Writing value propositions that stick in your website visitors’ minds

When it comes to creating marketing websites, a lot of people think that: “People don’t read.”

“There’s too much text.”

“Say this in less words.”

“Who’s gonna read all this?”

And while you definitely don’t want to overwhelm your website visitors with excessively long text-blocks that distract from the core messaging…

… don’t make the mistake of pruning away too much copy from your website, especially if it comes to copy that conveys your value proposition.

A recent experiment by the ConversionXL team showed that a bullet list with descriptions helped readers understand and recall the value proposition more accurately than shorter versions.

You can see the 4 variations here. The red boxes highlight the areas that have been modified.


Variation B, titled “Bulleted Descriptions” is the one that got the most views.

A lot of people would describe this page as “overloaded” and containing too much text.

But the test revealed that this very version was the one that was most successful at helping website visitors understand the value proposition of this website.

Unfortunately, they didn’t test (or if they did, they didn’t share the test results) of these landing pages and what the engagement metrics were. All they did was survey participants and track participants’ eye movements on the website.

So we don’t know if Variation B got less engagement than other variations – but the main takeaway from this experiment is this:

If you want people to actually read the value propositions you’re composing, limit other elements on the web page. Elements that stay on the page should be extremely relevant to the value proposition’s message.

The eye tracking also revealed that more text caused visitors to notice the value proposition faster, and spend more time reading it.

Data shows: A lot of short, low-quality content performs BETTER than fewer long, high-quality content pieces

Most content marketers agree that writing less and better content is the way to go.

The day of churning out a ton of low-quality content are long gone. This is something that worked in the past, but the algorithms (Google, FB, etc) are getting better at surfacing quality content that provides the best experience to the person spending time on the web.

This kind of summarizes how content marketers think about this topic nowadays.

Which is why I found The Future is More Content: Jeff Bezos, Robots and High Volume Publishing by Steve Rayson a thought-provoking post.

He looks at the Washington Post, and how a strategy seemingly spearheaded by Jeff Bezos led to a 28% increase in traffic between April 2015 & April 2016.

There are a lot of things that played into this growth (like Bandito, that allows editors to publish different versions of the same article, and then automatically optimizes the article to perform best. A kind of multivariate content testing tool), but according to Steve Rayson, the main factor was:




Less isn’t always more

He compares Social Media Examiner with Hubspot: moreorlesscontent

* these numbers are rounded and exactly accurate. But close enough to be viable for making the point.

Even thought SME gets A LOT more shares than HS per post… in the end, Hubspot is ahead by roughly about 1 million shares because of sheer volume.

When I looked recently at the most shared content published by marketing and IT sites, the data confirmed that on average long form posts achieved more shares. But when I looked in more detail at the 50 most shared posts, 45 of them were short form and under 1,000 words.

Which is interesting, cause it’s not what is commonly believed in content marketing land.

Steve Rayson also makes a point that you can’t just start churning out a ton of low-quality content. Google would most likely penalize you for that. He believes you first need to build up some authority, and only at some point can you really start pushing the MOAR-CONTENT button.

What’s “valuable” content?

As someone who cares about quality content, I had to really keep an open mind to his arguments, because





So here was a point that really made me think:

Maybe the way we’re measuring “quality” is flawed. Maybe in some cases, it’s not about the quality of the writing and the message, but more about timeliness and relevance. He brings up sports reporting as an example. What people care most about are the results.

Ultimately, people aren’t visiting your site because they want to be on your site. They want it to get something out of it. Give it to them as fast as you can, and make it easy for them to get it (with the least amount of effort).

That will make them come back to you for more.

Why this might all be wrong

Ronell Smith wrote in response to Steve’s post that he believes the “more content” theory is wrong.

His advice:

Determine the cadence with which your brand can create uniquely valuable content, which Rand defined and described in a 2015 Whiteboard Friday. The key is to focus the lion’s share of your attention on creating content that’s exclusive and recognized as best-by-far in its class.

He points out that most brands aren’t media companies.

He also mentions that we shouldn’t over-emphasize the importance of shares, and calls them “the cotton candy of content marketing”. (Which I think is on the money!💵)

But shorter content?

He does agree that content marketers have become infatuated with long-form content. It doesn’t have to be long. It has to be valuable. The length of the post should be determined by the needs of your audience.

In a nutshell, what Ronell advises content marketers to do is:

When creating content, we should begin with empathy being top-of-mind. That’s when you can allow your inner journalist to soar:

  • Who benefits most from this information (i.e., who, specifically, am I talking to?)
  • What are their specific needs?
  • Why is my brand uniquely qualified to satisfy those needs?
  • How can I best depict and share the information?
  • When is the optimal time to create, share and promote it?

Notice I never mentioned length. That was intentional.

The length of your content should be determined by your audience, not your brand.

Well said!

How to write high-value, low word-count posts

Ronell Smith also has a great methodology for writing highly-valuable short posts:


The key element with this approach is that it ensures I have a clear, strong point to make, then can back it up with supporting facts. The real genius of this approach is once I’ve covered my three points, I’m done.

The goal isn’t to write everything there is to write on a topic; the goal is to share sufficient information that leads to learning and/or opens the topic up for further discussion.

If you decide to use this approach/style of post, keep these numbers in mind:

100: Number of words to make your point in the initial paragraph

300: Total number of words for the three supporting points

50: Number of words in the closing paragraph, including the call to action

AdWords keywords: What does the plus-sign in front of keywords mean?

If you’re advertising with AdWords, you’re probably already familiar with the match types for keywords:

  • broad match
  • phrase match
  • exact match
  • negative match

But one thing many people aren’t aware of is what Google has termed broad match modifier.

These are basically like a tighter-controlled version of broadmatch, and they way you use them in AdWords is by adding a plus sign in front of all the keywords (and close variants) that you must be used in the search in order to trigger your ad.

Let’s look at a specific example:

sales software

This is a broad match term, and it might be triggered by a bunch of keywords that Google considered related (they’re calling these relevant keyword variations). In the case of sales software, these might be keywords like:

crm software

crm system

software sales

crm tools

Google has enough semantic context to understand that even though “CRM system” does neither include the word “sales” nor “software”, it’s still relevant.

But let’s say you actually don’t want these kinds of relevant keyword variations, but only those that do contain the word “sales”.

Here’s you could achieve this:

+sales software

By adding the plus sign in front of one or more of the keywords, you’re specifying that the word with the preceding plus sign (or a close variant) must be included in the search query. So with the above example, your ad might show up when someone searches for “sales crm” (because it does contain the word “sales), but not for “crm software” (because it doesn’t contain the word sales).

You can read more about the broad match modifier here, and about general keyword match types here.

Growth terminology: What’s a smoke test?

Smoke testing in the context of growth marketing is a way of quickly, and with very limited resources, finding out whether a growth idea is worth executing or not.

If you’re trying to gain traction for your software product, there are a ton of growth experiments you could run. Most of the time, growth marketers have no problem coming up with ideas, the challenge is to find out which idea to execute next.

Typically there’s a reliance on engineering that slows things down as well. “We’d love to execute that idea… but engineering is busy and they don’t have time to do this now.”

A smoke test is a method to validate a growth idea without relying on engineering.

Here’s an excerpt from Lean Startup:

Smoke test with its marketing materials. This is an old direct marketing technique in which customers are given the opportunity to preorder a product that has not yet been built. A smoke test measures only one thing: whether customers are interested in trying a product.

DistroDom (aka Dominic Coryell) released an excellent free course on smoke testing that you can go through in less than 1 hour.

Smoke test process

Dominic shared a 6 step process for smoke testing growth ideas:

  1. What is the hypothesis?
    Keep your hypothesis simple: If we do______(growth idea) then we’ll be able to achieve ______ (result) in ______ (time period) by investing ______ (dollar amount).
  2. What is the minimum proof I need?
  3. How can I get that proof with no coding?
  4. How can I get the right traffic?
  5. How can I measure conversion?
  6. How do I analyze and optimize?

=> What did I learn?

Why is this smoke test process so valuable? Because it enables you to let customer demand decide how to grow your business, rather opinions and guesstimates.


Smoke testing the smoke test course

One of the things I like the most about DistroDoms course is actually that he at the end of the course reveals how this free course is a smoke test for a paid course he’s launching on the same topic.

DistroDom’s hypothesis was:

  1. Hypothesis: If I give free content, people will like it enough and buy the course if they need more advanced courses from deep-dive experts.
  2. Minimum proof: If 15% of the people who see the landing page sign up for the free course, and there’s at least 100 signups for free.
  3. Do it with no coding: For this free course, no coding was required, but it would take DistroDom about 1 week to record all these videos for the free course before getting minimum proof.
    He set the landing page up using InstaPage and Canva to design some of the creative assets on that landing page. He also used emojis from EmojiOne.
    All the signups went into Autopilot using a simple 1-click integration for InstaPage. (He said it’s one of his favorite email automation tools, very low priced compared to comparable alternatives. Plans start at $20/month! He did a video screenshare of the Autopilot interface, and it looks really awesome. I might finally get rid of that old Aweber account I still pay for and move things over…)
  4. Right traffic: DistroDom didn’t have time to implement a referral program. So instead he sent people directly to the paid program landing page to see if anyone would buy. Some people did!
    When people sign up for the free course, he’s running their emails through ClearBit to get some context around who it is that’s signed up.
    In terms of getting early traction, he’s got a nice framework for how to get it:
    Network: Easy (low impact)
    Paid: Medium (medium impact)
    Community (blogs, forums, press, buzz, influencers…): Hard (high impact)
  5. Measure conversion: Since this was just an email signup form, it was super easy. Number of visitors & number of signups.
  6. Analyze & optimize: DistroDom hasn’t done that yet, since this is so early in the process.

With every growth experiment, there’s 3 phases:

  1. Smoke test it
  2. Get distribution
  3. Keep or toss it

Random things:

  • There are several useful templates in there that you can use to turn the theory into action.
  • He uses Jeff Bezos’ / Amazon’s press-release method to “announce” new ideas.
  • He often feeds data into these three tools to use them in different ways:
    Stamplay – This is one I haven’t heard of before. It’s a visual API builder, and according to DistroDom “the most robust way to connect data”. Curious to try this out soon. They have a free plan, and then the paid plans range from $24/month to $499/month.


20 things I learned from reading Hiten Shah’s new book “5 Habits to Building Better Products Faster”


Here are the 20 things I learned from reading Hiten Shah’s new (free) book 5 Habits to Building Better Products Faster:

  1. Figure out what your customers need, instead of what you think they need.
  2. The early stages of product development aren’t at all about your constraints or your resources. They’re about focusing on what’s important: the customer.
  3. Work backwards like Amazon. New initiatives start out by writing an internal press release. More details here. Take the example of the press release for Amazon AWS (now a $9.6 billion run rate business):
    Writing this took the current head of AWS, Andy Jassy, 31 drafts before he took this to Jeff Bezos
  4. The jobs-to-be-done formula is:
    When_______, I want to _______, so I can ______.
    Check out what Intercom has written about the JTBD framework.
    Intercom’s example: When I talk to customers, I want to start conversations with the right customers at the right time, so I can get quality customer feedback.
    JTBD makes the customer the compass that drives the direction of your product development.
  5. Employee motivation should be aligned with happy customers” – Chris Savage, Wistia CEO
  6. Complex ideas are almost always a sign of muddled thinking or a made up problem.”—Sam Altman, Y Combinator
  7. One of the most important habits for continuous learning and improvement: writing stuff down.
    Documentation is often more a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information. -> better quality thinking
    Documentation is a reusable asset, and one that accrues in value and in quantity over time

    But I'm wondering... isn't there such a thing as death by documentation? Documentation overload? Too much documentation, so that the workplace becomes a big swamp, where it's impossible to move fast because you gotta wade through all that documentation?
  8. “The simple and familiar hold the secrets of the complex and unknown. The depth with which you master the basics influences how well you understand everything after that.” —Edward Burger and Michael Starbird, 5 Elements of Effective Thinking
    Start by thinking deeply about the basics, instead of everything that you’re hoping to achieve.
    Thinking deeply isn’t about increasing complexity. It’s about breaking problems down to their most basic form. Reduce the number of steps.
  9. Tony Fadell, who led Apple’s iPod team, spent six weeks in stealth mode looking at the competition.
  10. Otellini’s decision [to say no to Steve Jobs when asked to build a new processor for the first iPhone] was completely logical and also completely wrong.
    Without context and a larger vision for the future, data means nothing.
  11. Summarize findings into a single sentence. This forces you to look away from the numbers, and into what they actually mean for your product.
  12. Before you get started on an initiative, answer the following question: What would success look like?
  13. goodbadexample
  14. Use data to constantly challenge your assumptions, to validate hypotheses, and to solve urgent problems.
  15. The only advantage a startup has over larger companies is the ability to move quickly.
    Your competitive advantage comes from your ability to attack one problem at a time. Why?
  16. Former HubSpot VP of Growth, Brian Balfour, gives a 4-step process for building focus:

    1. Identify one long-term meaningful goal: This might mean boosting the single metric we discussed in the last chapter. The alternative to focusing on one goal that matters is to spread yourself thin on short-term optimizations in order to hedge your bets.

    2. Distill the most important thing to make progress toward that goal. Say that tour goal is to increase inside sales revenue by 40%. Using data has shown you that users integrating other services increases free trial conversions by 3x. You could then focus on getting these trial users on a call with a sales rep.

    3. Create a timeline for making progress long enough to gather data. All product initiatives need to have a clear goal, a measuring stick for what success looks like, and enough time to measure. For small teams, this should range from 30-60 days. Sticking to a timeline ensures that you don’t sink too many resources into a product goal that you can’t achieve. It allows you to move on and focus on the next thing.

    4. Editing your longer-term goal according to data. The fourth step is why it’s so important to set a single measurable goal in the rst place. It’s what allows you to gure out what you’re doing right and wrong, and improve. Making mistakes is forgivable and inevitable in product, but failing to learn from them is wasteful. Startups operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty, and it’s tempting to

  17. Focus + Sequence = Speed
  18. Project management spreadsheet Hiten loves: click here
  19. A small improvement to a high-impact feature is far more important than a large improvement to a low-impact feature.
  20. Every day, ask yourself one question: “Am I working on the right thing, right now?”

I’d highly recommend you get yourself a free copy of the book and study it. Plus, you can even get a free consultation from him, which is freaking insane.

Google Analytics crash course – Reporting overview

I’m currently taking a free course from the Google Analytics Academy on anaytics fundamentals, and this video is super valuable if you want to get a very quick overview of Google Analytic’s reporting features that you can use to poke the data you’ve got in there a bit:

It’s super basic, but a great starting point. Some of the things it covers:

  • how to change date ranges for your reports (and compare to other date ranges)
  • how to change the granularity of the visual time graph (by day, week or month)
  • how to add annotations to specific dates (super useful, I use this all the time as it gives a lot of useful context to historical data when you’ll look at it in the future)
  • how to choose a default metrics for each view (and add a secondary metric to overlay that and be able to compare it)
  • a quick overview over data tables
    It’s useful to know the name of these, just so you’ve got the basic terminology of GA down.
    Data tables break down your data by a single dimension (most of the time). Each table row shows the data for a different value of the dimension
  • In data tables, you can not only change the primary dimension and add a secondary dimension, but also choose which sets of metrics will be displayed for each dimension. The most common set of metrics is probably the Site Usage set which will show things like number of visits, pages per visit, time on page, bounce rate, and so on.
  • How to filter the data in data tables using simple search queries
  • How to filter the data in data tables by using advanced filters, which allow you for example to show only data where the minimum amount of Visits is above 200, or where the average time on sit is at least 1 minute, or whatever filter will best match your needs.
  • How to change the way data is visualized using the view options (by default, most reports show the data view. But there’s also a percentage view that shows a pie chart, and you can choose which metric to be showed as a pie chart. There’s also a performance view, a comparison view and a pivot view
  • how to plot multiple rows of data
    This was a super useful feature that I wasn’t even aware of until recently, but it’s now one of my favorite features that I use quite often!

Let’s expand a bit on plotting multiple rows of data.

You probably are familiar with this common view of a graph in GA, which plots the number of sessions over a given date range:


What you can do now is to select additional rows from the data table to be plotted in that graph, in this case, it’s the number of sessions plus various traffic sources which you can see plotted in other colors:


I never paid much attention to this, because for me, the term “Plot Rows” wasn’t clear.

But if you look at the meaning, it becomes pretty obvious:

to plot: make a curve by marketing out a number of points on a graph

rows: refers to the rows you select in the data table

Shortcuts in GA

Another cool thing you can learn from this video is how to quickly access custom views that you want to use repeatedly. You can just save them as a shortcut in GA!

Simply click on “Shortcut”, give this shortcut a name, and you’ll be able to access it with just the click of a mouse button.

The shortcuts are available to you in the menubar on the left.

What are Channels in Google Analytics?

First of all, we should start out by saying that Google’s support documentation has the best, most in-depth explanation of this if you’ve got the time to really dig deep.

I’m gonna give you a quick, easy-to-understand high-level overview here.

Channels in Google Analytics are there to group data from various acquisition sources in a way that’s useful to you, the marketer looking at your analytics data.

Google gives you a bunch of Channels right out of the box, called Default Channel Groupings.

Here they are:


But you can customize Channels in Google Analytics to better match them for your own needs.