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CXL Website Optimization Minidegree – Week 1 Review

The question I asked myself was this…

In a world of YouTube online marketing experts, how do you set yourself apart?

I watched a video by a woman named Sunny Lenarduzzi who claimed to be making millions of dollars from the sale of her “How to YouTube” course.

She claimed that YouTube was the road to riches, and to freedom.

I bought the message, but…

When I started looking at other YouTubers in the online marketing world, they were all chasing the same keywords.

They were all talking about the same things. They were all teaching the same “bro” science.

I didn’t want to follow the herd. It’s not in my nature. It’s the reason why my website is called “The Lead Sheep”.

So, I sought something that would help set me apart from the crowd.

That something was a certification from ConversionXL Institute in website conversion optimization.

Over the next 12 weeks, I’ll be publishing an article a week documenting my journey through the courses.

I’ll share what I’ve learned, along with my “aha” moments.

Then, I’ll share how I will apply this information to my own site.

About 18-months ago, I published a website called MédicosExpertos.co. It’s an informational site, based on SEO content, that helps promote medical professionals in Colombia.

It has sat dormant for much of the last year, but has continued to attract a steady amount of traffic – about 150-200 people a day.

It’s my intention to build this site out over the next year, and begin delivering qualified leads to local doctors.

If you’re interested in following the journey, consider subscribing to my newsletter, so you’re the first to know when I publish new content.

Why I Chose CXL

Choosing to specialize in website conversion optimization was a no-brainer. It incorporates two things I love:

  1. Copywriting
  2. Systems optimization

I believe copywriting is the one skill that people who do business online need to learn. And I love looking at a website, and figuring out how to get more sales from it.

The problem is…

I had no idea how to do it properly.

Of course, I’d read, and watched the same articles from people like Miles Beckler, but there was never a real method to my madness when it came to designing a site, and tweaking it to make more sales.

Just as easy as choosing what I wanted to specialize in, making the choice to learn from CXL was just as easy.

I’ve been on their mailing list for years. Not every message got opened, but a lot did. No doubt, they are a leader in the website conversion optimization world.

But there are others.

Specifically, I looked at Meclabs. I like Flint Mclaughlin a lot. He gives away a lot of great information. But when I looked at their courses, they didn’t seem to offer the same level of coverage as the CXL course.

Interesting fact…

CXL likes MecLabs too, and refer to work they do in this field quite regularly so far.

First Impressions

My first impression of the CXL dashboard wasn’t a great one.

I found it awkward to navigate. But once I figured it out, it was easy to move around the lessons, and to see how I was progressing.

The other thing that hasn’t impressed me is some of the lessons within the course seem to be blog posts.

In fact, in every lesson, there are links out to supplemental resources. In a couple of cases, I’ve actually found the blog posts found at the end of the lesson to be more in-depth than the lesson I just covered.

Speaking of lessons…

Week 1 Courses Covered

This week I covered the following courses:

  • Intro to CRO
  • Best Practices
  • Intro to Conversion Copywriting

Intro To CRO

The Intro To CRO course contains the following lessons:

  • Why CRO?
  • The basics
  • Managing ideas
  • Sources of insight
  • A/B testing basics

Key concepts covered, and my thoughts on WHY CRO?

  • CRO is about using data to determine the best ways to improve sales, and conversions. Not just going to rely on our “feelings” or “biases”.
  • Benefits of CRO go deeper than just increased sales or conversions. Other benefits include:
    • More time
    • Less intrusion by higher-ups
    • Improved collaboration with agency
    • Stop implementing ideas from other sites that seem good, but haven’t been vetted.

The Basics (observations and thoughts)

  • It’s about managing ideas, and deciding what to test.
  • When is 4 stars better than 5? When you have a higher sample size and population.
    • As he says, a 14-year old can figure this out, so it’s kind of a natural concept.
  • Ask good questions.
    • This has been a challenge for me. I don’t know the questions to ask. How do I know what should be tested and when?
  • Increase the sample size or put eyeballs on your tests
    • My websites are low-traffic, so how do I validate the tests I want to run?
  • Increase the quality of the sample size.
    • Same problem as above. How do I get people who represent my ideal audience to look at my site.

Managing Ideas

  • Use a simple spreadsheet to save a list of your ideas.
    • So simple. I’ve got my ideas spread out all over the place. Will implement a central spreadsheet for each website immediately.
  • How to write a hypothesis to make sure you are specific in what you want to test. “If I X, I expect Y to happen, as measured by Z”.
    • Loved how this easily helps me form my thought, and to identify exactly what is being tested.
  • Ranking ideas. Gives you an objective-ish way to score the priority of your tests.
    • This seems to be a great way to get wins quickly if working with a client.

Sources of Insight

Sources of Insight, or sources of data help you support your hypotheses.

  • Google it.
  • Research already conducted by the company. Add tests to the list that come from the research. This ensures you actually use the research you’ve paid for.
  • Personas. What hypotheses come from your different personas? Add them to the list.
  • Analytics. You need to understand analytics. Analytics can help determine what to test, and whether an idea is worthy of testing.
    • Analytics, and how to use GA is a big hole for me, and is something I really look forward to learning more about.
  • User testing. Use existing services that allow you to quickly get user feedback on designs, copy, etc.
    • I’m definitely going to use this for copywriting in the future. Not sure if they exist in Latin America, but I hope so. Will also use services for the Question Test to make sure people understand the content.
  • User intelligence using tools like scroll report software, mouse-tracking, or screen recording software.
    • I knew about scroll reports, but it was exciting to learn about the ability to record actual users of your website as they navigate around. 
    • Also going to use feedback forms to poll users, and customers.

A/B Testing Basics

A/B testing is the best way to test ideas that don’t have enough validation from other sources of insight. It delivers an unbiased confirmation of hypotheses.

  • Only test one thing at a time. Or test a big change and then continue with smaller tests to confirm which elements delivered the improvements.
  • Data is collected over time so it eliminates outside events that might affect the data.
  • Eliminates lies and pretenders.
  • Data can’t be shaped by people doing the testing. Visitors are acting naturally.
  • Losing is part of the process. Don’t get frustrated by it. Just keep moving forward. Test, test, and test some more.
  • Low traffic sites can use A/B testing.
  • Was familiar with the idea of A/B testing. What’s always held me back from doing this is knowing how to do it. How do I get my website to show a different page for every other visitor?

Best Practices

The BEST PRACTICES course covers a wide range of topics. Rather than list them all out here, I’ll include a section for each lesson with key takeaways and my thoughts on them below.

I found this course packed with useful information – even though it’s considered “basic” for CRO experts.

The PDF included with this course is incredible. It gives a distilled summary of each area, and makes it easy to refer to whichever thing you’re working on, and make sure you follow the best practices.

Rather than just copy that list, I’ll include only the points I found most helpful to my own websites.

Web Forms

  • By removing the word “Company” from a form, Expedia increased profit by $12 million dollars. Be clear on what you are asking for.
  • Clearly identify what’s optional. Clicktale experienced a 37% dropoff rate simply because it wasn’t clear that the phone number was optional.
  • Short forms aren’t always better. It’s contextual. TruckersReport did better when more fields were requested due to the type of site.
  • You can qualify your leads by adding friction with more fields.
  • When to use different alignments on forms.
    • I would have thought labels should be right aligned. For most forms I’d use, left-aligned would be better – especially given the fact that my forms will be in Spanish, which takes up more space than English.
  • Test real-time in-line validation.
    • Shocked by how effective this was in improving conversions, and decreasing errors. Not sure how to use this in Elementor forms. May have to switch how I build forms on ME.co.
  • Avoid CAPTCHAS!
    • Wow, this was an eye-opener. No one wants spam and I thought that using CAPTCHAS was the only way to accomplish this. The numbers were shocking:
      • Visual CAPTCHAS take 9.8 seconds to complete.
      • Audio versions take 28.4 s to hear and solve.
      • 50% of people will give up on audio CAPTCHAS
      • 3 users will agree on the translation of CAPTCHA just 71% of the time.
    • What was disappointing was there was no alternative given. If I’m not going to use CAPTCHAS to decrease spam, what do I do instead?
  • Address fears. Add trust factors to the form to increase conversions.
  • Use form analytics to determine sticking points and dropoff.
    • I didn’t even know you could track such a thing. Most of the forms I’ve ever created though, are minimal in nature. That could change with ME.co.

Ecommerce Category Pages

I don’t run an ecommerce site, and don’t plan to consult with ecomm clients but still found this really interesting. Now, every time I’m on an ecomm site, I’m scrutinizing their use or lack of use of these best practices. I really need to speak to the owner of the jewellery store we were in last weekend. He could really improve his site.

  • Use large, high-quality product and product category photos.
    • I want to test this on ME.co for the page listing all of the plastic surgery procedures. Also use a flip-box to give people a preview of the page when they hover over the image.

Buttons and Call-to-actions

  • It’s not a matter of red buttons doing better than blue buttons, but rather it’s a matter of, do the buttons stand out enough to draw attention?
    • I want to test using a larger button on the guide pages (ME.co) to prompt people to request a consult with one of our doctors.

Fold and Page Length

  • Most of the info in this section was stuff I’d learned previously.
    • Put the most important info at the top.
    • Make it clear that the page continues – no false bottom.
    • Make sure to check design for all screen sizes.
    • Checkout links/buttons should be above the fold.
    • Pricing for product pages above the fold.

Ecommerce Signups

  • Do NOT force people to register before buying. It pisses them off and lowers conversions.
  • Get right to the checkout process. Offer to create an account after the checkout process + incentive for doing so is a preferred method.
  • Allowing people to register using social logins can make the process much easier.
  • Many online marketing “experts” preach getting the email address up front because of the large cart abandonments. I wonder how many people actually abandon a cart because they’re in line at the grocery store, or get distracted. More likely is they just don’t want to go ahead. Need to test to find out why not.

Incoming phone leads & call tracking

This is a great section for local businesses. So few businesses track this. Phone calls often lead to immediate business. If you can react to them quickly, they’re very profitable. So increasing them is a no-brainer.

  • To get the phone to ring, you need to give people a reason to do so. Then you need to make it dead easy for them to call. This means putting your phone number right in your paid ads (Google, FB, IG, etc).
  • To track which channel delivers the most, and best calls, use a different tracking number for EACH channel.
  • Place the offer to call at the top of the page – above the fold – and about ¾ of way down the page.

Principles of persuasive design

The 5 principles of persuasive design are:

  1. Clarity. When someone lands on your website, the first question they ask is “What is it?” If they can’t figure it out, they leave. Design, and copy needs to be clear. The site needs to be easy to navigate. The copy needs to clearly convey the message.
  1. Visual appeal. Visual appeal is more important than usability. When people use a site with poor usability but looks good, they still say it’s better than a site with good usability and poor design.
  1. Strong visual hierarchy. Big = important on websites. BOB … big orange buttons don’t sell better. Buttons that stand out sell better.
  1. Conserve attention at all costs.
    1. Use “larger than life” images for landing pages. I’m going to test this on my “epic” plastic surgery procedure guides.
    2. Real, smiling human beings (large here section above the fold) perform well.
    3. Contrast … before/after … captures attention. Before/after images are a natural for plastic surgery guide pages.
    4. Surprises – something unexpected – captures attention.
    5. Use subheadlines, and short paragraphs to encourage scanning.
  1. One action or “most wanted response” per page. Don’t ask for action too soon. People need to know how something is useful to them. Test moving the cta for consultations on ME.co down the page.

Typography and Content

Topics in this lesson include:

  • Font size
  • Font type
  • Paragraph length
  • Scanning of content

Most of the info covered in this lesson is stuff I’ve heard, or read before, but it was interesting to learn that serif fonts really didn’t contribute to better comprehension of content.

Radical redesign vs. evolutionary design

Keep optimizing or say “screw it” and start over? That’s the question addressed in this lesson.

The way to go is to optimize – or evolve the design – until you reach a point of diminishing returns.

If you need to redesign, try to identify what’s working before making major changes. An example is the checkout page.

If the checkout page has a drop-off rate of less than 5%, you want to keep that design.

The best times to redesign are:

  • When site design has become outdated.
  • Local maxima has been achieved, and further optimization is expected to bring little to no results.
  • Your site has low traffic, and A/B testing would take too long to figure out all that’s wrong.

Home Pages

The homepage has 2 goals:

  1. Provide information
  2. Help the visitor find what they need (navigation)

The 3 things it needs to communicate are:

  1. What can I do here?
  2. Why should I do it?
  3. How is this better or different from other offers?

The most important thing for a home page to do is to clearly convey the business’ value proposition.

Pricing and pricing pages

When setting prices for products or services, never ask your customers. The answers will always be different from the ones who open their wallets. The best (only) way to test a price is with actual traffic.

I loved the concept of decoy pricing – offering two items with similar options, but with one that has a distinct advantage.

Another concept I found helpful is the concept of price anchoring – or leading with a high price to make the second price seem more reasonable.

One of the most interesting things I learned in this lesson was that prices ending in “9” work better than anything else. All the “gurus” in internet marketing swear by ending their prices in “7”. 

Something I was happy to see was the recommendation to show prices, or price ranges. And to actually show prices to help weed out visitors that are not a good fit for higher priced products or services.

Something I want to apply to another one of my sites is to display the pricing in various currencies. This site will be targeted at various different countries, and so this will be very important.

Website speed optimization

I was dreading this section because I know that ME.co is slow. I’ve tried to speed it up, but just can’t do anymore myself.

What I found interesting was the top metrics to look at:

  • Average document interactive time
  • Average page load time

I’d always looked at the page load time, but never bothered to look at time to become interactive. I’ve installed a lazy load plugin for ME.co to see if it helps. It did, but the site still scores poorly – especially in mobile – which is 90% of my traffic.

I will be hiring someone with more tech knowledge to look under the hood and speed stuff up.

Visual Hierarchy

“Prominent visuals get the attention.”

One thing that stood out to me is the part about nav links. I tend to put links to “about”, “blog” pages in the main nav. For ME.co, that will not be the case. I will stick with only the most important links in the main menu. Using Elementor, I will build a secondary nav section for the top of the page.

FAQ’s on websites

Your #1 goal is to eliminate the need for FAQ’s…

Great advice.

Importance of visual design

The points that struck me most:

  • Bad design causes people not to trust your site.
  • First impressions are 94% design related – logo, main images, colours, and the nav menu.
  • Inspiration drives better first impressions. This was of interest because it says that tourism sites with inspiration-related elements had the greatest impact on first impressions. I have a (currently dormant) tourism site that will need attention when COVID-19 is gone.

Internal Search

I’ve never really given the search box much thought. That changed after reading this section.

Right now, I don’t have enough content to really warrant a search box, but very soon I will be putting one on the front page of the website, in a very prominent place.

For ME.co, I think having an auto-complete search box would be useful.

Shopping cart pages

“The closer to the money we get, the bigger the potential impact can be.”

So much to learn in this section. I had just gone to a jewellery store to see about getting my watch fixed, and ended up talking to the owner. I found another watch I wanted for my next birthday, and the owner put my selection on a wishlist.

When I got home, I checked out their site. When comparing their newly designed site to the best practices covered in these courses, and specifically to what is in this section, they had a lot of potential for improvement.

When products were added to the cart, you were taken to the cart page. The “proceed to checkout” button was all but invisible, with no space around it, and no background colour – just an outline.

The products were displayed well, and it was easy to change quantity without having to type. One thing I would recommend they do is make it possible to save an item to a wish list.

To improve visual hierarchy, they need to add a “proceed to checkout” button at the top of the page, and make the button at the bottom of the page more prominent.

On the checkout page, there is a big field for a coupon code. They should remove this, especially since they are a jewellery store and don’t seem to use coupons.

They offer free pick up from the store which is made clear on the checkout page, but it’s not really clear what the other shipping options are – even though they say they offer free shipping over $200.

Finally, the cart maintained my items when I closed the tab and left. When I returned, the items were there, waiting for me.

Ecommerce checkout pages

This section was a little disappointing. I’ve seen better info about creating high converting checkout pages on YouTube.

Intro To Copywriting

I’ve considered myself to be pretty good at copywriting, but the intro to copywriting section taught me some interesting stuff. 

One of the things I found useful in the intro section was the three part formula for writing good home page copy:

  • Headline
  • Sub-headline to expand on the headline
  • Bullet points to list key features and benefits

How to review and improve copy

The most important points in this section, to me was…

Value, clarity, credibility test. I tend to ramble in my copy. Examining my copy with these three points in mind will help me tighten up my copy – especially the 2nd and 3rd drafts.


This is a topic that’s severely underserved in the online marketing world. I’m absolutely going to pay more attention to this on my sites.

In the four rules of using microcopy, #3 was most impactful – “front-load your labels”. I have often used the words, “click to continue”. I’ll be going back to my site and changing all instances to something more like, “continue”, or “continue reading”.

Using video

I love video, especially for service providers. Often, the biggest differentiating factor from one service provider to another is their personality. Video does a great job of showing off who you are.

I disagree with the whole “shorter is better” point about videos. Wistia claims that engagement is higher on shorter videos, but I would question the results. I’ve used videos upwards of 10-minutes long with a client and it resulted in helping to double their business.

Engagement is one thing. Interest, or intent is another. I don’t care if fewer people engage. I care about the few people who watch all they way through and contact the company.

Week 1 Wrap-up

Well that was an epic accounting of material covered. This minidegree is no joke. There’s a lot to take in, absorb, and retain.

Documenting what I’ve covered this week really helped to cement the material in place for me. Having to go back two, and even three times in come cases has helped reinforce the learning.

I look forward to next week. Stay tuned.

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Curtis Penner

Curtis Penner

Curtis Penner is the man behind the sheep ... ahem ... well, he helps service-based businesses harness the power of online marketing to become the lead sheep in their markets. Cause if you follow the herd, all you get is sheep $#!t on your shoes.

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