Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability, SEO, relationship marketing and consumer psychology.


The Down-Side to Case Studies

People LOVE case studies. They devour them and come back begging for more. Me, I’m more skeptical. Don’t get me wrong; I love reading about how folks solved a problem. And I love showing you how we at Future Now solve problems. Case studies can be really valuable tools


you understand what they are revealing.

Aye, there’s the rub. It’s why I’m leery about featuring case studies. You see, folks generally read case studies and decide the study shows them right from wrong. They walk away with a “rule” planted in their brains.

Here’s what you really need to understand: the most any case study can do for you is explain how certain principles were applied in a particular situation.

I got a lot of feedback on the article I wrote about Max-Effect. I love feedback - even when my correspondent is telling me I don’t know one of my eyeballs from a hole in the ground. At least I know, good or bad, I’ve had an impact.

One intelligent letter was from a guy named Skip, a copywriter from Kreating. Skip made some interesting observations:

From the “For What It’s Worth” Department…

As a professional copywriter I am always on the lookout for business clichés which sometimes find their way into my work. I felt that the phrase “maximize your investment” was in that category and as the headline on the page I found that a bit problematic.

Also…I thought the original design with the black and purple was more stylish than the new version and it leads me to inquire as to whether it is ever OK to use dark backgrounds on a website. I would note that the designers I work with here completely agree with you…but why is that the case?

Finally on the positive side doing the “before and after” routine was a great move --- although the President of my company felt it should have been smack dab in the middle of the homepage --- to instantly drive home exactly what this company does.

Enjoy your newsletter…keep up the good work. (Talk about clichés!)


As I was replying to Skip (I reply to everyone who writes me), I got to thinking once again about the down-side to case studies. Skip’s gonna see a lot of what I wrote to him in this article (thanks, dude!), but I think it’s important stuff to share.

First, let’s take one giant step back. If anyone tells you there’s a hard and fast rule for how to increase your conversion rates, you’d better have your Skeptic Antennae fine-tuned! There are no rules. There are only principles - many proven principles, but principles all the same (getting the point?). And how you apply those principles is going to depend on who you are, what your business does, what matters to the hearts of your dogs … it’s a long list. It’s the sort of stuff we focus on when we perform an “uncovery” with a client.

Taken as a whole, Skip’s letter is really asking if the Max-Effect case study constitutes a series of rules. And the answer is, emphatically, “No!”


Is “Maximize Your Investment” a cliché? You bet. But to the marketers and ad execs John Morana from Max-Effect is trying to snag, it’s persuasive lingo. And it cleverly reinforces his business name. Do I recommend it as a tactic you all should leap to embrace? No way. In John’s case, the tactic appealed to his visitors, got them to engage with his home page and click through to subsequent pages (which they were not doing in droves before). That’s movement in the right direction.

Could it be done differently? Better? I don’t doubt it for a minute. Something else might work even greater magic. With the conversion structure in place, that would be something John could easily test and tweak.


Style is such a sticky issue. Would I say NEVER use black? Nah, of course not. If your goal is to be avant-garde, super cutting-edge, design-rich (as opposed to function-sensitive), then I’d say knock your socks off.

Is black generally a good idea for e-commerce sites focused on the usability imperative essential to effective conversion? Nope. It’s dead obnoxious on the eyes. Remember, you’ve got to snag your visitor quickly when you are trying to persuade. If you make them work too hard, they’re outta there.

From a mood point of view, black can have negative connotations. People often see it as a brooding, distancing color. Then there’s the X-X-X associations (I’m told many p*rn sites have black backgrounds - I relate this purely as anecdotal information, naturally). Can I argue these associations might be advantageous? Sure.

I agree with Skip. I thought John’s former page “looked” nice, too. The design was visually pleasing on a theoretical level. But looks, in this case, did not feed the bulldog. And when the status of the bulldog’s belly is an important consideration, the execution of style needs careful attention.

Product Presentation

It’s an interesting and tempting idea to showcase John’s handiwork on the homepage. And there might be some value in doing that. But at Future Now, we take the view that the purpose of the home page is to engage the reader and begin the process of qualification.

The goal is to get the visitor moving further into the conversion process based on the information that visitor needs in order to be “sold.” It’s going to be different for different personality types. Some will want prices. Some will want to contact John personally. Some will want to read all the fine print. Some will want to see if others were satisfied with the work before they even consider looking at what he does. Some are going to want to know how John works with clients. And some are going to go straight to the samples. Establishing conversion paths that honor all these needs is the primary purpose of the home page.

Home pages cannot do everything, nor should you ever expect your home page to manage that burden. If you understand the principles of what your home page needs to accomplish, you can be more selective about what you put there. And do keep in mind, lots of folks are not going to enter your site through the home page.

Compelling evidence for doing something a particular way is always compelling evidence. When the application of a principle produces cool results, it’s something to get excited about … provided you don’t indulge in binary, right-wrong rule-thought.

I’ll never say “never” (chortle), so don’t go looking for a Grok Rulebook anytime soon. Although I promise you, if I do ever find a hard and fast rule, you’ll be the first to know. I’ll keep talking principles … you keep scrutinizing case studies for how those principles might apply.


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