Why You Should NOT Optimize For The Sale | by Andrea D’Agostino

Andrea D'Agostino
Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

It may seem counter-intuitive (and it really is), but the more you push for sales, the less you will actually lead the user to the conversion.

Have you ever experienced the frustration of not finding your wallet for a whole day just to recall where you last placed it the next day? It almost seemed like the universe was playing with you, hiding it beyond your gaze the more you kept looking for it.

I have been in that spot multiple times — when this happens today, I simply stop looking for my wallet and focus on something else. I am sure to find it in a couple of hours.

But how does this relate to sales and website conversions? I believe there is a strong parallelism to be drawn here.

There is a mindset shift that helps the wallet bearer not suffer for not finding his wallet right away. This can be applied to marketers ceaselessly trying to push sales on their websites and actually not finding the results they want from their efforts.

In fact, as you keep looking for your wallet, you forget to attend to more important matters and you do so because you can’t stop looking for the damned thing until you find it. You get in a trance.

With sales, this effect is even stronger. You got to stop optimizing for the sale — stop looking for the wallet.

It may seem counter-intuitive (and it really is), but the more you push for sales, the less you will actually lead the user to the conversion.

This happens for several reasons:

  • you generate anxiety in the reader
  • you create involuntary distractions
  • you do not prioritize clarity and transparency
  • you don’t speak the reader’s jargon

Any of these points, depending on the context, can negatively impact on the user giving you his $$$.

Making these mistakes is normal — often they origin from a strong intention of communicating the value of your offer. You know you are worth, and you just want to communicate the concept as quickly as possible.

But your enthusiasm can and will get in the way if you don’t keep it in check.

Let me explain.

Imagine that your website’s copy is transcribed and printed on a piece of paper. This is your script. Now imagine that for each new lead that you find, you physically go up to them and read from your script. What would they say?

If you are unsure (as you should be) — give it a try. You’ll surprised of the answers you’ll receive.

Let me continue with an example from the website stepprepacademy.com (note: this website has now updated its design, guess why…what you see here is the original version of the website, still useful to take as an example). This is a website that offers prep courses for medical students in the US. Take a look at this copy here:

Let’s focus on the headline:

“I went from a “B” student at a DO school to interviewing: Ortho at Darthmouth, EM at Hopkins, Gen Surg at OHSU. HOW? I rode the “USMLE Step 1 Rocket Ship”!

Now someone asks what you do in life and you reply with that. What would you think would be their reaction? I don’t think they will fully understand. It is not worth testing, but I am sure that many of you share my same thoughts.

If we continue down the page, we see that the rest of the copy follows about the same pattern. We also see hints of how passionate the business owner is with his solution. He really conveys the feeling that he believes what he is preaching. This is what you want. What you don’t want is pushing for the sale without having answered key open questions.

By pushing so much for his solution, the business owner forgot that there’s a real human being on the other side of the screen. Unintentionally, he compromised the clarity behind his offer. I don’t think I should tell you how this affects conversions.

Yes, we are talking psychology here. It is obvious that lack of understanding leads to lower conversions. Users simply don’t get the full picture of what you are offering and end up leaving for find resources that better describe their proposition.

But there’s an intermediate step, and one that can be analyzed in isolation — what happens in the mind of the user when he/she doesn’t understand. Lack of understanding does not lead directly to lower conversions. Lower conversions are a byproduct of a rise in the anxiety levels.

Anxiety is what you experience when you want to purchase something on the web, but something simply doesn’t “click” and you don’t go through with the payment. Guess why that happens.

It is because something in the website isn’t clear to you, and that information is required to you to complete the purchase.

Badges, reviews, ratings, interviews, videos…all of these serve the purpose to tell you that you should chill out and rely on the website’s integrity.

In fact, the purpose of social proof is to reduce the levels of anxiety and balance out possible lack of clarity in the other sections of the website. It has been shown that social proof (which can be delivered in many different forms) is an essential and powerful tool to remove anxiety and to boost conversions.

Just like in real life, people just calm down when others endorse something.

But again, remember that this negative state arises from not understanding (or in limit cases, seeing) relevant information on your website.

Every element on your web page should be useful to your user in some way. There really shouldn’t be space for anything that doesn’t inform the user of something. This applies to all elements, from the design to the copy.

In the first example I made, the author decided to use images of rockets and pyramids and other fancy visuals to convey his message. There are several repercussions that origin from this :

  • the visuals do not aid in the understanding of the core message (and sometimes even increase the complexity of the scene)
  • the visuals are colorful and distract the user
  • they occupy precious space that could be given to more persuasive elements

This, again, hinders conversions big time. Not only your copy is all over the place, but your visuals confuse or distract the reader from the end goal both you and him want to achieve (unless visitors landed on your site for pure serendipity, they actually want your website to fulfill their desire. Why would they want to waste even more time? If your solution is good, most will go through the purchase). You are basically intentionally screwing up your conversions.

Note: sometimes people just use images to fill in the blank spaces.

This is wrong, very wrong. Blank space is an ally of designers and conversion optimizers. Don’t force visuals in just because you can. If they make sense, absolutely. If not, desist. Use blank spaces.

This advice I am going to give you actually applies to all other initiatives you want to carry out on your web page / site.

As for everything in life, we need a good dose of common sense. Now I am not saying that we should forget about research and the data-driven results that many companies and agencies publish on the internet and just go by our own gut. Don’t do that. Do what works, apply best practices, but do so by actually pondering the actions that you take and the effects that these will have on your audience.

Again, imagine that your website is you. You want to make the best first impression to the potential lead. You don’t do that by beating around the bush or by using silly verbiage.

Approach optimization and design as you would approach any situation in life. Be empathetic. If there’s a single piece of information you’d want to remember from this article is this.

Be empathetic, connect to your user. He/she, in turn, will connect back and have a better time on your site. This, by extension, leads to higher chance of conversion.

Build organically — if you don’t know what to say, don’t just fill in the gaps with random shit. Wait. Go take a walk, drink a beer, reset. Talk to people. Ideas will emerge and you’ll be able to provide value where you would have placed a pointless image.

This is how you build social proof in the right way. You don’t force stuff. You don’t come up with stuff. You build organically from what you have. Do that and people on your website will notice. They will give you their money because they will sense you are genuinely trying to help and you are doing in a clear and simple way.

Let’s face it. Sometimes we just can’t do the work alone. This is true for all fields: in my data analytics career I’ve been a Python programmer for almost 5 years now and there isn’t a single day that I don’t visit stackoverflow.com. It’s just the way it is.

If you believe you can’t do anything better to improve your web pages, then there’s no shame in asking for help:

  • Ask your real-life friends: better off if they share your same background and know about tech; these are your greatest allies and can give you a fresh view on your content
  • Ask friends or strangers online: Reddit, StackOverflow (for technical stuff) , Discord, YouTube. Find a network, get in the community and ask for help
  • Use online tools like Google Analytics, Wynter, FengGUI, UserTesting.com, and more. Most of these are paid tools but they will be able to give you valuable insight on the choices you made on your web pages

If none of these help, you are cursed or someone is playing a joke on you.

Any of these activities, if carried out with carefulness and with a clear goal will help with conversions.

Feedback from friends can be extremely valuable as they are able to look at your page in a unique way and see things you could not.

Should I even start talking about the Internet? The mentioned website are just a handful of resources capable of delivering top feedback for marketers

Analytics tools are instead valuable when you have clear hypotheses: you have an idea of why something happens, and you check the data to see if there’s evidence backing up your statement or falsifying it.

In conclusion:

  • Find balance between your passion about the solution you are providing and the implementation that users actually see. Remember that your over-excitement can get in the way of clarity and thus hinder conversions
  • Your website is you: how would you talk to your users if you saw them in real life and they asked questions about what you do?
  • Build organically. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t force solutions that don’t fit. Wait and re-assess
  • Be mindful of your visitors’ time. Don’t give them irrelevant information and prioritize clarity above anything else
  • Ask for help if needed — friends, family, strangers and online tools can help you immensely in understanding where you are falling short

I hope you will find these tips useful to you. These aren’t ground-breaking, but I’ve seen too many marketers get stuck simply because they are too hyped about their own solution or because they just need a little nudge to shift their mindset.

Habits are tough to change but understanding is the first step towards improvement. This holds true even online, as we are all humans.

I hope you’ll eventually find your wallet.

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