mostly, logically, you’d say, low, medium, and high. Well that’s not the order you should display them. You should anchor on the largest amount so show high, medium then low. In that way, people experience that initial pain, “Woah, that’s really expensive” on the high-priced one, so that next one seem less painful. Since pain is experienced in the part of our brain as money, we feel it is a loss, as a physical loss of a resource. It always works well, saying, “Yeah, you don’t have to really have that big of a loss. You can have a smaller loss.”

This would also apply in a sales conversations. I have two ways working with me for SEO. One is consulting and the other is coaching. If I think that they don’t have enough budget for the consulting, I’ll start by telling them what I offer with the coaching and a price for that, I should probably flip that around.

Absolutely. Start with the expensive one or it can even be an artificial anchor. The anchoring is the key point though. It has to be in the lobby of the actual experience or decision that you wanna make. For example, people ask me how much our services cost. I’m not involved in that directly but I always just say, “Well, it’s well under a million dollars.” Well, you can laugh but I just put a million dollars as a reference point in your head. When you find out it’s only a quarter million over the course of next year, you’re very happy about that.

Very nice. What about having a comparison chart with making the most popular one be the middle of the road price option and kind of focus people on that?

That’s right. Anchoring can be combined with bracketing which is what kind of decision point you give them. What are the options surrounding the decision or the option you want them to take? Absolutely. As long as you have no more than three or four different offers or things to consider, which is kind of the limit of human short term attention, that works really, really well.

Awesome, this is good stuff. I’d love to go for another hour but we do have to close out this interview. This is great stuff. If somebody wanted to work with you, work with your agency, where would they go and if they want to go to one of your conferences where would they go?

sitetuners.com, we’re very easy to reach. I’m also all over LinkedIn and Facebook. I spend way too much time on that one. Then Digital Growth Unleashed is our conference. Just go to digitalgrowthunleashed. We usually have one in the spring in Las Vegas, May 16th, 17th 2018 and then we also have our London and Berlin shows for our European friends and those are usually in the fall.

Alright, thank you so much, Tim. This was a blast. I always love chatting with you. I’m sure we delivered tons of values to our listeners. Now listeners, you gotta take action and apply some of the stuff that you’ve learned to your website, and to your online marketing, and frankly, to your offline marketing too, because we went offline in some of our discussions as well. For the show notes, for the action list, it’s a checklist of things that we talked about in this episode that you can apply to your business, go to marketingspeak.com. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak, this is your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Take note of the three things that must happen at the same time for a conversion to occur: motivation, ability and trigger.

☑ Try different conversion optimization practices. Combine a few different strategies to see what works best for my offer or product.

☑ Study psychology to understand people’s motivations. This will help me come up with a better approach to get conversions.

☑ Include instant gratification in my conversion process. Use something like a free offer to inspire people to take action without any costs.

☑ Use payment plans to entice potential customers to purchase high-priced services. This will lower barriers and help make my customers commit.

☑ Offer my potential customers a free one-month subscription so they can get familiar with my service.

☑ Ask first-time subscribers for their payment details and let them know they will be billed after the first month if they don’t unsubscribe. Don’t forget to notify subscribers three days before charging them.

☑ Keep my triggers as simple as possible. Triggers are effective when they are easy to understand.

☑ Strategically design my website by adding elements to entice my viewers. Visual representation plays a big role in getting conversions.

☑ Focus on making my site convenient to visitors. Make sure they get what they want without any hassle.

About Tim Ash

Tim Ash is the author of two bestselling books on Landing Page Optimization, and CEO of SiteTuners, a strategic conversion rate optimization agency with offices in San Diego, and Tampa. He has developed deep expertise in user-centered design, neuromarketing, understanding online behavior, and split testing.

Over the past 20 years, Tim has helped a number of major US and international brands to develop successful web-based initiatives. Sears, Google, Expedia, eHarmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon, Nestle, Symantec, Intuit, Autodesk, Yahoo! and many others have benefited from Tim’s deep understanding and innovative perspective.

Tim is a highly-regarded online marketing keynote speaker and presenter at industry conferences worldwide including DreamForce, Inbound, Internet Retailer, Affiliate Summit, Shop.org, PubCon, SMX, and countless others. He is the founder and chairperson of the international Digital Growth Unleashed event series (formerly Conversion Conference) and a frequent contributor to print and online publications. Tim has been mentioned by Forbes as a Top-10 Online Marketing Expert, and by Entrepreneur Magazine as an Online Marketing Influencer To Watch.

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