Website Audit Improves ROI and Respect

A Website Audit can improve your ROI (and respect) at least 7 different ways, here’s how:

Website audit funny quote

Website Audit Definition

The definition of a website audit for UX purposes is to evaluate both behavioral data (visitor actions) and user experience data (task-flow other UX vs. best practices) to identify issues and recommend opportunities to improve conversion.

Take My Website – PLEASE!

Sometimes a website audit can make you feel like you get no respect, as if you are the Rodney Dangerfield of the web.

Remember his famous quote?

“My psychiatrist told me I’m going crazy. I told him, “If you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.” He said, “All right. You’re ugly too!””

- Rodney Dangerfield

But I’m here to assure you that a website audit, specifically an audit of your website’s UX, can and will make your website ROI better, and get you the respect from your website visitors (and bosses) that you deserve. Here’s how…

Website Audits Can Improve ROI

Improving the ROI of a website is best accomplished by ‘fixing the leaky bucket.’ What I mean by that is finding and fixing the issues that are causing website abandonment, task flow failure, poor visitor engagement and disappointing conversion.

There are many variations of website audits, and all have their unique value. These include:

  • Accessibility Audit
  • Analytics Audit
  • Conversion Optimization Audit
  • Page Speed Audit
  • SEO Audit
  • Usability Audit
  • Website Competitor Audit

However, I like to combine the best elements of several of the above audits into a comprehensive website audit that evaluates the larger user experience. This is a great way to ensure all the data available is utilized to analyze the website and make recommendations for optimization. ROI improvements based on recommendations from website audits are typically significant and quick.

Website Audit Elements

The two categories of information that a website audit evaluates are the critical elements of a well done audit:

Behavioral Data – Behavioral data will define what actions visitors are doing (or not doing) on the site. This data typically comes from website analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Coremetrics, WebTrends, etc. Typically this data includes information such as:

  • Overall website performance conversion data
  • Paid search conversion data
  • Organic conversion data
  • High-level PPC keyword data
  • Website bounce rate
  • Visits by browser
  • Screen resolution
  • Top content
  • Content paths
  • Length of visits
  • Location (by geography)
  • Page fold
  • Devices
  • Operating Systems
  • And more…

User Experience Data – UX data includes information about how the website compares to usability and UX best practices. This data comes from tools such as the 5 second test, eye tracking, usability testing, and a comparison of the critical website interaction elements versus best practices (sometimes called a heuristic or website review).  This type of data typically includes information such as:

  • Elements that are or are not attracting attention
  • Page fold ramifications on CTAs or critical copy
  • Form field best practices vs. existing forms
  • Navigation flow and labeling
  • Product page elements vs. best practices
  • Contact Us page elements vs. best practices
  • And more…

Website Audit Findings and Analysis

The website audit includes a document with detailed findings and analysis of the behavioral and UX data that precisely defines where the website is performing well, and where there are opportunities for improvements. The subsequent recommendations are then tested, typically with A/B testing, to verify that the optimizations are having the desired benefit.

I always include screen shots of each of the items being audited, with callouts that explain what the issue and opportunity for testing could be. These can sometimes be fairly large documents, upwards of 70 to 90 pages. But because the information is presented one item at a time getting through the analysis document is easy, and fairly quick.

Advantages to Website Audits

There are at least 7 primary advantages to website audits, they include:

1. Ability to use website data to prioritize A/B testing: Nothing beats using your actual website and UX data to define and prioritize where your conversion is not optimized. This removes the guessing game that too often occurs as part of A/B or Multivariate testing.

2. Benchmarks existing versus potential conversion: By using the data from a website audit as a benchmark, the down-stream changes to traffic, navigation flow and conversion can be quantified. Benchmarking removes much of the guess work out of determining if conversion improvements based on testing are temporary, or permanent.

3. Pinpoints issues: The analysis of the website audit provides pinpoint clarity on which elements of a page, form or flow are potentially hindering performance. Specific recommendations can be extremely detailed, which helps focus where to spend testing resources. If you’ve ever heard the principle of “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” you’ll understand and appreciate the detailed approach of a website audit

4. Clearly defines success: Many of my clients appreciate the incremental value that comes from the analysis of a website audit, in that they appreciate knowing what ‘success’ looks like. When A/B testing, how do you know you’ve truly optimized the ‘B’ version to achieve maximum success? Unless you have data that defines what that success looks like, you don’t really know how successful the test could be. A website audit provides that ability to better define success.

5. Doesn’t ‘fix’ what’s not broken: Too often companies optimize using an ad-hoc approach to testing. Sometimes this causes something that was working just fine before, to work poorly, or not at all. A website audit helps define what’s working from what’s not, so that items that are working well are left alone, and items that are not are tested and optimized.

6. Maximizes resources: Unless you have a full time optimization team, the odds are that testing is but a small part of your overall work activities. Maximizing your time and other resources is crucial to optimizing ROI. Spending time optimizing only that which needs to be optimized makes your resources that much more productive.

7. Proves your value (and earns you respect): Facing your bosses and answering to them for how you specifically are helping the company can sometimes be a challenge. Having the demonstrated results from the testing that comes from a usability audit provides you with a plethora of actual data that precisely defines how you are contributing to ROI. Nothing speaks better to your bosses than data that proves you (and thus they) are adding value to the company. You want respect, give them optimization numbers and you’ll get it!

Conclusion:  Website Audit Improves ROI and Respect

A website audit and the resulting optimization of the conversion of the site can greatly improve the ROI and performance of a site. It can also provide you with the respect you need. If you have any questions or would like more information on how you can use a website audit to improve your website ROI just contact me. By using the results of the website audit, you will have a more informed, prioritized and clearly defined road to improving the success of your website.

Posted in Conversion Optimization, ROI, Testing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Optimize Conversion with 6 Persuasion Principles

How to optimize conversion of your websites and mobile apps with 6 persuasion principles

Six Powerful Persuasion Principles:

How to optimize conversion with 6 persuasion principles image from UsefulUsability.comHow to optimize conversion is a question among many website owners and app developers, to which the answer is: by applying the 6 persuasion principles as described by Robert Cialdini, PhD.

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, Arizona State University Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing and a New York Times bestselling business author published a popular and highly acclaimed book called “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.” It became a national best-seller and a must read for anyone in the Psychology, UX, Marketing or Sales functions.


Because in his book he defined the root six principles that advertisers, marketing professionals, sales people and other influencers applied to get people to say “Yes.” These six persuasion principles are important for persuading people to take action, whether it be to purchase a book online, sign up for a program, download an app or even drive on the correct side of the road.

Conversion optimization professionals know and understand these powerful principles and use them to improve the UX of websites and apps. Therefore, this is the true secret of UX:

“It’s not enough to just have good website usability, you also must have good persuasion.”

The six persuasion principles:

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the principle that if someone does something nice for you, you feel a need to do something nice for them. Why do we follow someone back who’s following us on Twitter, Facebook or other social media? Why when someone does a favor for you, do you feel you owe them a favor back? Why do we (most of us) pay back our debts?

The principle of reciprocity states that when someone provides us a benefit we feel we must return a benefit to that person, we ‘owe’ them. Reciprocity is present when you borrow money from your friend and you feel the need to pay your friend back. If someone says something nice about you, you feel the need to return the compliment.

In conversion optimization, reciprocity is present when you provide your website visitor with something they value, in the hope that they will provide a benefit back to you at some point. It might be a free whitepaper for them to download, a free weekly email subscription or a guide on a subject of interest. Whatever the ‘it’ is, if you provide your website visitor a benefit, something they value, then more than likely someday they will provide a benefit back to you. That benefit may not happen immediately, but the odds are the reciprocity principle will be the stimulus for them to eventually return the benefit.

Reciprocity persuasion principle image from

esurance uses the reciprocity persuasion principle

As the above example demonstrates, the Esurance offer to download a free app that notifies the user when to purchase, or not purchase gas to save money, even without purchasing insurance, is reciprocity in action.

Reciprocity Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the following free items to provide something your visitor values…

Free whitepapers, cheatsheets, infographics, training videos, checklists, calculators, podcasts, enewsletters, templates, etc.

2. Commitment (and Consistency)

Commitment and Consistency is the principle that if we say we are going to do something, we feel obligated to carry through with it. Consider making a promise to someone to do something, once we have committed to that promise, we are more likely to carry out our promise, at the risk of feeling bad about ourselves if we don’t.

In conversion optimization, the commitment principle is used to commit a visitor to a course of action, whether that results in a sale now or in the future. For example, having a visitor commit now to a free trial, attending a workshop or seminar to be held in the future even if no money is requested up front, makes the visitor more likely to follow through with the action.

This principle is commonly used in the online world, especially ‘free 30 day trials’ or other offers to test a product or service. In the offline world, if you’ve shopped for a vehicle and the sales person writes down the sales price of the car, and passes you the paper and pen for you to write your price down, they are using the commitment principle.

Commitment persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Hubspot uses the Commitment persuasion principle

The commitment (and consistency) principle in action is demonstrated by HubSpot, who uses a free 30 day trial to commit visitors to using their tool, in the hope they’ll eventually sign up.

Commitment Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the following to obtain your visitor’s commitment…

Free trial, signup forms for future events, reminders that visitors signed up, reminders to attend an event after signup, etc.

3. Social Proof

Social proof is the persuasion principle that links our desire to ‘follow the crowd,’ or put another way that there is safety in numbers.

Choosing a restaurant because of the greater number of people eating there (so it must be good), buying an item because more people bought that item than other similar items, and putting faith in larger versus smaller number of reviews are all examples of social proof.

We typically rely upon social proof when we are not sure about what course of action to take. The uncertainty of the situation causes us to often use the ‘follow the heard’ mentality to determine what to do. If you heard of the term “more people prefer Brand X” or “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Brand Y” you are witnessing the social proof principle in action.

Social Proof persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Amazon uses the social proof persuasion principle

Amazon provides an example of using social proof to help shoppers determine which of many products might be a good purchase. Note the use of the star ratings, including the number of ratings received in parenthesis. Also, the “#1 Best Seller” badge is another social proof tool.

Social Proof Conversion Optimization tactics: Use these tools to add social proof…

Star or quality ratings, top seller text, testimonials, number of downloads or users, etc.

4. Liking

Liking is the persuasion principle that says we are more likely to be influenced by people we like. And this includes people we trust or know, friends, family, relatives as well as strangers such as sports celebrities, TV or movie stars or other famous people. But the people we like don’t have to be rich or famous to have likeability. If we feel they are similar or familiar to us, or that we just trust them, then we can be influenced by them through likeability.

TV commercials that feature famous athletes were specifically created to target the liking principle. Likewise, Avon, the beauty products company was built on the liking principle: women selling Avon beauty products to their friends and family at the local, grass-roots level. Friends and neighbors are more likely to buy from their friends and neighbors. Avon’s market cap is currently $6.41 Billion, clearly likeability works.

Liking persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Amazon uses the liking persuasion principle

Avon built the foundation of their company on the liking principle. Their approach as demonstrated above is that no sales pitch or experience are necessary, you just have to be you. Other firms such as those that practice what’s known as Multi Level Marketing (MLM) are attempting to use the same liking principle to try to achieve their goals.

Liking Conversion Optimization tactics: use the liking principle in the following ways…

Build trust by providing value in your content, include testimonials from people who match your buyer Personas, add recommendations from well-known individuals, provide promotions that include celebrities, feature logos of well liked firms that use or have tried your products, etc.

5. Authority

The authority principle is based on our feeling of a sense of duty to obey those in a position of leadership or power. It includes the likelihood that we will follow recommendations of those we perceive to have authority, such as doctors, police officers, religious leaders or even our local pharmacist.

Airline pilots, military personnel, judges, doctors and even plumbers all wear uniforms of one sort or another. Why? Because the uniform they wear provides visual clues as to the authority of that individual. We are more inclined to follow the advice of an figure such as a dentist on a TV commercial if we believe they have authority.

Oddly, the authority principle works even if we logically understand that the figure we perceive as having authority does not in fact have actual authority. As an example, one popular TV commercial in the U.S. featured an actor who clearly stated at the beginning of the spot: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…”

Authority persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

This successful TV commercial uses the Authority persuasion principle

This well known and successful 1986 TV commercial for Vicks featured a soap opera actor, Peter Bergman, who proclaimed at the beginning of the spot, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…” Even though Bergman was not a doctor, his perceived authority from playing a doctor on a popular TV show was strong enough to sell cough medicine to millions of people.

Need a more current example? As shown below, Redbull features Tom Pages, the X-games motocross superstar on their home page, specifically targeting the younger, extreme sports crowd with an authority figure they know and follow.

Authority persuasion principle for conversion optimization Redbull image from

Redbull uses the Authority persuasion principle

Authority Conversion Optimization tactics: include authority tools such as…

Testimonials from recognized authorities in the field, logos from well known and authoritative firms that use your products or services, badges that validate quality or authority, images that relay a sense of authority or expertise

6. Scarcity

Scarcity is a powerful principle based on our belief that rare and relatively scarce items are more valuable or attractive than those that are very common or readily at hand. Consider gold, diamonds, precious furs or limited edition cars.

In addition, the scarcity principle includes limited quantities even for common things if those things are quickly becoming scarce. As an example, consider trying to buy the last case of water in a crowded store just before a Hurricane hits when there are many others trying to buy the same water.

But scarcity has another aspect to it, which is time. We have a tendency to act more often if we are faced with a limited amount of time to acquire an item. Content that features “Act now, this offer ends in 1 day” typically converts at higher percentages than content that does not include this limited time information.

Scarcity persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

eBay uses the scarcity persuasion principle

In 1995, eBay started a business that today is worth $73 Billion using the scarcity principle in their auction format. Knowing that time is running out to acquire an object generally causes us to not only take action, but to increase the value we perceive for that object. As the image above shows, the Tommy Hilfiger Brand on eBay prominently features a limited time event, with limited time savings and free shipping as part of the incentive to take action.

Scarcity Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the scarcity principle inclusive of value, quantity and time to incentivize action…

Clearly state the value in beneficial terms to visitors, include a limited quantity description and/or countdown, include limited time notices and/or countdowns, differentiate your product or service to highlight why it is rare or special, etc.

Conclusion: How to optimize conversion with 6 persuasion principles

Understanding how to optimize conversion by including the 6 principles of persuasion as defined by Robert Cialdini is critical for website and application success. In Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” he summarized the principles impacting why people take action based on research he conducted among top sales teams, marketers, advertisers and other prominent influencers.

The 6 principles of persuasion include:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment
  • Social proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Conversion optimization of websites and applications can and should utilize some or all of these persuasion principles to help visitors complete actions that are of benefit to them. But these techniques should be included as part of a usability (task flow) optimized site. Including both usability and these 6 persuasion principles will improve conversion and increase the number of satisfied users of your site or app.

For more information on how to combine usability, persuasion and findability to optimize website and application conversion see the article 3 Pillars of Website Success.

Posted in Conversion Optimization, Persuasion | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Second Test

5 Second Test:  An important conversion optimization tool

Five Second Test for Conversion Optimization image from UsefulUsability.comA 5 second test can help increase website conversion and improve online ROI, here’s how.

Five seconds may seem like a short time, but in fact it is more than enough time for a website visitor to determine if there is enough quality in your website to stay, or to leave potentially never to return. Using a 5 second test to optimize conversion is a powerful way to improve the ROI of a website. This is because in hundreds of website audits I have conducted over the past years I have found that a critical driver of website success is the ability of the home page, or any page for that matter, to deliver three pieces of critical information in five seconds or less:

  • Who are you?
  • What product or service do you provide?
  • Why should I care (what’s in it for ME)?

Websites that are able to quickly and efficiently communicate these three critical elements within 5 seconds typically have much better conversion, and thus ROI than websites that don’t.

Why Five Seconds

But why five seconds? The reason five seconds is so important is because of research studies which demonstrate that visitors to websites take a very short amount of time (in some cases a  fraction of a second, as little as 50 milliseconds) to judge the quality of a website.  As stated in an important study of timing of website visual quality judgments by Lindgaard et. al.…

“Our ambition was to determine how quickly people decide whether they like or dislike what they see, and whether such judgments may constitute a mere exposure effect. The above data suggest that a reliable decision can be made in 50 ms, which supports the contention that judgments of visual appeal could represent a mere exposure effect. The level of agreement between participants and between experiments was impressive and highly correlated even for the 50-ms condition.”*

In addition, hundreds of conversion optimization testing studies I have conducted over the years corroborate this, with test participants quickly scanning a page for just a few seconds before either staying, or moving on in their hunt for information.

5 Second Test Definition

I define a 5 second test for websites as…

“A five second test is a usability testing method in which the participant is exposed to an image of a webpage for five seconds. The image is then removed and the participant is asked questions about what they remember seeing on the page. The test is used for evaluating how well the page communicates the purpose and content within.”

5 Second Test Provides Quantitative and Qualitative Data

A major benefit of a 5 second test is the data that can be obtained, which is both quantitative and qualitative. Because the test is so fast and easy to distribute, it can be deployed to dozens, hundreds or even thousands of testers in a matter of hours, or at the most days. It is relatively quick and easy to obtain statistically significant results that can be organized into charts and graphs for analysis. This takes almost all of the guesswork out of validating if a page is communicating effectively or not, and makes it easy to develop useful conversion optimization recommendations.

As the example below shows, this kind of quantitative data is useful for analyzing exactly how well the webpage is working in terms of communicating with the intended audience. In this example we can see that the vast majority of participants had partial or no idea as to what service or product the company provides.

 5 Second Test results image from

Homepage and the Five Second Test

In fact, one of the better uses of a 5 second test is to conduct tests of the home page. That is because the home page, of all the pages of a website, is most critical for communicating who the firm is, what products or services the firm offers and why the visitor should care (what’s in it for them). Conversion optimizations of the home page based on analysis of 5 second test results can greatly improve page flow, number of pages visited and bounce rate.

To demonstrate how effectively this test can work, examine one at a time for 5 seconds the two images below. Both are for websites that are providing a particular product. Can you derive in those 5 seconds:

  • What product or service is provided?
  • Who is the company?
  • What’s the benefit to you, the visitor?
5 Second Test page example image from

What product or service does this firm provide?


5 Second Test example test image from

What product or service does this firm provide?

Both sites are in the retail business, and both sell women’s shoes. Both appeared in search results for “women’s shoes.” But did one clearly communicate women’s shoes better than the other?

Most likely you found it easier to identify the product, company and benefit from the second website, which happens to be the Nordstrom shoe page. Even if you were not aware of the Brands prior to seeing the image, you probably would have found it easier to understand the product, company and benefit to you of the Nordstrom page. The first image is also a shoe retailer, but was that as obvious as the Nordstrom page?

Conversion optimization is most effective when quantitative data gathered from the 5 second test exposes issues with the page content, leading to optimization recommendations.

5 Second Test Methodology

To conduct a 5 second test, and use the results for conversion optimization, apply the following methodology…

  1. Evaluate which page you would like to test. Typically I like to start with the home page, as most often it receives the highest amount of traffic, has the highest bounce rate, and also is the most important page to communicate the three critical elements to the visitor. However, there are other opportunities to optimize page conversion with a 5 second test including; landing pages, category pages, product pages, information pages, customer service pages, contact us pages and more.
  2. Capture an image of the page. It’s typically best to control the test by providing an image of the page, versus sending the test participant to the page. This is primarily because if you are using the actual website, within the 5 seconds some testers may click away to other pages to help them identify the purpose of the site. Likewise, displaying an image instead of the actual webpage reduces the chances that the test will be flawed by slow load times or other technology glitches that cause the full website to be displayed less than the full 5 seconds. By only displaying an image, you the tester can control how long the participant views the page and curtail any desire to escape the page to find the missing information.
  3. Identify test participants. If the website has a specific target audience, say for example educators in Universities, then it can be helpful to find testers who match that Persona. Likewise, if the website is oriented more to the general public then you can find testers that match the general public at large. One word of caution here, ALL website home pages, whether targeting specific audiences or not, should be able to effectively and efficiently communicate the three core elements no matter WHO is viewing the page. This is why it is less essential to be overly focused on the exact Persona for those pages.
  4. Conduct the test. There are multiple ways to conduct the test. A low-tech way is to find someone in the hallway that matches your test participant profile, show them a print out of the page for 5 seconds, then remove the image and ask them your questions. There are online tools you can use as well, including the 5 Second Test website that I mentioned in the 24 Usability Testing Tools review. To record the results, a simple Excel spreadsheet can be used to document each participant’s comments, or if using the 5 Second Test tool a download of the results is available.
  5. Analyze the results. Depending on the question, I typically divide the results into three categories; incorrect answers, correct answers, and partially correct answers. For questions about what captured the most attention I typically list the elements that are important for communicating the purpose of the page including: Company logo, heading or explanation copy, any strong image. Interestingly, often the strong image is what captures the most attention, but is often guilty of not communicating what the product or service is. In all cases I total the results for each group of answers and provide that data, including a chart, in my report.
  6. Make recommendations for conversion optimization. The analysis of the results will quickly reveal where there are opportunities for conversion optimization. Typically these fall into several areas including; Brand name or logo too difficult to see, a strong non-product image or images capturing all the attention of the participant, the value proposition is unclear or totally missing. The recommendations for optimizations will become clear, based on what elements of the page are not working.

5 Second Test of Carousel Sliders

Many websites today use a carousel with a set of sliders that briefly display a set of horizontally sliding images at the top of the home page. Testing this type of page is important as the number of sliders, and their duration on the screen are impacting the communicative ability of that page. But how do you test animated sliders? Conversion optimization of multiple sliders may seem difficult, but in fact it is not if the following approach is used.

If the initial slider stays on the home page for 5 seconds or longer, then the problem is solved and that image can be used. If however the time is shorter between slider changes, then try categorizing all of the sliders into common groups, and use an example image from each category. For an eCommerce website as an example, there may be several sliders of a product that include the product image, and there may be several that are information only with no product image, or an image of something other than a product. I typically try to test each category of images. Ultimately you could test all the slider images, but that will necessitate having a much larger pool of testers to draw from.

Conclusion: 5 Second Test and Conversion Optimization

The 5 second test is a powerful tool to test the communicative ability of a webpage and provide data for conversion optimization. Remember that the test purpose is to evaluate how well the page communicates the following three critical elements;

  • Who is the company?
  • What product or service is provided?
  • What’s the benefit to your visitor?

A 5 second test can provide quantitative data as well as qualitative data, and because of the speed and efficiency can produce very quick results. Using a five second test on critical pages of a website is one of the best ways to identify opportunities to optimize the UX and thus improve conversion and ROI.

*Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C., and Brown, J. “Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” Behaviour & Information Technology 25, 2 (2006), 115–126.

Posted in Conversion Optimization, Testing, Usability Tools, UX | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment