A New Approach to Optimization
The Digital Landscape Has Never Been More Competitive
It used to be easier for marketers to stand out online. (Heck, just being online gave you a big advantage over lots of your competitors.) But over the past decade, a wave of martech platforms has democratized the entire digital marketing process.
The result? Now, everybody is doing the same thing.
Your best hope for cutting through the noise is optimization—finding ways to incrementally improve your campaigns and create higher-converting experiences. But for lots of businesses, that’s easier said than done.
“You should test that” has become one of the most irksome pieces of marketing advice I hear. Testing is great in theory, but unless you’re a large organization with huge traffic, expert knowledge, and some very deep pockets, you’re unlikely to see much success.
So how can regular marketers get an optimization edge?
At Unbounce, we’re championing a new approach called conversion intelligence, which addresses the challenges of optimization and makes it much easier to increase the conversion rates of your campaigns.
We used to say that simply having a landing page was enough to give you an edge over your competition, but it’s no longer true—partly because it’s such a widely known best practice.
Today, what’s giving marketers an advantage is data and automation. Their advantage is the machine.
In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how conversion intelligence works and explain the ways that it can help you out-optimize the competition.
Oli Gardner, Co-Founder, Unbounce
So, You Want to Adopt a Conversion Intelligence Process
What Is Conversion Intelligence? – Ready for a whole new approach to optimization? Learn how advances in data technology have created an opportunity for you to seriously level up your marketing.
The Conversion Intelligence Loop – Conversion intelligence is an active, iterative process where you combine your marketing know-how with the analytical power of AI. Not just once, but over and over again.
The Loop: Learn – At the beginning of the conversion intelligence process, you’ll explore actionable insights (based on predictive, machine-validated data) that will help you understand what makes your audience convert.
The Loop: Build – Informed by data insights and with the support of AI-powered tools, you can confidently assemble higher-converting digital experiences—before your campaign even launches.
The Loop: Optimize – It’s time to turn things over to the machine. Use a conversion intelligence tool to automatically optimize the conversion journey and generate new, personalized insights, enabling you to start the process from the beginning.
What Is Conversion Intelligence?
Simply put, conversion intelligence is the combination of your marketing intelligence—your experience, your creativity, your intuition—with the analytical power of artificial intelligence.
It’s part of a broader trend reshaping how businesses use technology to deliver better-performing digital experiences. The internet is getting crowded and it’s become increasingly difficult for marketers to reach (and convert) their customers. Small businesses need a better way to compete—and today, many recognize that integrating AI into their marketing is critical to future success.
Just think about Google’s Responsive Ads or the AI tech behind Facebook Ads delivery. These accessible tools are analyzing huge amounts of data to provide marketers with recommendations that make their content more relevant for target audiences. Instead of guessing what’ll work or waiting around for test results, businesses can collaborate with AI to optimize their campaigns in real-time—and that means more conversions.
There are plenty of SMB marketers who are already taking advantage. Daniel Parscale from CD Baby used Unbounce’s AI-powered optimization tools to get a double-digit lift in his conversion rates. Mats Moy quintupled his consulting business’s growth by using machine learning to automatically optimize visitors’ path to conversion.
But this is more than a new way of thinking about marketing or adding to expanding your technology stack. Conversion intelligence is an active, iterative process in which the marketer and “the machine” work together to get better results than either could on their own.
We have to stop thinking of our tools as tools, and start thinking of them as employees we can trust to do their jobs.
Digital Strategist, CD Baby
The Conversion Intelligence Loop
Now we know a bit about what conversion intelligence is—but how can you make it work for your campaigns?
The most effective applications of conversion intelligence follow a similar loop: learn, build, and optimize.
Explore data trends and conversion patterns (in the form of insights) to learn what works best for your target audience.
Use insights to inform your creative process and build higher-converting campaigns, right from the start.
Work with AI to automatically optimize your content and deliver the most relevant experiences to each visitor.
Imagine you’re launching a campaign to get people signed up for a trial of your software. Applying a conversion intelligence process, you’ll collaborate with the machine at every step of campaign creation and optimization.
First, you learn how to create higher-performing content by researching machine-derived insights related to your audience. Next, you build your campaign assets (like ads and landing pages) using those insights and often with assistance from the machine itself. Finally, you allow the machine to optimize your campaign based on incoming data while simultaneously generating new insights—allowing you to start the process over again.
That’s an important point. Conversion intelligence isn’t a process you apply once, or only when you’re first building your marketing assets. To maximize your conversions, you should be repeatedly using this loop to optimize for the entire duration of your campaign.
Below, we’ll explore each of these three steps in closer detail.
Oli Gardner: “The Champion Is a Lie”
Hey, it’s Oli again. Throughout this guide, you’ll find some of my additional thoughts in callout boxes like this one. (Just look for the dark background.)
Until now, the standard practice of marketing optimization was to build and launch your campaign, see how it performs, do some research and analysis, then come up with a hypothesis for an A/B test. The goal is to find a “champion”—the highest-converting version of whatever you’re testing, whether it’s an ad, email, or landing page.
To me, there are some major problems with this approach.
It Takes Way, Way Too Long
Ideally, an A/B test will take about three weeks to complete—but if you’re not getting enough traffic, it could be months, or longer.
It’s Usually Not Definitive
The most common outcome for an A/B test is a “conversion flatline.” Neither variant proves to be significantly better than the other.
It Costs You Conversions
Not every visitor is the same. When you choose a champion, you’re losing all of the people who would only convert on the other variant.
Conversion intelligence (using a tool like Unbounce) solves all of these issues. Rather than waiting for the results of a test, you start with AI-backed insights that help you create optimized campaigns before you even hit publish. You can create as many variants as you like (without obsessing over perfection), then let machine learning algorithms automatically optimize the path to conversion—the way Smart Traffic does. And because you’re not throwing “loser” variants away, you’re never missing an opportunity to get a new customer.
You get better conversion results—and you get them significantly faster.
The Loop: Learn
Yeah, we know—you’re probably more comfortable building something and then learning from it. But a few minutes of smart research now will help you get better results later.
Conversion intelligence is different from traditional optimization. Rather than waiting weeks or even months to find out what’s working for your audience (and what’s not), using this process means you should have a lot of that information before you start building.
It begins with an insight.
What’s an Insight?
An insight is a unique recommendation based on data that helps you get more conversions. It’s not an obscure point lost in a graph or a curious tidbit you can’t do anything with. Insights distill complex information in a way that’s easy to digest and quick to apply, helping you achieve better results in your campaign performance.
Here’s an example: Our data shows us that ecommerce landing pages tend to convert better when they’re under 300 words and written at a middle school level (or easier). If you’re an ecomm marketer, that’s a super clear observation you can use to optimize your landing page right now.
As marketers, it’s important to differentiate insights from best practices. Best practices are usually anecdotal, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for your audience. They also reflect a particular set of conditions—maybe a casual experiment run years ago. In contrast, insights are informed by a significant amount of data, identifying recent trends and patterns from real-life campaigns to show what’s likely to get you the best results.
How Do You Find Insights?
Whether you’re just starting to build your campaign or are optimizing one already in progress, the first step of a conversion intelligence process is to explore any relevant insights.
Insights can come from lots of places—not just Unbounce. For instance, Google Ads automatically supplies marketers with insights about relevant search trends, along with recommendations for applying that information to optimize your campaigns. Insights also don’t necessarily need to be generated with AI. What matters is that they’re validated by reliable data.
Some of the ways you can find insights with Unbounce include the (free) Conversion Benchmark Report, which provides industry-specific recommendations on everything from the ideal sentiment of your copy to which traffic channels send the highest-converting visitors. And if you’re working with Unbounce’s Smart Builder, you’ll get additional insights (like copy recommendations) as you create your campaign.
That’s the benefit of using a conversion intelligence platform: You can rely on the machine to take in new information, crunch the numbers, and generate fresh insights in real-time.
However you find your insights—when you learn something new that you think could improve your campaign, the next step is to put it into action.
Next Steps: Learning with Unbounce
Check the latest Conversion Benchmark Report for insights related to your industry and decide which recommendations are most useful. As you start to build your campaign, look for insights specific to your landing pages within the Smart Builder.
Example: You’re launching a software product and you want people to register for a free trial. Before you start building your campaign, you check the Conversion Benchmark Report for software industry insights and learn that short pages (less than 250 words) convert more often, plus your prospects generally respond better to positive language. Hey, you can use that.
The Loop: Build
At this stage of a conversion intelligence process, you have the information—the insights—you need to start building better-performing content for your audience.
You probably won’t have insights for every element of your campaign, and that’s okay. The goal is to create the best version of an ad, email, or landing page using what we already know before turning things over to the machine. Where there are gaps, you can still rely on established principles for conversion-centered design and high-impact copywriting.
How to Apply Insights
When you’re building a new campaign, insights should inform the process right from the start. And not just for your landing page—for every asset you create.
Let’s say you’re trying to collect leads for a realty company:
- As you start to build your landing page, Unbounce’s Smart Builder might use sentiment analysis to recommend a different headline.
- You would know from the Conversion Benchmark Report that your page should use fewer form fields and be neutral in tone.
- You would also know that social visitors tend to perform better than search, which might encourage you to run more Facebook ads.
- Before creating those ads, you could use Facebook Audience Insights to learn more about your ideal customers and further tailor your messaging.
And so on, and so on. In this way, you can confidently assemble a higher-converting campaign before it even launches.
Applying insights to a campaign in progress isn’t much different—and if you’re working with conversion intelligence tools, you’ll probably find yourself doing it often. That’s because the machine should be constantly processing data to identify new opportunities for optimization.
Oli Gardner: “Understand the Keys to Conversion”
My thought process for landing page optimization has always focused on the intersection of the four keys to conversion, where copy, design, interaction, and psychology meet to persuade a visitor to act. But based on new Unbounce research, we now have insights that show we should be optimizing for a fifth key, too: the traffic factors that shape each visitor’s arrival.
For copy and psychology, we can optimize the emotion, sentiment, word count, and reading ease of our content. Design and interaction factors include things like page layout, distraction removal, and how we structure our lead gen forms. And now for traffic, we can start to consider things like which platforms visitors are arriving from.
The Conversion Benchmark Report contains a huge amount of research into these different elements and provides insights broken down by industry category. It’s a great place to start finding actionable advice to optimize your campaigns.
Building with the Machine
Marketing AI exists to support and amplify your own capabilities. While you’re building your campaign, that means a conversion intelligence tool should be actively assisting you in creating higher-converting content (like Smart Builder does).
However, it’s important that you also build in a way that maximizes the machine.
Unlike traditional optimization where you’re trying to find a “champion” version of your campaign, AI-powered optimization often means creating multiple conversion paths, then using the processing power of the machine to deliver the most relevant experience to each visitor. But in order to do that, marketers need to build their campaigns a little differently.
Google’s Responsive Ads require that marketers write multiple versions of their headline, description, and so on, then use machine learning to predict (and assemble) the highest-converting ad for each recipient. Similarly, marketers using Unbounce’s Smart Traffic need to create variants of their landing page if they want to use AI to route each visitor to the version that’s best for them.
Generally, you might think of it this way: You build, the machine optimizes.
Every conversion intelligence tool will have different requirements—but to get the best results, ensure you’re building with the technology in mind.
Oli Gardner: “Remix Your Content”
Taking full advantage of conversion intelligence tools means changing the way you approach content creation.
Take Unbounce. Our Smart Traffic feature uses AI to automatically route your visitors to the landing page variant where they’re most likely to convert. So by creating several versions of your page before you launch your campaign, you’ll increase your chances of success.
If you’re thinking “jeez Oli, that’s too much work—I just wanna launch,” consider that 1) our customers see an average of 30% lift in conversion rates, and 2) with the right approach, variant creation is easier than you think.
To remove some of the complexities associated with variant design, it helps to divide the page into semantic sections—groupings of page elements that share a related meaning or purpose.
A great exercise is to come up with a few versions of each of these sections, which become building blocks that you can mix and match to create interesting new variants.
To illustrate, for the value proposition section we could create three versions based on the insights explored in the Conversion Benchmark Report. One version could have more positive sentiment and another with shorter copy (like a headline, but no subhead). You might even create a “dark mode” version that might provide a better experience early or late in the day.
Repeat this with the other semantic sections and you’ll quickly have a mini library of assets to combine into new variants.
Next Steps: Building with Unbounce
Using insights, build or modify your campaign’s primary landing page in the Unbounce Smart Builder. Then create multiple (ideally three or four) variants of your landing page, using either additional insights or your own marketing expertise.
Example: Equipped with insights, you’re ready to start building your software campaign. You create a new landing page with Smart Builder, which automatically suggests templates best suited to your campaign goals. You write your copy with the insights in mind (“Under 250 words!” “Positive language!”), then create several variants of the page. You’re all set.
The Loop: Optimize
You’ve researched insights to learn what resonates best with your prospects and customers. You’ve used that information to build higher-performing content. Now, you’re ready to optimize with AI.
It’s at this stage that you see the power of a conversion intelligence process. Utilizing the predictive capabilities of the machine, you can deliver more impactful, more relevant content to your target audience. Consistently, the result is a higher conversion rate than you could expect with traditional optimization methods—and in a fraction of the time, not to mention effort.
Optimizing with AI
To this point, you’ve been optimizing your campaign manually. It’s time to turn things over to the machine.
Exactly what this looks like will depend on the conversion intelligence tool you’re using. The general principle, though, is that AI should be using new data to identify conversion opportunities and help you provide optimized experiences for your audience.
Let’s use Unbounce as an example. Once you’ve built multiple variants of your landing page, you can launch (or relaunch) your campaign using Smart Traffic. Our AI technology will immediately begin to analyze how well different types of people convert on each page, then—based on that analysis—start routing traffic to the variant where the machine thinks it’s likely to convert.
Bottom line: Every visitor is seamlessly delivered the experience that’s most relevant for them.
Oli Gardner: “The Personalization Experiment Failed”
In the same way that we’ve heard “it’s the year of mobile” since 200X, marketers and marketing platforms have been talking about personalization for at least a decade. Yet, we’ve barely moved beyond |FNAME|.
Smart, talented marketers have been making all the right moves—like creating multiple landing pages for their campaigns, and targeting them (to increase relevance) to the audiences they thought were the best fit. The intent is spot on, but it’s really hard to get right, and harder still to scale.
Conversion intelligence challenges the notion that we need to choose what our audiences want. (Because, frankly, we’re not very good at it.) Technology like Smart Traffic alleviates well-intended human errors and instead uses ongoing data analysis to mathematically predict which content will be most impactful for each visitor.
So, |FNAME|, let’s leave this part to the machines.
Discover New Insights
Automatic optimization is just one way that AI augments your marketing. As data is collected and analyzed, the machine should continue to present new insights, enabling you to start the conversion intelligence process over again.
Once Smart Traffic has received a sample of visitors, for instance, you might see an opportunity to create a new landing page variant to improve your performance for mobile traffic. Or you might find that one of your pages is converting especially well with visitors from a particular country—information you can use for future campaigns targeting that demographic.
Receiving new insights effectively closes the conversion intelligence loop—but as we’ve stressed throughout, this process should be applied repeatedly throughout your campaign.
Next Steps: Optimizing with Unbounce
Turn on Smart Traffic and allow the machine to automatically route visitors to the landing page variant where they’re most likely to convert. Finally, evaluate new insights and use them to inform additional landing page variants or future campaigns, starting the conversion intelligence process anew.
Example: With multiple landing page variants, you’re able to launch your software campaign using Smart Traffic. The machine automatically starts routing visitors to the variant where they’re most likely to convert, and you watch as your conversion rate climbs. But wait—don’t kick your feet up just yet. Smart Builder helps you identify a new opportunity to optimize your campaign. Start the conversion intelligence process over again.
Oli Gardner: “You’re Never Finished Optimizing”
Alright, we’ve thrown a lot of information at you, so let’s run through an example of the conversion intelligence process using an imaginary ecommerce company to illustrate.
Nah, you don’t need a magnifying glass. Just click the infographic to see a larger version.
Start Marketing Smarter by Adopting Conversion Intelligence
Conversion intelligence isn’t only about getting better results from your marketing (although you almost certainly will). When you collaborate with the machine, you can say goodbye to the headaches of traditional optimization. No more guesswork, no more “champions.” AI can help you to make better-informed decisions, automate tasks you previously had to do yourself, and optimize with a speed and accuracy not previously possible.
Getting a boatload more conversions is just the cherry on top.
This isn’t the future—it’s happening right now. See for yourself when you sign up and get access to the entire Unbounce Conversion Intelligence™️ platform, including Smart Builder, Smart Traffic, and more.