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Skype Boosts Homepage Conversion Rate with Radical Simplicity

Skype_2Thanks to the informational heavy handedness of 1.0 design we have the opportunity at OTTO Digital to employ our Radical Simplicity™ methodology quite frequently to improve the performance of pages and enhance brand value. The way it works, simply, is to segment users and then strip the page to a single consideration and call to action targeted to the primary goals of the segment. After understanding Skype UK's goals of acquiring new users and thinking about the goal of their target segment, new visitors, we embarked to radically simplify their homepage.

Skype’s key homepage success metric is measured in new visitors downloading the application. Like many sites Skype was concerned with providing enough information and benefits messaging to help persuade users to take action. Our hypothesis was that due to the viral and word-of-mouth nature of Skype the majority of users likely already had determined that they wanted to download prior to landing on the page. We decided to radically simplify the page by removing all elements except these five:


• Brand Logo

• Global Navigation

• Headline

• Call to Action

• Branded Benefit Imagery

The core thinking of this strategy was two fold.

1. Make it as easy as possible to download Skype based on our hypothesis that most first time visitors were already predetermined to download.

2. Remove consideration messages and a detailed product image to force users still in consideration to download the free application to find out more about Skype.

In both instances, the goals of the users and the business were being met.

In the creation of a sound test design we also designed and developed two pages.The simple page and a page that was blend of messaging and simplification. This gave us an A/B/C test. As we designed these new homepages we remained very conscious of the Skype brand and leveraged the branding elements in the creative to draw user focus to the call to action.

Exsisting Page
Shypeex_2

Page B
Skypeb

Page C
Skypec

Results:

The simple page (Page C) proved to be the winner with an almost 5% increase in downloads. The blended page also beat their existing homepage with an almost 2% increase in downloads. For me, the implications of these results and much of what we see with Radical Simplicity are interesting when taken in a broader context.

How much emphasis should you place on copy trying to persuade someone to do something that they don’t intend on doing? Are you actually hurting your performance by using persuasion as a strategy? Why concentrate online advertising efforts getting people to do something they are not sure about rather than focusing most everything on the users that already know what they want and are ready to give you something for it in return? Do you assume these users will purchase from you anyway?

Without question persuasion digitally is infinitely harder than discovering user goals and then making sure users understand that your page allows them to simply achieve their goals. (That’s why they have a digital persuasion lab at Stanford). Part of the problem many marketers and advertisers have is that they take the persuasive approach with their copy. With the marketing technologies we now have at our disposal, namely search and targeting (and re-targeting) both on-site and in ads, textually or image messaging to persuade at times seems antiquated.

But hold on a second. Didn’t we actually use a persuasive technique for users that were in consideration stage (#2 of our core strategy above)? Isn’t forcing users to make a decision a persuasive strategy? Of course it is. These are the effective persuasive strategies and they have nothing to do with copy or text (except maybe removing it).

However, most of the time great digital marketing is about aligning messaging with the goals and intention of users. Those goals are present many times before the user sits down at their computer. If they are not, it is likely they are present before they see your ad, homepage or landing page. They can vary but there is consistency in the way users go about achieving them that allows us to create segments. Once we have segments we can effectively target our content and messaging and ensure users take action by making it as simple as possible. Now does that sound radical to you?

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Comments

It's not often we are presented with an analytics case study that is simple yet powerful, and for a well-known brand to boot.

Thanks Jonathan, more fuel for the fire.

A/B split and MVR testing deserves a much higher profile in the online industry!

Thanks Lucas for the kind words.

Testings day will come. Google has raised the profile. Landing Page Optimization is really only starting to get mainstream attention this year. AB & MVT wil follow close behind. I expect 2008 will be the year of testing, targeting and optimizaiton....only 7 months away :)

Johnathan,

Excellent write up on the Skype case study. However, I'm not sure if radical simplicity will apply for most online companies. I think there are three unique factors to the Skype case that do not apply to most online companies that could change the final results: impact on search ranking, brand awareness of the site and price of the product.

Impact on Search Ranking (Not Easily Testable)

Outside of their brand Skype, it appears that they are targeting two search terms: Internet calls and free calls. Reducing the occurrences of the word "calls" in half on the page will probably have no impact to Skype's Google ranking of #2 for Internet calls and #9 ranking of free calls due to their 630K backlinks.

However, most online companies may need the extra benefit of relevant online text to secure their ranking. This factor may be more difficult to test vs your standard a/b testing.

Brand Awareness (Easily Testable)

As Johnathan points out, most visitors to Skype's site are already familiar with Skype and need little persuasion to take action. However, most online companies can not rely on an international brand to get their visitors to take action. I believe companies have to establish relevancy and credibility through text and images within the first10-20 seconds in order to keep their visitors from exiting. Radical simplicity may not support that.

Price of Product/Service (Easily Testable)

When the product is free, I believe radical simplicity makes sense. The risks are lower for the consumer therefore they need less persuasion. Who doesnt want something for free? However, many companies have to charge for their product or service. This requires a description of features and benefits.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of simplicity and a/b testing but I believe you have to think about the whys in addition to the whats to learn the most from case studies. Outside of the impact on search ranking, the other factors are easily testable.

I would love to hear thoughts.

James,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. My thoughts:

SEO-

Content is important but there are som many other factors that have great weight for your ranking. Also once a believer in keyword density many years ago I know believe that it has no bearing. So actually simplifying and minimizing the content will not only help the user (users scan, they rarely read online) it will not effect ranking as long as your keywords are still present. of course there are ways to optimize that wil not effect your SEO rank like having a different page for new users vs. return.

Brand Awareness-

Again is it's not simple users will not process and "get" what your company is and wants to sell, or more importantly how you can meet their goals. I've always found in marketing simple messages perform better here than copy and text heavy explanations.

Price-

Most of the companies we work with are selling something, not giving it away and we've had great success. Again, it all gets back to having the users understand the features and benefits and the more simple you can make that the better in my experience.

Thanks again James for you comments.

Jonathan

I think in this case Skype already has a lot of brand recognition, so they don't need to reinforce value their brand provides to the customer at the time of download.

I wonder if this page could have worked when Skype was just getting started. Websites just getting started up have to maintan a tradeoff between amount of information and amount of simplicity on the page.

Thank you for making a very informative website with a lot of good advices. I think a key point is to make potential customers aware of the fact that marketing by the Internet is one of the most profitable ways to sell products and services to day. To many the new technical world with Google as the big brother is difficult to comprehensive, but whether they like it or not, facts cannot be escaped. In order to convince them you need proof and the best to present is your own website. It must meet all the expectations you promise your clients and you know as well as I do that it is fairly easy to come up with dreams and wishful thinking but sooner or later reality will show its face. So the next questions pops up, do we/I have the qualifications needed to produce a profitable website or in case I do not have all, do I have a network to back me up? Today where the budgets are being cut it must be the state of art to deliver quality at an affordable price and I think it is a difficult game to play. A website today must be beneficial to all parties involved since references and link building plays a very important role. More than ever the highest degree of integrity and ethics is in demand.

amazing work

keep coming

This is a really well written post. We have completed similar testing using Google Website Optimizer and tend to find that the most important element in determining success is making sure the core action you want the user to complete is front and centre and take away the clutter. Make every page focussed on the goal at hand and results will get much better.

We also found that flash dramatically decreases conversion rates in almost every case.

Good work!

Skype was developed by Estonian developers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, who had also originally developed the peer-to-peer file sharing software Kazaa.

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