That Ugly Thing Converts?

September 11, 2009
By Robbin Steif

I have a friend who says, “Yes Robbin, I know that testing is great, but why don’t you just start with the suckometer and make sure all those bases are covered?

In fact, most of the things on the list (if you follow that suckometer link) are really intuitive and easy to agree with. No one likes broken links, for example.

But it is amazing the number of times that I’ve looked at a site and guessed at the conversion rate and gotten it really, really wrong. Either I thought it converted famously (but in fact, it did terribly, which isn’t something that happens very often), or I thought it did terribly (and it actually performed fabulously. I feel like I see this one a lot.)

I will never forget a site that I looked at about four years ago. It was all in default font (Times Roman), way too many links, and it looked like my nephew had designed it. It was a site that sold hunting equipment, and the headquarters was in NoWheresVille, PA. I must have said something about their awful conversion rate before they told me that it was converting in the double digits.  And a conversion was a sale!

I wasn’t in the target audience, and I was never going to be in the target audience. For all I know, their target audience loved the site because it was so genuine, or those visitors/customers were so comfortable with the site. It wasn’t some fancy AJAX thing and clearly, they liked it enough to spend money there.

I think that as “conversion experts,” this is a lesson we have to learn over and over again. When that website owner calls and says, “Can’t you just tell me what is wrong with my site, I really don’t want to do any testing,” the need for humility is amazing.  (And humility doesn’t come easily to all of us!)  Yes yes, we can tell them that their links are broken, that their site loads too slowly. But we really can’t tell them that their sites are ugly and inappropriate, because we just don’t know that.

And I guess it comes back to what a big fan I am of usertesting.com. If I am not the customer, then let’s go buy some target customers.

Robbin