Your “Social Proof” Is Killing Your Credibility – Stop It!

So you’re building out your website, you’ve paid for a designer, you’ve written the content and things are looking good.

You also want to include some “social proof” on your website to show to the world that other people have used your service and that they liked it.

Testimonials and even social media factors (Facebook likes, RSS Subscribers, Tweets etc.) are a great way to build trust online. But only if you’re executing these things well.

And most websites do it horribly.

Stock Photos Are Killing Your Brand

Often times the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) chimes in and tells the team that they need more “professional” photos. This often leads to stock photography because there may not be a budget left over for a photographer, or time to do a photo shoot.

This is a horrible mistake.

Photos on the website are not about showing “professionalism” first. They are about showing PERSONALITY first. They are meant to showcase the amazing team that you have working for you, or the amazing customers that . They are for showing your company’s humanity. For displaying that you’re not a cold, money hungry company or just a pretty website.

Stock photos do the exact opposite. They show that you’re disinterested. They tell the world that you’re not proud of your team or your customers.

They send the wrong message.

Check out this article for a more in depth look at stock photos using eye tracking.

Bad Example of social proof:


This site is a so called “Marketing” company. They use stock photos everywhere, and even their testimonials are stock photos. This tells customers that maybe their testimonials aren’t even real (I’m not saying they aren’t, just that stock photos give that impression).

Their website says that they have 49 likes. Big whoop, I know morticians with more likes. Besides, their Facebook page has over 700 likes, why not show those?

Good Example:


No cheesy stock images here. The social sites are subtle above the fold but add value, and the twitter comments at the bottom of the page are prominent enough to anchor the page and remind website skimmers that there is activity going on with this site.


Photos of real people (what a concept!). There are a ton of sites out there that think people actually believe in those stock photos on your team page. does a VERY good job of adding life and personality to their about us page and turn it into a page that adds value instead of taking up space.

Bottom Line: Use Your Website To Connect

Social proof and photos on your website are not there to fill space. Trying to be “Professional” doesn’t work. Instead try to connect with people. Add life to your website, break the rules of “best practices” even a little. Make sure your website represents the culture of your company.

And most of all: be real. If you can accomplish that, you will have all of the Facebook likes and inbound links that you could ever want.

Give me your thoughts below.


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Extremely Urgent: How You Can Use The VIP Treatment To Win Over Visitors

Have you ever received a package via Fedex Express? Did you notice the packaging?

The package says “Extremely Urgent” in red letters right under their logo.

I’m sure that some Fedex packages are in fact extremely urgent, was yours? I’m willing to bet that most likely it was a shirt from Amazon or a trinket from eBay instead of a life altering “urgent” package.

Does the package arrive faster when it says “Extremely Urgent” on it? Of course not. Fedex scans each package and it is routed according to the price you paid for the package. The delivery driver is not driving any faster because your package says that it’s urgent.

But you feel better when you receive it.

And that’s the point. You already receive a small burst of endorphins when you receive mail, but when you get a piece of mail that says “Extremely Urgent” on the package you feel that much better. You feel like you’re important.

You can use this same technique with your online campaigns.

Think about how you can add a VIP experience to your own products or services. Can you slip in a signed (yes, a real signature) welcome sheet in with every product you ship? How can you label your products to make them appear more important? Can you list them as “confidential”? “Important”? or special in some way?

Make your customers feel important to your company and you will build a tribe of followers that are stronger and more effective than any marketing campaign that you can devise.

The flip side of this

Be careful with this to make sure it comes off as genuine. Customers can smell a thin offer a mile away and if you take this too far you will lose your audience.

It’s about making a connection and improving the experience, not hyping your products past where they can go.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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Leave “Best Practices” Behind and Start Working Consciously

Are you a conscious worker or a passive worker?

Do you actively seek to improve your work? Do you wait for answers before moving forward? Or do you push, and keep pushing until you break through and solve problems?

Showing up on time to work is a passive trait. You are allowing your day to be dictated to you. I’m not saying you should start showing up late, but what would happen if you showed up early? That’s something you can CHOOSE.

You don’t have to take on extra projects and help to improve others work, but you can CHOOSE to do so, which will ultimately improve your own work.

Most workers CHOOSE not to choose. They decide that the CHOOSING should be someone else’s job, and not theirs. They think that if someone has told them to do something, then all of the blame lies with them. They get off scott free.

This happens in marketing all the time. “Best Practices” is an easy way to avoid hard decisions. It makes it easy to move forward with a campaign even though it may not be the most beneficial to the company. After all, if it doesn’t work, who’s to blame? Everyone else does it that way.

Designing a landing page based on best practices is another passive trait. It avoids the blame if something goes wrong. Sure you might see some modest improvements in your conversion rates, but you’ll never see huge wins.

Hippos LOVE best practices because they are safe.

GOOD marketing doesn’t work that way.

Good marketing leaves “best practices” behind and takes a chance. It chooses to be different, and it causes way more connection with your audience as a result. But it’s not easy to do.

It’s not easy because choosing and committing are the hardest part.

Nothing worth doing has ever been easy.

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On hiring to break new ground

When you’re hiring a new employee what are you really looking for?

Someone who obeys the rules?

Someone who shows up on time and does what their told?

If your company manufactures nuts and bolts then this might be the perfect fit.

But if your company is one that is trying to break new ground, create something new and prove the status quo wrong, then hiring in this way can kill your company.

Our company breaks new ground. We have created an entirely new set of rules, and with it, a new product category.

When I am hiring for a new position I look for someone who isn’t afraid of breaking the rules. Someone who is willing to make mistakes.

Because if you don’t make mistakes, you can never create something that is fresh and new.

And you might as well go back to manufacturing nuts and bolts.

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Landing Page Critique: Optimizely

I love doing landing page critiques. It keeps me sharp to delve into a landing page that is outside of my normal industry and explore how I could make it better.

Plus it helps that there are a lot of landing pages online that need a lot of help.

This time I wanted to take a look at a company that should really be doing a better job of it though. Why? Because they sell landing page software.

I’m not saying that their landing page doesn’t convert right now, but I think there are some opportunities to improve this page and their campaign that would give them a boost.

I found this campaign through a media buy ad that I clicked on. It was shown on an internet marketing site. I have marked the critiques with numbers.

Optimizely Landing Page


1. Is this a headline?

“Test it out for free” is not a very effective headline unless I know exactly what I’m testing out already – even then it is pretty horrible. In this case, this page is in a campaign that gets it’s traffic from media buys. That traffic is probably familiar with the industry but probably not with the product. This headline needs to have a strong benefit and a reason to read further.

2. Subhead

Welcome to…? Are we still in the 90s? They use superlatives like people will believe them. Who cares if you’re the most popular, what are you going to do for me? How are you going to improve my workflow, business and my life? Why should I even try this trail? You haven’t even told me what it does.

Also, “on the planet”? Seriously???

3. Size matters… in web forms

The first field is confusing… enter my url “to try it out”. I’m still not sure what the software does aside from that it’s the most popular “on the planet”. Don’t ask for a phone number here. You haven’t built enough trust for me to enter it. Make forms on cold landing pages like this as short as possible. There’s always more time to collect information later.

4. Imagery

I have to think that there is a better way to visually represent their service. First off the “winning variation” in the visual is just a different colour CTA. This is boring, but it also doesn’t really get to the benefit of the software. Do I want to do A/B split testing because I want to have a winning variation? Or do I want to make more sales? Help me to visualize why this software will make my life soooo much better.

5. Call to what?

This call to action sucks. “Test it out” means nothing. How about touching again on the value proposition? Example: Test out Optimizely and convert more traffic to leads.

See how easy that was?

6. About Optimizely copy

You really believe that being the most popular testing tool on the planet has clout. Why should I even believe you? You have nothing to back it up? Besides, is that the ONLY benefit that you have? If so I’ll go to one of the software programs that have more to say than “OMG I’M POPULAR!”

7. Testimonial FTW!

Finally something I like! Too bad it’s below so much crap. A testimonial that speaks to a benefit and actually provides value to the page. Well done. Still, the testimonials should be split tested later on to find the ones that users relate to the best.

8. Logos are good

I’m starting to believe that you may actually have something here. Too bad you probably lost most of your audience before this point, but the social proof of these brands is a good selling tool. I would still test out having less of them on this page and see if it changes conversion rates at all.

9. We’re taking on water!

Leaks galore in the footer. Why take out the top menu but not the bottom? A lot of Hippos are frightened of having high bounce rates so they say “let’s throw links in the footer to keep the traffic from leaving our site if they don’t convert on the landing page!” Well if the top 2/3 of the page was doing it’s job properly you wouldn’t need those links in the footer to prevent people from bouncing. Fix the issues at the top and the bounce rate will go down.

10. Speaking of the top navigation…

I put a question mark at the top because there has GOT to be something worth while to put in this wasted space. I’m sure this space is used in their template as a navigation area, but on this landing page it’s just a waste. Maybe pull the “most popular” crap out of the main copy and throw it in this space? In either case this needs to be tested.

So there you have it… a good ripping for this landing page but luckily on the web these horrible mistakes aren’t anything that can’t be fixed and tested.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and as always if you’d like to have your landing page critiqued by me just let me know in the comments.


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Email Marketing Critique: Buyer’s Industry Guide

The Buyer’s Industry Guide (or BIG) has recently put me on their list – which I don’t remember signing up for, however I sign up for a lot of mailing lists so it’s probably fine.

I received their first email this morning and it’s a mixed bag of decent design and bad copywriting.

The trouble is, most corporate emails are, and I want to shed some light on what they could improve on. Hopefully you can take this critique and apply it to your own email marketing campaigns to make them better.


What they’ve done well

First off, the template that they’ve used is nice and clean. It’s probably based on a mailchimp email template, but the colours are nice and easy to read and it’s laid out well.

The primary header is an image, but they’ve basically repeated the headline as text which makes up for it. Even if I don’t turn images on, I still get to see a headline.

They show me a lot of information in this email about ad sizes and the contact details are easy to find and to read.

That’s pretty much where the positives about this email end.

What they can improve on

There needs to be a stronger headline.

“Big is now bigger”

What does this mean? I have no context for this email and the headline is confusing. More convenient than what? More effective than what? More EXPOSURE than what??

They talk about more more more bigger bigger bigger but they haven’t given a single benefit statement. No one wants bigger for the sake of bigger – there’s got to a benefit behind why bigger is better. How will this product make my job easier (this is B2B selling remember)?

What’s with the social media icons?

The social media icons are floating after the starting copy for no apparent reason. There is no explanation at all about what they want me to do with those icons. Is this email designed to convert me into a social user or is it designed to sell me something else? I’m confused.

The next section is yet another mish mash of text that doesn’t really have any goal. What are the “Buyers” buying? How are you going to increase my sales? Why can’t I “afford” to miss a single issue?

What are they selling?

Next up is a deadline for something I’m still not sure about. What are they selling again? Oh yeah, it’s a full page ad! Finally they tell me what I can buy… but still no benefit. They seem to be more interested in telling me how good THEY are instead of what it’s going to do for ME.

What do I do next?

There’s no strong call to action. The only one I found was “Call us:” which is a piss poor CTA.

Why not, “Find out more about how we can get your business the exposure it needs in your industry by calling us:”

Or better yet: “Find out how you can find more customers in our next issue. Give us a call now or just hit reply to this email”


Remember that good email marketing is more about the writing than about the design. It’s great to have a good looking email, but the copy still has to speak to the end user. Focus on what THEY will get out of your product or service, not why YOU are so brilliant or amazing. Write email copy as if each prospect is cold to your service. Make it interesting. Speak TO them instead of AT them.

After all, email is one of the most personal ways to market your stuff and one of the BEST ways to get it sold.

Let me know your thoughts below.

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How To Track Telephone Sales In Google Analytics

It’s all fun and games until you go offline.

As a digital marketer my job is made a lot easier by data. I’m able to delve deep into stats on user behavior that were a lot more difficult to get 20 years ago. This information gives me a lot of insight into the minds of the end user and allows me to change their experience to increase conversions.

But what happens when that user goes offline?

What happens when the user who has gone through half of my sales funnel suddenly decides to call our office and place an order over the phone? It would appear in my normal Google Analytics reports that this user abandoned the sales funnel.

But those reports would be wrong.

Instead, there is a way to get that user to still be tracked in Google Analytics even though they purchased over the phone. That way is through the customer receipt.

Linking a receipt to Google Analytics

After the customer has purchased something through one of my sales reps, we send them a receipt via email. Except instead of including the receipt right in the email, they first need to confirm their email address. The rep will mention this on the phone and it’s very simple:

The customer clicks on the link to confirm their email address and receive their receipt. The link goes to a confirmation page on our website that also has our Google Analytics e-commerce tracking code on it. Fill this information in from the link in the receipt.

For example:

And then the code on your page would pick up these variables and place them into your Google Analytics tracking code. The additional Google Analytics code would look something like this:

    '1234',           // transaction ID - required
    'Acme Clothing',  // affiliation or store name
    '11.99',          // total - required
    '1.29',           // tax
    '5',              // shipping
    'San Jose',       // city
    'California',     // state or province
    'USA'             // country

The sale is now reported as it should be in our data and the sales funnel conversion rate is more accurate.


The down side

Of course, the only issue with this process is that if the customer has clicked on the link on a different computer than their usual one it will not be tracked as the same customer. This is an unfortunate byproduct of offline sales and to a certain extent can’t be fixed. I find that about 90% of visitors will use the same computer where the original sales funnel cookies are located so I take this into account when doing my regular reporting.

I hope this helps, let me know if you have any thoughts in the comments below.

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How’s landing page fails and how they can fix it is a clothing store.

Or at least that’s what I think they do, it’s pretty hard to tell based on their landing page. Let’s tear it apart:


Fail #1: Landing page relevance

Let’s look at the obvious; landing page relevance. I got to this page through a PPC ad. The ad told me that I could get up to 60% off of designer brands.

But now that I’ve hit the landing page there is no mention of this. In fact, there really isn’t any mention of what I can do on at all aside from the fact that they ship to Canada and that I can sign in to “Shop Now”.

This is easily fixed with a proper headline and some supporting copy. The light box is not a bad idea, but I need a reason to “Shop Now”.

Fail #2: Call to what? Call to action

Take a look at the Call to action on this page: “Shop Now”. Why is that enticing to me? It isn’t.

If their PPC ad says that I can save up to 60% off of designer brands, why not put that in your call to action?

Example: “Shop and start saving on designer brands”

Much more clear and tells me what I will be getting as a result of my sign up.

Fail #3: Nothing to look at

Half of the real estate for selling me on signing up to is used to tell me that they ship to Canada. Say what?

I just hit your website. I’m not sold on even signing up, let alone purchasing from your site. Where you ship is not a thought that is going through my head at this point.

If I was paying good money for every click I would be using every inch of my available space to sell them on signing up. Also, why is the shipping price listed in US dollars??

Also, why can’t I see the site? There is no way to exit the light box. Yes, you want to limit leaks on your paid search landing pages, but limiting leaks and annoying visitors are two different things. The light box seems like an afterthought instead of a conversion tactic.

Fail #4: Terrible headline

I already touch on this, but the headline is just SO bad that it needs mentioning again. What does “Shop Gilt” mean to someone who doesn’t know what Gilt is?

Tell me what I can do on the site:

“Save up to 60% on Women’s designer brands”
Sign up below to get exclusive access to

See how easy that was? After reading that headline I instantly know that I can save money on Women’s designer brands and that I have to sign up to get access.


Conversion takes thought and planning. Remember, you are not selling to the staff in your office, you are selling to people who may not have ever heard of your brand before. With a few quick changes to their funnel would be able to increase conversions and ultimately increase their overall revenue.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Using the “rubbernecker” effect to your advantage in headlines

I was driving in to the office today and there was a truck that had clearly driven off the road on the freeway. Luckily it had happened in the opposite direction from where I was headed so I wasn’t stuck in the 20km lineup of cars it had created. It did however still affect the traffic headed in my direction because of the “rubbernecker” effect. Basically, everyone wants to slow down to take a look.

Aside from the obvious loss of productivity experienced by thousands of people driving into work this morning, there’s a marketing lesson to be learned.

People like to watch disaster.

Taking advantage of disaster is a morally questionable thing. However using the “rubbernecker” effect that is inherent in everyone is just good marketing.

Creating headlines that make people want to read more is probably the single most important skill you can develop in both digital and traditional marketing. Your headline is something that you can guarantee that 95% of people are going to read – so long as you get them to your website, landing page, brochure or trade show booth.

So why not draw the reader in by giving them something so juicy that they cannot resist to slow down and take a look.

Examples of using the “rubbernecker” effect in headlines:

Your CRM could be slowly killing your business

How one small mistake left my marriage in ruins

This one nutrition secret brought me to tears

Or for email subject lines:

wait! don’t do that

that was horrible (my mistake)

how we lost $10k in 5 minutes

Balancing your headlines

Remember to maintain balance in your headlines. There’s a fine line between using this effect and making your headlines sensational and unbelievable. The idea is not to create hype, but to appeal to everyone’s desire to read about a little disaster.

As always, test test test your headlines. Good marketing comes from good tracking and measuring of results.

Let me know your thoughts below.

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Find ‘Golden Nuggets’ in your PPC account

Have you ever hired a Paid Search consultant?

They can swoop in and optimize your PPC campaigns quickly and make you a lot of additional sales and margin.

Or at least they used to be able to.

The game has changed.

A few years ago you could take a large PPC campaign and cut the fat, increase your bids on “golden nugget” keywords and placements and remove under performing ads.

A really good PPC consultant might even decrease your bids significantly by writing amazing ads and getting you really high Click Through Rates (CTR) and ultimately a great quality score.

Nowadays that landscape is quite different.

Adwords can do a lot of that optimizing for you. Which means that even small businesses with small budgets and no ‘optimization budget’ can have decent ROIs from their PPC campaigns. This means that your PPC consultant’s value is going down.

Where the real “gold nuggets” lie now is not in manipulating bids on well performing placements and keywords, but trying to find out WHY those placements and keywords are performing so well.

For example, if you’re running a display campaign and testing 10 different image ads across multiple placements you will quickly find which ads are performing well and which ones aren’t based on their conversion rate and their click through rate.


Most campaign managers would remove the under performing parts of this campaign and move on.


But what about asking WHY that combination of ad copy, design, landing page and placement worked so well?

The one ad that worked might be a contrasting colour and font to the placement that it performed well on, or it might be an angle that ties in well with the content of the placement.  This would cause a higher click through rate and possibly even a boost in conversions.

If you build a hypothesis based around this you can then start testing similar techniques on the placements that under performed elsewhere in your campaign.

For example, recently I worked on a campaign where a whole set of ads I was testing matched the colour scheme of one of my placements. The click through rate on this placement was terrible even though the ads performed really well on other placements. Instead of removing the placement and calling it “Optimizing” I took that placement and added it into a different adgroup and then changed the colour scheme of the ads. That adgroup actually OUTPERFORMS the original adgroup by 12%, all because I didn’t give up on the placement right away.


This way of optimizing a campaign takes quite a bit more work but it’s well worth it and will set your campaigns above your competitors time and again.

Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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