Jon MacDonald is one of the world’s top CRO experts and he just came out with a book outlining the principles that have allowed him to lead brands like Nike and Adobe success and longevity. In this conversation with Jason, he breaks down some of the laws of Conversion Rate Optimization with advice for how any company can use data to increase customer retention.
In this episode Jason asks Jon MacDonald, the President and Founder of The Good - a CRO firm - about the CRO principles that have led him to success. First Jon addresses the idea of small improvements: if you are trying to increase conversions, the best place to focus is the top 10%. Then he lists some common misconceptions about CRO that he has seen over and over again in the last decade - and how to properly approach them. CRO does require some specialization, so John tells Jason his best practices for building a team that can combine data analytics, creative and marketing seamlessly and he also gives advice to the businesses out there who might not yet be at the stage where having a whole CRO team is affordable. Finally, he gives a great step-by-step run down of how to gather information from customers about what works and what doesn’t in your store, and how to use that information wisely to give your brand longevity and to keep your customers coming back.
Jon’s book: https://thegood.com/books/
Jon’s twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jonmacdonald
➡️ Building Blocks website: bbclass.co
🍍Jason’s twitter: https://twitter.com/EggrolI
Founder and President of The Good, the trusted ecommerce conversion rate and customer experience optimization advisory. The Good helps brands understand the clicks and movements of their website visitors, and use that data to convert more existing visitors into buyers.The Good has helped some of the world's largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more, drive sales and ensure proper revenue realization from their e-commerce and lead conversion efforts.The Good’s team speaks and writes frequently on how brands can optimize their site for conversions, leading to increased revenues. We're on a mission to remove all the bad online experiences until only the good remain. The firm is a Certified B Corporation, based in Portland, Oregon.
[00:00:00] Jon MacDonald: You can improve any process, any experience by focusing on the top 10% of that experience. And that's where the majority of your gains are going to come from. And the challenge is that most people jump into a complete overhaul of their. If something's not working, then learn why it didn't work and turn that into experience.
[00:00:33] Jason Wong: Hello everyone. I am joint. By John McDonnell, the founder of the good, the good is a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved great results with some of the largest online brands that you've probably seen, like Adobe, Nike, the economics, and so, so many more. Um, and I actually met John last year at a conference.
And, uh, one thing I would like to add is that John is extremely tall. Like how tall are you?
[00:01:02] Jon MacDonald: I'm six foot seven. And if you see me right now, that's I was, I played basketball quite a lot, as you can imagine at this height and for those watching and not just listening, I broke my nose last weekend. So you can kind of see, uh, I caught an elbow playing basketball and, uh, actually have to have surgery to have it fixed tomorrow.
So, um, I didn't get. I got an elbow playing basketball, inadvertent. What's the wife happy about that? You know? Um, I'm over four, I'm a 40, right? And she's like, you know, you're not in college playing basketball anymore. You're not 20. What are you doing out here playing with a bunch of 20 year olds? Who, so is she happy about it?
I think she's happy to have me out of the house doing something that. Business, uh, basketball is my meditation. It's the one time of the day that I am doing something that I have to be in the moment and not thinking about, you know, being three steps ahead, et cetera. And, um, so sadly I have to be on the sidelines for a few weeks.
Um, we'll get it repaired and it'll be all good.
[00:02:05] Jason Wong: Well, hope you recover well, and thank you for making it with a broken nose that, I mean, I didn't know that we didn't discuss this beforehand. I just found out I wasn't even looking at your nose. Like
[00:02:16] Jon MacDonald: it's a little, little dark spot. It's been a week it's and it's a little off, but, uh, yeah, it's, it could be a way worse.
[00:02:23] Jason Wong: Well, I'm glad you could make it. And I actually want to bring you on to a show. Our conversation online. We've been DM-ing each other. Uh, we met in person too, and we had a really good chat. Um, and it's because you do, you do the type of work that not a lot of people do. And it really goes against what a lot of people.
Online or talking about, I think a lot of our listeners probably seen people on social media in particular Twitter, saying that you need to do X, Y, and Z in order to become successful. And through my chat with John, um, that's actually not the case. There's no right or like exact way to success. And I really want to spend the next 15, 20 minutes diving a little bit into that.
Um, but before we get into, uh, I know you just came in. Look, I actually wrote a little blur for you too. It just came out, right?
[00:03:16] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. He came out, uh, late last year, early this year, uh, really made a push on it. Uh, it's called opt-in in to optimization. Um, and, uh, folks can learn more about it. Just go to the good.com/book and it will pop up
[00:03:31] Jason Wong: for you and within the book or some of the things that you actually talk about at that I thought was very interesting was that there is this statistical concept costs sips.
Yeah. Am I pronouncing it correctly? Yeah. That was owning that I really want to ask you about, um, can you tell me a little bit more or tell the readers a little more?
[00:03:48] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. So this law is something that I think a lot of people, you know, everyone's heard of like the 80, 20 rule, et cetera. This gentleman said that you can improve any process, any experience by focusing on the top 10% of that experience.
And that's where the majority of your gains are going to come from. So similar to that kind of 80 20, right? Where most people are like focus on the 20%, don't worry about the 80%. Um, and I think that that's really true here. And the challenge is that most people jump into a complete overhaul of their.
They are so worried about, you know, the, the visuals of it and needing, you know, the first response typically that we hear from people when we start working with them is. Cool. I need to overhaul my entire site and you know, that's not true. You really don't need to burn down the entire house. When all you need to do is renovate a couple of rooms and that will improve your experience dramatically.
And so really the idea behind this law is focus on that 10% and getting that 10% dialed in as you can. And the rest of the. And consumers will, will start converting at a much higher rate just by focusing on that 10%.
[00:05:05] Jason Wong: I think everyone's trying to achieve that golden 3% conversion rate. Everyone's talking about it.
It's one of the biggest thing that I get asked, like, how do I get to this X percent? I'm like, there's so many factors that come into play and you obviously do this for a living and have been doing this for so so many years. Where are the biggest misconception that people have about conversion rate optimization?
[00:05:29] Jon MacDonald: Well, I think the first thing is, is that there's just a set of best practices that you can deploy and your conversion rates just going to boost up when in reality, they need to be thinking about it as an iterative process. Right. And it has to be backed by data. What do I mean by data? Well, the clicks and movements of your users talking to your consumers, right.
Just getting involved there. So I think that's, that's really something. I see a lot of brands make the mistake of is, um, really jumping in to a redesign first to solve that conversion problem, as opposed to focusing on the iterative optimizations and using data. Uh, so many, so many brands. Well, what's the phrase, throw the baby out with the bath water.
Right. And so that's really unfortunate to see. I can't even tell you the number of brands that approach us and say, Hey, we just redesigned in the site's not performing any better or an often cases is performing worse. Yeah. And so what we, first thing we do, so let's take a step back. Let's see how people are engaging with the site and make tweaks based on
[00:06:41] Jason Wong: that.
Got it. Got it. And what is that one thing? That you hate hearing about it in terms of advice? Just one thing.
[00:06:50] Jon MacDonald: Well, I think, you know, hosts so hard to choose one thing. I mean, I wrote darn near 300 pages about these challenges. Um, yeah. Look, I think the, a big mistake that a lot of brands make is trying to have one role, do everything for them.
So they bring in an e-commerce manager and they say, okay, you were in charge of driving traffic and making sure that traffic. That's a whole lot of responsibility for one person and it is darn near impossible because, um, you know, it, it, it really just puts a lot on their plate and it's a different set of thinking.
Driving traffic is all about creativity. It's all about, you know, buzz awareness, getting people in the first two seconds, that hook, right. Converting them once they're on your site is about understanding that consumers only at your site for a couple of reasons, they're there because they think you can solve their pain or need, right.
So the ad did its job. It got them to the site. It identified that they have that pain. Now they say, okay, I want to learn. And so now it's an education play. It's not an awareness play. You're further down the funnel and brands really don't understand that that is often a different skillset. And in order to do that appropriately and optimize the site appropriately, you need to have.
Somebody who is more data focused. So you need more of that scientist mindset, less of the artist mindset. And it's really hard for someone to be both left and right brained in one role and do everything well. So I see that mistake all the time. And, um, the, the reality is the vast majority of e-commerce managers.
Come from an advertising background and they're really good at driving traffic. Yep. And so, um, that's when they ended up calling us to help out because they're like, you know, we can drive all the traffic we want, but we can't hit that golden conversion rate that.
[00:08:51] Jason Wong: Yeah, no, that's absolutely true because I come from an advertising background.
I think creativity, I'm great at bringing in traffic. And I think the challenges from someone who's the person hiring for the roast of my companies, that truthfully it's really hard to hire people that are, um, data obsessed, uh, at a good budget, at least for a small brand. Um, and also has the context of an e-commerce brand.
Um, I. The people that I've run into that are data obsessed. They are really data obsessed, but they might not be able to tie in what the context of running e-commerce store or a brand or maintaining the messages that we want to get into. And I think that's like the gap that we're seeing in this space that, um, it's really hard to hire hybrid role because no one can do both, but when we do.
The person that's really good at one thing, they are only really good at one thing. It's really hard to get them on to the other side. How do you see brands? Soft ads?
[00:09:49] Jon MacDonald: Well, I think that they need to be thinking about a team approach for optimization, right? And so at the good, we have a pod structure and we've specifically designed these two.
Uh, for the roles, there's no school that teaches optimization, right? You can't get a degree in it. So we've had the develop. Okay. What are the specific roles and experiences people bring in where we have a well-rounded pod for each client base. And so that includes, you know, a conversion strategist. What does that?
Well, it's a more generalist role, but it's somebody who's data focused and understands. That is a really hard role to find because they have to be able to talk to people, right? Talk to these consumers and understand what they're thinking and look at things like, uh, analytics, heat maps, click maps, and draw insights from that data.
So that's a really hard, you know, it's, it's like, you know, I have a computer science degree, so I can say this without much passing judgment, but the reality is most people who major in computer science. Really great at interacting with other people. They're really great at telling machine what they want to do, because it's a different type of thinking.
Yup. Right? Yep. And that's where it becomes really difficult to find these great strategists, but they're out there, they do exist. Um, and then, you know, normally what we'd also want to see is some type of. Data-focused data scientist role, right? Somebody who can really deep dive knows analytics extremely well can go set up all the events can do a little bit of lightweight front end programming to make that happen, um, and can set up segments, uh, you know, for testing things of that store, uh, of course visual design, right?
Because all of these tests that you would run modifications, you want to make happen. Fit within the design, you need that front end developer, right? Who can implement these changes and also develop all the tests. Um, and beyond that, you know, one of the role that we have on there is, um, copywriting, which again is a, is a unique type of, um, personality and is something that is, you know, You have to have some good experience doing and there's ways to, to kind of level up on that.
There's some great courses now online. Um, but the reality is it's, it's, uh, something that you have to be able to understand how consumers are reacting and then put those words on paper. And that is really hard for a lot of people to
[00:12:21] Jason Wong: do. Yeah. I mean, what you're describing is, like you said, an entire pot of people.
Optimized conversion. Whereas most people think that they can just have one single person to do everything. And that just doesn't work. I've tried it. Uh, I can tell you how many times I fell that I can tell you how many times I thought I could just change the color of a button and think it will, it will help improve conversion rate.
Um, but, but those are myths. Those are what people want you to believe is. The actual tactic of conversion optimization when reality, there's so many more factors that come into play. Um, and I think that's something that I realized after talking to you, um, is that it's actually a lot more complex than I imagine no one ever taught me.
There's no course on optimization. Um, I really wish they do that. You should put.
[00:13:12] Jon MacDonald: Yeah, well, uh, we should talk about that, but I, you know, there are courses out there that you can take. I know conversion XL CXL has a bunch of online courses, but again, it's a whole what they've called the degree, right? A that it's a whole wide range of courses.
An individual to go through those. It takes months to get through all of that because you need such a varied experience and understanding of the entire ecosystem to do it by yourself. Right. And, um, so that's always a great place to start or just diving into something like, uh, like the new book, right.
Where you kind of get an understanding of what are the philosophy. That I need to understand. And if you can grasp those, which I've tried to make it as simple as possible to understand what are the core tenants of, of ways that you should be thinking, right? So this book is less focused on the tactics and more focused on how you should be thinking about optimization and, you know, because the world is full of tactics if we've talked about, but nobody really thinks.
Why I'm doing this and why I should apply it to my side or not. And so that's really was the goal of writing that book. And I think that's where people should really start.
[00:14:28] Jason Wong: That's why I always tell people is that you're going to see a lot of tactics and tricks and hacks on Twitter. Um, and they're all valid to an extent like it works for that brand.
I'm not saying it doesn't work, but instead of trying to copy that, Apples to apples. You should really try to figure out the principle of why they work and then apply them to your own brand. That's I've been screaming on the top of my lung for that for years. It's true. You like tactics will fade away.
Strategies will get outdated, but principles will always be there, right? Yeah.
[00:14:59] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. One of the chapters in the book is actually is titled your competition as a distraction. And the whole point behind that is that I'd see this all the time are brands copy. They come to us and they say, Hey, you know, our site's not working, so.
Okay. Well, why did you make this change? We noticed you made this change. Well, we saw that, you know, our competitor was doing that well, the reality is you don't know. If you're copying off the valedictorian or the flunky, you don't know if they're running an AB test and you've got opted into that test.
And, um, it's really interesting at the start of the chapter. There's an illustration for each of these to kind of illustrate the point. And this one is a, uh, a gentlemen on, on a horse with a laptop, a race horse, and the race horse, and him both have blinders. And it's true. You know, there's a reason that race horses wear blinders.
Because if you start looking around, you're going to go off course. Right? So the quickest way to get to your success is to focus on your customers and what you want to do and move quickly in that direction. If you worry about what everyone else is doing around you, you're just going to be in a CSS.
You're just getting, you know, you're not going to differentiate your brand anymore. You're not going to differentiate your products and your approach is going to be the same as everyone else's. So at that point, why, why are you doing it?
[00:16:22] Jason Wong: I love that. I, I say this to my team too, is that we never really look at our competitors because it just means we're trying to catch up to them.
Um, I'm always looking at outside the industry. I take inspirations from, um, automobile categories. Um, Tesla took a lot of inspiration from Mercedes. I take a look at what Uber eats is doing for the referral program or how Instacart is doing their, um, product selection. Like I'm not looking at our competitors because whatever they're doing right.
My name would be working. Like, I don't know if that particular thing that they're doing is working. And like you said, I could be in that, Hey, beat test group where I am in the worst performing group. Right. Um, I, I want to spend the next little while on helping our listeners on how they can get started on CRO, because I think jumping from zero to hiring a Sierra agency can be a little bit scary.
Let's get them on track. If someone wants to explore Sierra. First step that they need to assess to get on track first.
[00:17:22] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. First up, go talk to your site visitors, right? It's that simple. You don't have to be in the data. You don't have to run tests so many people immediately think I'm going to go run a business.
The challenge with that is that it just becomes a bigger issue because then they can't figure out how to, uh, what to test or how to test. And so then they end up in this big hole. Um, so first thing is just simplify. Go talk to your consumers, uh, call up everybody who orders personally, and just ask them a couple of questions.
What, why did you decide to buy from us? Or were there any challenges that you had in that purchasing. And even with those two questions, you will learn so much and it will start a conversation. Um, one of the best things you can do is just put, uh, you know, if you're using Klaviyo, et cetera, just put an auto follow-up email after a purchase, wait two weeks.
Right? So they get the product and have a chance to enter, engage with it and then send them an email and just say, Hey, I'm the founder of the company. And I want to know. If you had, if you recall having any challenges with your purchase, uh, anything that, the questions that were unanswered on the website, and if you start there, you will learn so much that you can resolve without having to worry about data analytics, anything else?
[00:18:47] Jason Wong: Do you, um, worry that after they received a product, it might be too long for them to remember what the site experience would be. Do you still recommend that or do you want to reach out to them? Like right after.
[00:19:00] Jon MacDonald: I recommend right after, but it depends on what your flow is. Right? Um, most consumers, again, they want to do their research and purchase and then get on with their lives.
So they're expecting a receipt, right? Uh, that order confirmation email to come through, if you will. And they're going to take a look at that very quickly and then archive it just, and if like, if it doesn't show up, I have it right. That everything went through. We're great. Um, if you include it in that.
It's unlikely to get seen. And that is the big issue of when people try to do it right afterwards, they embed it into that email and then it, and then it just gets lost and people don't respond. So I always recommend waiting a little bit. Um, and part of optimization is delivery of the. Right. And a lot of people don't consider that on-site, you're setting expectations about when they're going to get the product, um, how it's going to be delivered.
And, uh, you want to make sure that those promises. The site is making are fulfilled. So you get a much better view overall of that entire customer journey. If you wait until after the product's delivered. Um, because a lot of times maybe they'll say, Hey, you know what? Like this is a pretty complicated product.
I wish you had sent me some information to prepare before it arrived. Right. So, um, do I need tools to put this together while I'm all excited? The package arrived today and I'm ready to dive in and use it. And I cleared my schedule cause I knew it was coming and I was waiting for the FedEx driver because I was so excited about this.
Oh. But I need to go get some tools at the hardware store now and do some other things to be ready. Um, that's where people get really frustrated. So it depends on your product. Right. And, um, and the kind of education you want to give them as well. Got
[00:20:51] Jason Wong: it. And after they give you that answer, where do you start?
Do you start from what the most common feedback do you go from? Uh, what you think is the most pressing issue could be, cause you got to get a lot of response. People are gonna tell you all sorts of problems. How do you prioritize from there?
[00:21:08] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. So what I would do first is focus on issues that prevented them from ordering or potentially prevented them from ordering.
Right? So you could also do this as an abandoned cart email, right. Which works really well instead of sending out a discount code. Send out to everybody who abandoned cart and ask, why did you Bennett cart? What prevented you from ordering today? You will get some great responses. So address those challenges.
But what we typically recommend is, um, focusing on the issues that are the biggest showstoppers, what I mean about what's the highest return on investment areas that you can attack first, right? If it's something where, Hey, you know, I tried to put a discount code in and the cart just wouldn't allow it.
Everyone's probably having that. Right. So then you got to investigate those things that are preventing the purchase first. Um, then I typically recommend on answering questions that consumers have. So think about what prevented them from buying or what made them uneasy with the purchase because they didn't have enough information.
So what are those questions that are unanswered, then you want to make sure that that information ends up back on your website and not buried in an FAQ page, right? I say this all the time, but it's FAQ pages over good content goes to die because if people really frequently have that question, you better be answering it in the customer journey.
Not on a page that's, you know, in the foot or someplace.
[00:22:37] Jason Wong: Yeah, no, that, that's a really good take. Uh, all right. So after we figure out who we need to talk to, we know what to ask them and we get the feedback from them. How do you manage. They success from it. Is there a Mount of data that is significant enough for you to make a judgment?
How do you break through the noise of, um, Hey, maybe on this day we're sending 90% of the traffic from paid ads, but the next day 60% of it comes from social. That affects conversion rate a lot too. Um, so how do we make sure that that data is clean for us to make a judgment?
[00:23:10] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. I think that most store owners are really concerned about the short term day to day metrics when really what you should be looking for are trends over longer term.
What do I mean by that? Well, I would look at your numbers depending on the size of your store, but most vast majority of e-comm stores, it should be like month over month. Right. And just know you're chipping away at it and you should see it continually improve month over month. If you are looking to do this on a day-to-day basis, you have to have, you know, a million visitors coming to your site to really get what you're thinking of in terms of statistical significance.
I think he can get way blown out of proportion for most e-commerce brands. Now, the brands we work with, we look for statistical significance because we're doing AB testing on site. We're able to track all of those metrics and really deep dive into that for most brands who are trying to do this, in-house that's overkill.
Right. Um, because you know, unless you're really diving into AB testing, you have enough traffic to do that. Statistical significance. It's just, it's a myth, right? Because you're never going to reach it. You don't have enough data and how are you calculating it? So really focused on trends, not, not specific time periods of, of a day or a week, even.
[00:24:33] Jason Wong: that. Well, we're almost at time now, John. And one thing that I would love for you to answer, because you've been in this space for so long. Like what, 10 years now? More,
[00:24:46] Jon MacDonald: uh, more than 10 years over a decade, 12, 13 years
[00:24:48] Jason Wong: now. Oh, crap. Like, oh, G O G. And you know, looking back, what was that thing that you wish you knew a little bit earlier on in your career as a founder, as someone who's, you know, as a marketer, if you, if you want to call it that.
[00:25:01] Jon MacDonald: Yeah. Well, you know, I'm a, I'm a data person at heart as we've talked about a lot today and, um, Uh, but I think it really ends up being a little more simple than a quote that I love. And I have no idea who it's attributed to, but I heard this a decade ago, um, is that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.
[00:25:22] Jason Wong: sounds like a Confucius
[00:25:23] Jon MacDonald: quote. Yeah. Right. It's probably centuries old. Right. And so here's the reality about this though? To me, what that means is if we can bring it back to optimizing sites in e-commerce. You're not going to get everything right. And that's okay. But what you really do need to focus on is if something's not working for you, then learn why it didn't work.
Right. And turn that into experience. And the more experience that you have, the more it will stack, again, going back to the iterative mindset that you really need to have with optimizing your site. And so. The only way you're going to know how to best optimize your site is to try things and pay attention to what happens and ask consumers what they want.
And then you will continue to iterate over time and get that good judgment and get that experience.
[00:26:22] Jason Wong: I love that. That's that's gotta be like my top three quotes now. Awesome. I'm gonna steal that
[00:26:28] Jon MacDonald: from you. That's about it. Yeah. Please share it. Share it with the world. That's uh, I wish more
[00:26:32] Jason Wong: people. I appreciate it.
Well, John, thank you so much for coming onto the show. Where can people find you?
[00:26:38] Jon MacDonald: Yeah, so yeah, well, easy is the good.com, right? T a G G O O d.com. I'm also, I'm on Twitter quite a bit at John McDonald. That's J O N M a C D O N a L D. Pretty easy to find. And, uh, yeah, shoot me a note. Uh, John J O firstname.lastname@example.org.
I check every email that comes in, try my best to restate. Uh, I give it out all the time and very few people abuse it. So I'm happy to share and let me know.
[00:27:12] Jason Wong: Just kidding. Thank you so much, Sean. Take care. Yeah. Thank you. You just heard an episode of the building blocks podcast. If you like, what you heard subscribe below to keep hearing conversations that I have with brilliant marketers, founders and innovators on how they built their best ideas.
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