Your Customers Aren’t Lab Rats

Some of the grubbiest people online are the people who focus almost exclusively on conversion optimisation.  Their sites are loaded with pop-ups, optin boxes, slide-ins and an array of things designed to make you do what they want you to do on their site irrespective of what brought you there or what you want to do.

These people cover their douchey behaviour in a smelly cloak of, “But it works.”

I hate websites like this.  I sometimes inadvertently end up on Neil Patel’s website because he does create really good content periodically.  Every single time I do, I end up feeling like I need to wash my eyes with bleach afterwards.  It is a full-on optin assault.

He’s not alone by any means, I’m using his site as an example because it is the one for me that most readily springs to mind.

These people are in many ways delusional.  They believe that because you’ve come to their site to read some of their content that they are entitled to absolutely bombard you optin boxes in the hope that you’ll simply give up in the hope of making it all go away so that you can just read the content in peace.

They justify this behaviour in two ways.

One, they think that by offering something of value (their content) that you should reciprocate by giving them your email so that they can attack you with more offers over time.  To me, this is just selfish behaviour.  They feel entitled and don’t care about their readers and audience because they are just numbers at the end of the day.

This leads nicely to the second behaviour – they consider every interaction with their site just part of some large, ongoing experiment in conversion rate optimisation.  They load up on tactics and tricks to try and extract what they ultimately want from you and measure the effectiveness.  If something gets a lot of optins, then it’s deemed “good” no matter how horrific the experience might be for the end user.  Data trumps everything.

I hate that type of thinking.  People who visit your site are not lab rats to experiment on and test in the name of conversion rate optimisation.  I just think it is an awful way to treat people by diminishing their interactions and experience down to some kind of test result.

I had this kind of experience today with Peep Laja who runs the ConversionXL site – dedicated to conversion rate optimisation.  I was also a fan of his work because it provided interesting case studies and observations.  Over the last few months, again, I felt that I was considered nothing more than something to be observed and exploited.

In the last three months, I’ve had four emails from his list – one was a month ago from Peep where he told everyone that the best event he’s ever attended was, wait for it, his own conference.  Seriously, he wrote that in an email as a precursor to pitching his upcoming event.

The other three emails were from one of his staff and to be honest, these emails were grubby and made me lose a ton of respect for him.  The emails attempted to seem “personal” but included salient points that simply didn’t apply to me.  The next two emails were “replies” to the previous emails.

It was like they were trying to trick me into thinking that their emails were part of some direct conversation we were having about me attending their upcoming event.  As someone who writes a fair few emails, it just seemed amateurish.  I would never write emails like that, who wants to try and trick people?

Ah right, we’re back to the old “conversion rate optimisation” thing again.

Of course, they are totally getting marketing and sales wrong.  Sales and marketing aren’t about “tricking” people into signing up for your email list.  Sales and marketing are about persuading people that you can offer something of value that makes their life better, helps them achieve their desired goals faster or gives them something they want or need.  When you trick people into something, they become acrimonious and this is bad for business over the long-term.

Speaking of tricking… After three emails from one of Peep’s staff, all trying to trick me into thinking we were having some kind of conversation, I decided that it was time to opt out of his list.  Whoops, no ability to opt out in the email.

The easy thing to do would have been to simply hit the “spam” button in Gmail and let Google take care of it, but I felt like being a good guy – I don’t like when people hit the spam button on me, so why do it to him.  I went to his site and got the full conversion rate optimization experience.  There was nowhere to “Contact Us” or reach the support team that I could find anywhere on the homepage.  I had to go a couple layers deep, find the “About” page, get Peep’s email and mail him directly to mention the lack of an opt-out option for his email list.

I just find the whole thing really dishonest.  I can totally appreciate that when you’re buying traffic that you want to send them to a page that is designed to get them to take an action so that you can get a positive return on your investment.  I totally get that.  But most of these people aren’t really buying serious traffic, they are getting organic traffic and they are treating those organic visitors like guinea pigs.

Thankfully, Google has started to target these kinds of sites that declare war on their visitors by attacking them with optin boxes.  Google has let it be known that popovers that take up large parts of the displayable area will hurt your site’s search rankings.  I expect that many of these “tactics” will eventually be punished as the customer experience is so horrible irrespective of what the conversion metrics say.

I think you just need to focus on treating your customers like people instead of participants in some kind of experiment you’re running.  I know it all sounds a bit naive, but people know when you’re trying to offer them value in an honest and straightforward way.  Those people won’t need to be tricked to join your list if you have something they want.

To me, this all falls into the “be a good person” basket.  I can’t stand visiting sites where I’m being bum-rushed every time I scroll down the screen by a new optin box.  Because I don’t like going to them, I don’t want to build a site like that.

Treat people how you like to be treated is a good ethos.  Unless you’re into weird stuff, then maybe just treat people how normal people like to be treated.  That’s a conversion strategy that will always work.

Sean’s Update, January 2018 – I never got a response from Peep Laja about his emails not having an unsubscribe option and I mailed him two more times about it.  Finally, I just hit the “spam” button out of frustration one day when yet another email from his staff turned up using a subject line that started with “Re:” – shockingly poor form.

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