How I Increased My Conversion Rate by Over 3,000%

Are you frustrated that your email list is growing at a snail’s pace? Do you find traffic coming to your site, but few visitors turning into subscribers?

For years, I was frustrated with the slow growth of my email list, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought all I needed was a popular blog to link to me, or a post to go viral. Or maybe a new plugin!  Yeah, that’ll do it.  Like that would solve all my problems.


Note from Corbett: one of our success stories in-the-making at Fizzle is John Corcoran of Smart Business Revolution. He’s a practicing small business attorney and former Clinton White House Writer. I asked John to write this post after I read his account in the Fizzle forums of how he was able to increase his email signup conversion rate by over 3,000%. There is a lot of good stuff in John’s story below. I hope you’ll apply his tips to see how much they improve your own conversions.

Take it away, John.


It turns out the problem may not be your traffic; it’s probably your conversions.

Six months ago, using a combination of trial and error, a knowledgeable web coach, and Fizzle training and support, I started experimenting with ways to increase my conversion rate.

By testing what resonated with my readers and tracking my efforts, I was able to dramatically increase the .3% conversion rate I was experiencing for the primary email signup box on my site. At times my conversion rate for the primary email signup box has hovered around 10-11% conversion rate, and some of my dedicated landing pages for guest posts have converted at much higher rates – some at 40 to 50%.

It’s actually easier than you may think to double, triple or even quadruple your conversion rate, if you are willing to test, track and experiment with what leads more of your website visitors to become subscribers. These increases can have a significant impact over the long term.

In this post, I’m going to share how you can use the same trial-and-error approach to dramatically increase your conversion rate and the rate at which you add subscribers to your email list.

But first, let’s talk about the “what” and the “why”.

Whatsa Conversion Rate?

Your conversion rate is the rate at which visitors to your site turn into subscribers (or customers, or whatever other metric you’re measuring). It’s a simple formula – divide the number of visitors to a page by the number who accomplish your metric, in this case, becoming an email subscriber.

A lot of email marketing services (such as Aweber or Mailchimp) and email optin plugins (such as Optin Skin) calculate this number for you.

Why You Need to Focus on Conversion Rates

Imagine you had a water line under your house which had over a dozen leaks in it. What if it was so bad that for every gallon of water that left the hookup at the street and began traveling through your underground water line, only one teaspoon reached your tap? You’d want to do something about that, right?

Conversion rate is kind of like those leaky pipes. Like your water line, you may start with 1,000 visitors or 10,000 visitors, and your job is to reduce the leakage so that you can retain as much of your initial source as possible.

Conversion rate is all about keeping people on board and flowing towards your end destination.

Start by Evaluating Your Purpose

In my experience, the biggest conversion killer is not having a clear focus to your blog or a free opt-in offer that your visitors really want.

Before I joined Fizzle in November 2012, the focus of my site Smart Business Revolution was generally entrepreneurs and small business owners. I thought this was a good niche for me, but I soon discovered that it wasn’t targeted or “different” enough to capture casual web browsers’ interest.

The headline on the primary email signup box on the main page of my site was “Grow Your Small Business, Strategically,” and I didn’t offer any PDF download or video for people in exchange for their email address.

It didn’t look visually all that different from the out-of-the-box look provided by my Generate theme from Copyblogger:

jc-signupbox

The conversion rate at that time was around .3% or even lower. I think I offered some kind of “Entrepreneur’s toolkit” for awhile, and even a 5-part video series, but it wasn’t clear the value in either of them so they didn’t convert very well. I also didn’t know how to describe these opt-in offers well using good copywriting so people would understand the value in downloading them.

Because the value wasn’t clear, my list growth was very, very slow.

The far right column is new subscribers (per month):

jc-subscribers

(Hey, at least I wasn’t losing subscribers… those zeros are my unsubscribes)

I needed to niche down. Here’s where Fizzle became really valuable. I batted around ideas in the forums, getting vital feedback from the Corbett, Caleb and Chase and dozens of smart Fizzlers such as John Muldoon, Darlene Hildebrandt, Omar Zenhom, Tom Morkes, and others.

I have this weird backstory where I worked in politics before becoming a lawyer and advisor to entrepreneurs, so I thought that was a “unique” angle I could highlight on the blog.

So, around May 2013, I decided I would focus my site on how entrepreneurs can use political strategies in business.

I decided I needed an ebook download as an email opt-in offer, so I created an ebook called “10 Ways to use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics”. It was well written and I spent a ton of time on it — too much. People who read it gave me good feedback but it didn’t convert too well because people didn’t really know what it was or why they should download it.

I should have written a 3 page freebie download and then tested different titles over time.

At that time, the headline in the main signup box on my index page was “Use Political Strategies in Business.” It converted at 2.5% which was better, but still not great.

The headline was OK, but still confusing. The value wasn’t immediately clear.

If Your Value Proposition Isn’t Clear, Change It

Then some guys in my mastermind group (specifically my friend Antonio Centeno of Real Men Real Style) kept telling me I was really good at building relationships and using relationships in business, so I should focus on that.

When in doubt, listen to others.

I tested the idea by offering two free webinars around June of last year on how to use networking to grow your business, and I got 200 signups. That provided the proof of concept I needed to pivot again.

It took me awhile to get to this point, but I was finally starting to realize the importance of providing something people really want – in my case, I could teach my readers how to attract more clients, customers & revenue by forging new relationships with VIPs and nurturing relationships with current contacts and friends.

The idea about using political strategies in business was cute, but it wasn’t directly beneficial to readers’ lives, which is why it didn’t convert well.

Study Copywriting

I’ve done just about every type of writing, from writing speeches for a President to creative writing to drafting legal briefs. Then I started studying copywriting, and I realized how much I didn’t know. On the advice of the great writer Jon Morrow, I read Breakthrough Advertising and Scientific Copywriting. I also studied good copywriters like Ramit Sethi.

I also began working with Fizzler Darlene Hildebrandt’s husband Rob Cooper, who helped me track the tweaks and changes over time to see what was working and what wasn’t.

Over time, my conversion rate went steadily up. Rob suggested I test language in just one spot on my site, which was smart. He also suggested creating a single “Journal” where I would track changes and their impact. So I A/B split tested the language of various offers in the signup form in the top right column of my site, using two different forms and always having a test running. You can do this directly through Aweber. It’s not hard.

Steadily, my conversion rate for the right column signup form increased from .4% to .5%, and on up. I would take language that worked well from that A/B test and put it in the main opt-in box on the index page.

Around August, I changed the headline of the main signup box to “Turn Relationships into Revenue,” and the conversion rate increased to 3.2%.

Around September, with the help of a number of Fizzlers, I created a new ebook. Again, it was too long, but it was better. The title was “How to Create Your Personal Networking Plan.” I also created a new 3D image for my ebook and the conversion rate on the main sign-up form increased to 5.2%.

People Judge a Book By Its Cover

News flash: Even though we’ve been told for our lifetimes not to “judge a book by its cover,” the reality is people really do judge a book by its cover, and by its title.

For that reason, I continued testing different names for the ebook. I actually tested different individual words and phrases.

Because it would have been very difficult to change the cover image every time, I simply didn’t change it.

That’s right. The PDF that was being delivered often had a different name from what people signed up for. But you know what? I only got 1 email from 1 person who was confused about the title over about 3-4 months of testing. So I figured the potential confusion was worth it for the value I got from testing different names and different ways of describing the ebook.

I also tested dropping my photo from the main signup box (based on the fact that Derek Halpern does not have a photo on his) and my conversion rate increased (while my ego went down a notch).

For the bullet points in the main signup box, I made the benefits more clear, and moved them from the end of the sentence to the start of the sentence in each bullet point. The conversion rate went up again.

I even changed the color of ebook from blue-themed to yellow-themed and the conversion rate went up.

Most recently, I added more media bugs to the signup form and a picture of me and Bill Clinton, and the conversion rate went up again. Here’s what it looks like now:

Screenshot 2014-02-19 14.35.40

The signup box will probably look different again by the time you read this. I’m constantly trying new things, which is the whole point of this exercise.

For awhile, the conversion rate was hovering around 10-11%. Based on 1,000 impressions, that meant the difference between 3 signups (at my original conversion rate) and 100-110 signups (at 10-11%). Depending on your traffic, it could mean the difference in thousands of subscribers per year.

Here’s the great part: I am implementing the language from these tests across my site in various different places and in landing pages I set up for guest posts, so really my conversion rate is going up in other locations as well. Some landing pages for guest posts have hovered around 40-50%.

After months of testing different elements of the title for the ebook, I settled on a new title – “How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with VIPs, Even if You Hate Networking.” The content is basically the same, but the title converts at a much higher rate.

So what is the lesson in all of this?

  1. Test every element if you can, but test them one at a time so that you know what change led to what increase or decrease in conversion rate.
  2. If you belong to Fizzle, then study what others are doing in Fizzle, get involved in the forum and take the Fizzle courses. I was very active in Fizzle throughout this process, and I wouldn’t have gotten these results without feedback from the supportive, generous community of Fizzlers. Get to know other Fizzlers. The more relationships you build in here, the more people you will have to help you out.
  3. Always Be Testing. You should always have at least 1 test running on your site, and as you get more comfortable with it, you can do more.
  4. Study copywriting. This is soooooooooo important.
  5. Take your time. This process can take awhile, especially if you don’t have a ton of traffic.

Finally, I just want to say you can do this. It may not be sexy, but it works. It’s not rocket science. But it does take something which arguably may be harder than rocket science – committing to a long-term, dedicated course of action and being consistent in your testing over time.

So, what steps are you going to take to test your conversion rate today?

John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and founder of Smart Business Revolution, where shows entrepreneurs and small business owners how to use relationships to attract more clients and customers. Get his free, 52+ page ebook, How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with VIPs, Even if you Hate Networking.

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  • http://www.about.me/hunterboyle Hunter Boyle

    Great post and results, John. Thanks for sharing these key ingredients. You’re making all the right moves and I’m sure that your content will keep that audience growing.

    Cheers — Hunter

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Hunter!

  • CommandYourBusiness

    Nice Work John!

  • http://stephenbaugh.com/ Stephen Baugh

    We’ll done John.

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Stephen!

  • http://copygrad.com/ Will Hoekenga

    Awesome post, John. Really cool to see your thought process unfold as you went through the optimization process. I use the Generate theme and the opt-in box in similar fashion on my site, and now I’m seriously considering testing the title of my free ebook.

    Thanks for the idea!

    • John Corcoran

      Yep, definitely test the title. Now that I’ve done this process, I see freebie giveaways all the time that make me think, “you know if they would only split-test that title, I bet they could increase conversions.”

  • Dave Bruns

    Very nice article, John. The details you provide (including the people you are working with) reinforce another powerful lesson as well: you didn’t do it alone. It’s a great example of working with your personal network.

    • John Corcoran

      Yep. Awesome lesson in that Dave. I should have thrown your name in there as well because you gave me feedback as well. Thank you!

  • Chad Brokaw

    Great article, John. Who wrote Scientific Copywriting?

  • http://joeyaugustin.com/ Joey Augustin

    Wow. This couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am nearing a launch. Great stuff John.

    How much volume (visits) do you think is necessary to begin drawing conclusions from an A/B test?

    • John Corcoran

      Hey Joey – even if you get a trickle, I would still do the A/B testing in the column. It will just take longer to get measurable and reliable results.

      • Joey Augustin

        Good to know. Thanks again!

  • David Oberlander

    Awesome post. truly awesome.

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, David!

  • John Corcoran

    So true, Eric!

  • Amorette Kwan

    Wow, your dedication to testing really paid off! Inspiring example of real life results!

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Amorette!

  • Denis Smith

    Fantastic information as I am still struggling to increase my conversion rate. Thank you and keep sending those notifications of your new posts in my email. Thx.

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Denis!

  • Alex Moscow

    Hey John, great article. So much good stuff to try.

    I love to tweak but not particularly scientific about it. Looks like that’s gotta change.

    I wonder if you could help me out with something?

    Recently I’ve been tampering with my free stuff page. I noticed that you call yours ‘Resources’.

    Have you found that this converts the best compared to say, ‘Free Stuff’, ‘Downloads’ or ‘eBooks’?

    • John Corcoran

      Hey Alex- I haven’t actually tested whether Resources converts better to Free Stuff, Downloads or Ebooks. However, I would guess that Resources converts better than Downloads or Ebooks, because the latter two sound like something you might have to pay for or which might give your computer a virus.

      I’ve simply stolen the “Resources” term from others who use it, like Pat Flynn. However, I don’t know if he’s tested it, so perhaps there’s a better term I should try out. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • http://www.9mmpr.com Alex Moscow

        Thanks for the reply John.

  • laurendillon

    Awesome post…my favorite take away was the 3 pager and testing covers/headlines. What are you using for your opt in functionality? Have you tested any sort of welcome sequence?

    • John Corcoran

      I use a standard Aweber opt in form for the index page and the sidebar. I use Optin Skin in other places. I’ve heard great things about Hybrid Connect.

      I haven’t really tested the welcome sequence too much, but I have tweaked it a little bit. My 2nd follow up email used to get a lower open rate (I think around 20-25%) but I tweaked the content and the headline and now it’s up around 40% open rate. The follow up emails’ open rates generally trend downward but I have tried to improve the subject lines. Actually, one problem I have with Aweber is they don’t allow split-testing of follow up messages. You can do it with broadcast messages, but not follow ups. I really hope they add that feature.

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Great article John! Hopefully we can get your conversion rates even higher :)

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Rich! Actually I’m already seeing an increase in conversions for my index page based on conversion recommendations you gave me. So thank you! (BTW been meaning to share takeaways in Fizzle forum from your conversion review.)

  • Charles Doublet

    Thanks for the great article John! I’m just about to get my blog online through Fizzle also, and your story helped me to not worry about getting it so “perfect” since it seems like I will be continually tweaking it anyway.

    • John Corcoran

      Absolutely, Charles. Get it up and then start testing. Don’t rush. It took me awhile to get comfortable with this process.

  • Ana

    Love it! Thank you for sharing. Downloading your ebook now. :)

    • John Corcoran

      Great! Hope you like it Ana.

  • Bree Brouwer

    John, the funny thing in my mind is that I knew about your blog about the time you started testing all these things, and assumed you already had everything figured out! Apparently we all have something to learn.

    • John Corcoran

      Thanks, Bree! Naw, I’m just makin’ stuff up as I go along. It may seem like I got it all together on the outside, but inside, I’m just one big pile of nervous sweat and tears.

  • http://www.sunburstgifts.org Princess Diana

    This really breaks it down into the nitty gritty. Thanks for sharing!

    • John Corcoran

      Thank you, Lady Di!

  • Lauren Halagarda

    Thanks for sharing such inspiring results, John!

    • http://www.smartbusinessrevolution.com/ John Corcoran

      My pleasure, Lauren!

  • Naomi Goodlet

    This is great advice. I wish I could GAF about testing, I know it could really boost my sign-ups but I find it so hard to care. I love the work that I do and to be honest I’m pretty impressed that I built my own website and manage everything on my own. I feel like when it comes to analytics and testing that I need to outsource this because it just takes up my time and leaves me feeling angry. Any advice on where to start looking?

  • http://www.orionesolutions.com/it-support-plans/ Macwong

    Awesome points. If i follow our given points i am definitely sure will grab by goals easily. Infect i am gin to do it. :)

  • http://www.orionesolutions.com/it-support-plans/ Macwong

    fantastic points :)

  • http://www.DesignYourOwnBlog.com/ Marianne

    Somehow I missed this post when it was published, but just heard about it in the Fizzle forums and so glad I checked it out. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to play around with my opt-in forms and freebie titles! I can’t wait to get started on this!

    Thanks John! (from a fellow cool blogger to watch) ;)

  • Eric Bloom

    Great post – really appreciate your insight. I am working for a B2C online privacy company called Abine and we are currently looking to improve our landing page conversion rate.

    What benchmark data do you use for landing page conversion rates? I am trying to gather as much information as possible so I am curious to what you would consider a bad / good / great conversion rate?

  • Eric Bloom

    John, great article on conversion rate optimization. My company (Abine) is currently working on improving our landing page conversion rate and I had a question for you: what becnhmark data do you use for landing page conversion rates? I am trying to gather as much information as possible so I am curious as to what you would consider a bad / good / great conversion rate?

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