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Drive and Convert (Ep. 043): Opting In To Optimization (Jon’s New Book)

In this episode, Ryan and Jon discuss Jon's new book, Opting In To Optimization, and review some of the key messages it communicates to ecommerce leaders.

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About This Episode:

With the explosion of direct-to-consumer online retailers, things have been heating up in the ecommerce industry. The differentiators of yesterday have become table stakes for modern brands – those that want to defend their position or gain market share will need to level up from foundational practices to advanced tactics.

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about Jon’s second book, Opting In To Optimization and review some of the key concepts that are covered inside. The book condenses more than a decade of experience optimizing sites for some of the world’s most recognizable brands into a tight, actionable playbook you can read in a week.

Listen to the full episode if you want to learn:

  1. How to build a culture of optimization inside your brand
  2. How to better understand your customer’s needs and challenges
  3. How to use psychology and research-driven design to convert more visitors into buyers
  4. How to protect your profit margin while chasing ambitious growth goals
  5. How to convert run-of-the-mill customers into raving fans

If you have questions, ideas, or feedback to share, hit us up on Twitter. We’re @jonmacdonald and @ryangarrow.

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Episode Transcript:

You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast about helping online brands to build a better e-commerce growth engine with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow.

Jon, it is an exciting day for you, and for me, too, because I know you, and I get to associate with you when we speak together. But you have a new book releasing today, October 26, 2021. So you took COVID lockdown and did something with your free time. Nice work.

Hey, made the most of it, right?

Exactly, man. I’m excited because all of your books help people, which I like, especially in the e-com space where we both live and work and spend all of our time. But it’s your second book, and they’re both about conversion rate optimization. So why did we need a second book?

Yeah. Well, the first one was, as you know, called Stop Marketing, Start Selling. Essentially, it was a thesis on how to do conversion optimization, very tactical research backed on, hey, here are the things you need to be doing to your site specifically.
I wrote that about six years ago, maybe a little more, and I wrote it as a research paper. That was my goal, was just let’s learn everything we can about CRO and get it down on paper and give people an actionable guide that they can take and implement. There’s a lot of great interviews in there with top director of e-comm and CMOs, and understanding their pains and how those can be solved.
And what I’ve realized, though, since then over the past six, seven years has been that there is really a higher level of thinking that’s not as tactical that’s needed in CRO, that we’ve been doing optimization at The Good for 13 years now. And what I have found is that there are some core tenets that are essentially laws of optimization, right? They’re just necessary.
And if you don’t have this line of thinking, then your brand can suffer. And if you do adopt these laws, you will really kind of skyrocket to that next level. And it’s very common that every brand we work with that has all of these core principles in play do extremely well.
And so, I really felt like as part of our goal at The Good to remove all of the bad online experiences until only the good remain, I can’t touch every website. There’s no way The Good’s going to be able to do that. So I figured, let’s document these laws that we know and these troops that we hold so close to us, and let’s get them out to the world. And when we do that, we’ll be helping to increase that customer experience and remove those bad online experiences for way more sites than we could ever touch in our lifetimes.

For sure. We’ve talked, obviously, a lot about these, and I’ve through my association probably absorbed a lot of these laws. But I think it’s important to note that laws are not best practices. What this book is, is not a list of, oh, do ABC and your site’s going to do better. Laws are going to make things specific to a site because every site’s different.

Exactly. It’s more about the theory behind optimization than it is about the specific tactics. We do talk about some tactics, but more in a case study approach, right, like, how is this law applied, and how you could be thinking about it. But it’s much more around the core tenets and the way to be thinking.

Got it, yeah. And anybody that starts reading this book, you’re going to … You’ll get hooked very quickly because your first chapter is about best practices are for beginners, and that’s going to make everybody feel kind of dumb because they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s good. It’ll set myself up for success.” Yeah. Tell us about what you’ve seen with … I just love some of the analogies you have in that first chapter, but best practices. You don’t pull any punches with those.

Well, yeah. I think that it needed to be said first, and that’s why it’s the first law in the book because otherwise you could look at what I’m saying is a set of best practices. And I wanted to set the tone that it’s not really the tactics that you’re going to get in this book. It’s all about the philosophy and the theory behind optimization, which in looking at all the other books on optimization and e-commerce that exist out there, I didn’t want to just have another book of tactics that gets dated really quickly that competes with all the other tactics that are out there.
No, I wanted to really focus on more of that higher-level approach that really would help people to endure and create a sustainable business. And best practices is what has gotten a lot of those brands into trouble to begin with.
So it really had to be said first. And I wanted to set that tone early and often. And you’re right, though. I don’t pull any punches in this book. I’m very opinionated on what works and what doesn’t.
And I’m not afraid to say I’m a firm believer that to maintain any effectiveness in content marketing or just in having a point of view. Think of this as a fence between two neighbors’ yards, right? One fence is on one side, is one point of view. On the other side is the opposite point of view.
If you just sit in the middle and never take a stance, you will never have raving fans, and you’ll never have raving haters. And you need both. You need people who completely disagree with you, and you need people who back you up. But if you don’t ever have people that disagree with you, then you know that you’re not really pushing anybody to think more.
And that’s really my approach with this book was, I don’t want to pull punches. I want to make sure that people understand what works, what doesn’t, and make sure that not everyone’s going to agree with me, and that’s okay. I want to have that constructive argument. And you see me have it all the time on Twitter and LinkedIn and all these other platforms, right?
But starting with Best Practices is for Beginners is because it’s true that if you try to run a mile in someone else’s shoes, you’re just going to hurt your feet. And there’s really no other way around that. The problem is a lot of brands start with these best practices, and then they hold them near and dear as they continue to grow. And that’s where they get themselves into a lot of trouble because they grow to a certain point where they’re saying, “Okay, I need to try the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.”
And that’s where you see all these brands doing a couple million a year online. And they’re just trying every new Shopify app that comes out because they’re really hoping to get to that next level. And they’re looking for a cheat code, and there’s no cheat code to get there.
I have a whole other chapter in here all about how, that there’s no silver bullets. I think that’s the second chapter, right? It’s like, we really have to follow that scientific method of iterative gains over time, and just putting a small amount of effort in every single day.
James Clear has his 1% rule. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Atomic Habits, his book, but basically summarizing it in one chart, which I did in the second chapter. It was all about, hey, if you put 1% effort in and just get 1% better every day for a year, you will be 36 times greater at the end of the year. And if you don’t do that, what are you trading off? Right? You actually … The math shows that you get worse at the end of the year, not better.
And so, the reality is you just want to focus on getting incrementally better and seeing that compounding growth over time. And so, following all these best practices and just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks without doing proper A/B testing is a downfall that a lot of brands slip into.

Oh, yeah. I feel like having been in e-comm a long time with you, it’s 12, 13 years ago the internet was … You could do almost anything. There was so many crazy things going on. Nobody really knew what was going on. There were no experts 12 or 13 years ago. We were all like, “This is fun. Let’s sell things online.”
Now, we’ve evolved so quickly as an industry that I think the baseline is so consistent, like Shopify sites being so prevalent. The checkout process is, if you don’t have simple checkout, you don’t even know if you have a business right now. But imagine Shopify checkout 10 years ago. It would have been like … You would have had a 70% conversion rate, potentially.
But now, it’s like you really have to take some science on this because you can’t just be the basic Shopify site on the internet and assume that’s going to be what works. The process you take people through is really going to allow that to happen and allow every company out there to take those steps. And I think it’s cool.
One of my favorite analogies you had because obviously being a sports guy like you, I loved the analogy of the Oakland Athletics versus the Yankees just because that’s such a David and Goliath thing that I think so many brands that are looking up at large competitors, it’s daunting.
Their resources are astronomical. But you can’t, that 1%, and play the money ball game where you’re … Look, you can’t have the budgets of your main competitors, but you can do the small testing constantly, the iterations that’s going to help make the difference long term.

Yeah, and I actually go on. There’s a whole chapter where I talk about your competition just being a distraction, and how if you were to be the Oakland Athletics and just focus on doing what the Yankees do, then there would have been no way you would beat them. Just, you can’t win that money game. Right? And do you really want to play that game, right? You’re going to give up the vast majority of your business, and you’re going to be someone else’s mouthpiece at that point. You’re not going to be running your own business.
That’s why most people get into this game, is to be an entrepreneur and create their own wealth. But the reality is that unfortunately too many people try to play that full-on money game. And then, they end up having issues like what’s going on with Facebook recently, where ad costs just go up and effectiveness goes way down. And then, they have to dump more money into it.
And it’s interesting because I say this in that chapter about competition, that there’s a reason race horses wear blinders. And the challenge is that you end up looking behind you the whole time, or even looking to your side and saying, “What is my competition doing that I need to be doing?” And then, you try those tactics blindly.
We had a client who had a mobile navigation at the bottom of this screen. And we were like, “Well, okay, consumers are complaining about this. Why are you doing that?” And they said, “Well, because we saw one of our bigger competitors had it, and so we decided to implement it. It must work for them.” And we were like, “Okay. Well, your consumers hate it. Let’s test putting it back up to the top.”
And it was something like a 200% increase in convergence and revenue by moving that back up because people would go to swipe on that page with it down at the bottom, and would touch the nav. And it would be so frustrating of an experience, they would just leave.
But the whole point here is, if you focus on your competitors instead of your consumers, that you’re not going to get ahead. And really, just focusing on your competitors really just means you don’t … You have no idea if you opted into a test if it’s actually working for them, or if they’re even going after the same target market, right?
At The Good, we work three eyewear brands right now. One goes after blue light blocking for computer users. One goes after athletic wearers for eye protection. And one is sports eyewear for just blocking the sun, hanging out while you run, that type of stuff.
And the reality is, it’s three different market people who are after it. It’s three different use cases. It’s three different ways you would even talk about how that product is selling. And the product description should be completely different. But if you were to go online and say, “What’s the average conversion rate for eyewear brands?,” all three of those would be lumped into the same average. And it’s not going to be accurate. How could you possibly compare your conversion rate to somebody who’s going after a completely different audience? It just doesn’t make sense.

No. Nobody should ever ask what the average conversion rate of anything is. If you’re asking that, you have some bigger problems in place.

I’ve trained you well, yes.

Yeah. Well, I have my business partners in all my businesses. I get a lot of those, like, “Oh, we saw a competitor doing this. Why aren’t we?”
I was like, “I haven’t trained you yet obviously well enough, business partner.” Don’t worry about it. We have our own business and our own problems that we have to deal with internally without worrying about some competitor changing their button color or something stupid like that.
And one of the points I really like that I personally haven’t … I haven’t heard it this way from you before, and you’ve probably told me many ways, but I like how you in chapter six talk about folks who have the commercial experience or customer experience on the conversions because so many of our clients are all about just conversion, convert, convert, convert. Did it convert? Did it not convert? I mean, like, “Well,” and that’s where I think you get into kind of easy-button things, like, “Oh, if we just have a simplified checkout, we’re going to get conversions better.”
Well, why don’t you think through what happens up to that point, and “Come to me. People are abandoning cart. We need Wheelio.” You’re like, “No, no. That is not the case, don’t.”
But tell me a little bit more about how you’re getting people to focus more on the experience versus the actual conversion, which is what they’re trying to do, is get conversion.

Yeah. The problem is, as I state in this chapter, that a good conversion rate does not mean that you have a great customer experience. And a good customer experience, though, can drive a good conversion rate. But they need to play off each other a little bit.
And the challenge here is that most brands focus singularly on the conversion rate and bypass the customer experience altogether. They figure if people are converting, that they have a great customer experience.
Well, a lot of people will go through hell to convert because they really need a product, and it’s really solving a pain that they have. But it doesn’t mean they’re going to come back and buy from you again. It just means that’s what I needed right then.
A good example of this is just this morning, I bought something on Amazon that was out of stock on Prime, but somebody else was selling it with a $30 shipping. And I was like, “Man, $30 to ship something on Amazon, ooh. But you know what? I really need this. And I’m not going to have time to go to a store and get this anytime soon. So I’ll pay that.” Am I going to do that again? Absolutely not. Next time, I’ll think ahead and I’ll get the Prime one before I need it next day or whatever, right?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

But I was willing to go through that, and that extra painful experience because I needed it right then, but I’m not going to do it again.
It’s the same thing for brands who … We talk about this a lot, but if you wouldn’t do it in a retail store, don’t do it on your website. Just because you can’t see that consumer on the other side of the screen does not mean they’re not a human. Really, you need to treat them like that. And that means not putting roadblocks up just in the name of conversion like a spinning wheel.
Everyone says … I just saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday. “Oh, people hate on spinning wheels until they see the numbers that come in on usage and conversion.” And I’m like, “Okay, so people convert in terms of giving you their email address. Have you sent to that email list yet? What’s the return on that email list? Do they buy? What’s the lifetime value of those customers?”
It’s just because you got people to convert, and it does not mean good experience. Likely, in our user testing, what it means is they didn’t know how to close it. And they were like, “I’ve got to put something in this box so I can get to the website and close this darned popup.”
And so, they just enter a BS email address or that spam address they have, or they spin and they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to get 10% off.” Well, here’s the thing. Consumers, when they first come to your site and spin that wheel, they have no idea if they’re even going to buy from you. That 10% off isn’t doing anything, except setting your brand up as a discount brand, which is a whole other chapter, that discounting is an optimization. It’s margin drain. And I go into that. So you can see how a lot of these do tie together in the end.

There are so many of you listening to this. If you have a website and an app like that, you have na.com as an email, I don’t get that email, but you have it.
As you’re looking at the goal of conversion rate, what I’m seeing right now, especially in this market, you might have a conversion rate that spikes right now, only because all of your competitors are out of inventory. And people are willing to go through your painful process to get the product because all of theirs are stuck in a ship outside of LA right now. And then, you’re going to have a conversion rate drop, and you’re going to freak out and get mad at your marketing team because you’re like, “What happened to all our conversions?”
So there’s a lot of macro things, I think, happening external to brands that are having such a massive impact for probably poor experiences that can be successful right now.
And last year, dear Lord, if you had a website, then you probably did okay. But now, we’re back to normal, or normal-er, where volume is down Bad experiences are falling apart unless everybody else is out of inventory and you happen to have some. So it becomes more important, I think, to be focusing on that customer experience than conversion right now. And I just love that chapter. I think it’s really going to be an eye opener for a lot of brands that haven’t been looking at their site the same way.

Yeah, I definitely hope so. Again, you went back to the goals of why I wrote this to shake people a little bit and say, “Look, these are things you really need to pay attention to that you have not been doing.” And that’s a problem when things like Facebook just makes it impossible to drive leads at the vault volume you were driving them before.

You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast focused on e-commerce growth. Your hosts are Jon MacDonald, founder of The Good, a conversion rate optimization agency that works with e-commerce brands to help convert more of their visitors into buyers, and Ryan Garrow of Logical Position, the digital marketing agency offering pay-per-click management, search engine optimization, and website design services to brands of all sizes.
If you find this podcast helpful, please help us out by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and sharing it with a friend or colleague. Thank you.

The final chapter I’ll touch on before we go into some of your accolades, trust is a big deal now. We have so much. It’s difficult to build trust because we are becoming, I think as a society, less trusting because of all … if we talk about fake news or even whatever you’re seeing is very difficult to believe without doing a bunch of research. But you don’t want people going off your site to research something to back up that trust that you want to build initially.
So tell me a little bit about how you’re directing people to build that trust when it’s become so difficult in our society right now, just everybody angry, it seems, and not wanting to trust what they’re seeing.

Well, I think there’s several different levels that you need to be doing trust on. But just going into this knowing that consumers don’t trust your store by default is really the key.
And a lot of brands overdo it, where they plaster badges, security badges all over their site, and, “You can trust us,” and all these other messages that in the end scare consumers off. We’ve found pretty clearly that what happens is that consumers then start to wonder what happened to your site that you had to put all these up there. “Did you get hacked? Is my info going to go?”
It’s one of those things where some people say after a plane crashes, that’s the best time to fly because everyone’s a little more diligent. But in the e-com world, they don’t know that a plane just crashed. They just see all of the security badges that you put up because all of a sudden you had a scare. And you’re like, “I’ve got to put all these things up there,” or you’re just trying to earn trust. So you throw them all up on your site, and it scares people away.
But the reality here is that I like to say show when you can, and tell when you can’t. So how do you show? Well, you show through a few different things, helping people understand if it’s a legit store. Right.
And what do I mean by a legit store? Well, is the performance of your site good? Or does it look like it’s running on a server in a closet of your parents’ house?
Is the usability and design clean? And I’m not saying you have to have the best brand design ever. No. You need to have a level that is trustworthy. You need to answer that question. What do other people think? So that comes down to social proof. This is where reviews come in, things of that sort, right?
And then, the last question you really need to answer around trust is, “Do I feel good about giving them my personal and my payment information?” And that can be done with brand integrity. It can be done with social impact causes, right, 1% for the planet, whatever it might be.
And that goes beyond a trust signal in terms of a security badge. So I’m not even talking about having security badges as much as I am just helping people understand those three key questions. Is this a legit store? What do other people think? And do I feel good about giving them my information? If you can address those three concerns, then you will have a higher converting site.

You are a big deal in the e-commerce world. You’re humble about it, but you are a big deal. But just looking at the accolades at the beginning of this book is basically a who’s who of e-com. So if you want, if you’re building a roster for e-com excellence, just read the people that are offering the testimonials for Jon’s book. That alone is just, “Oh, big name, big name, big name.” How did you meet all these people, Jon? I just need to be a co-pilot on your right or something.

Well, hey, look, well, first of all, you are a co-pilot. I’d be happy to introduce you. Second of all, I think the key here is that we’ve been doing this for well over a decade. And we share our thinking every day. We’re active out there. Whenever we have a learning or a win, we tell everybody, “Here’s what we learned today.”
And we’re not out there just trying to sell, sell, sell. It’s really around being part of the community. And really, what I’ve been doing is depositing into that bank for 13 years. And so, I went to that bank and I said, “Hey, folks. I have this book coming out, would love to see what you think about it. Offer your honest feedback, and help me improve it.”
And I sent it out to a handful of people that I thought they were experts in one area or another and could offer some feedback, and here we are. And folks seemed to really enjoy it, which I’m thankful for.

Yeah. It’s for sure one of the most important pieces of owning an e-comm business or managing or marketing an e-comm business. And I think it’s a testament to not only how smart and knowledgeable about conversion rate optimization you and your organization are, but also I think the philosophy you take around, “Hey, we’re here to educate and remove all the bad experiences.” You know you’re not going to handle all of them, but you want to make sure there’s not stupid things happening on websites because it doesn’t help anybody.
And so, if you are in the e-com world, you need to get this book, like claw, scratch, scrape. Find a way to find it. It’s going to be out all over the place. Today, you can actually go get it on Amazon. Anywhere else they need to be looking for the book?

Yeah. Amazon’s going to be the best place right now. That first week that it’s out, we’re running a special on the Kindle edition. So you can get it a little more inexpensively than it will be in the future, and then also the good.com/books. We will have some bundle offers up there. If you’re buying it for your whole team, I think we’re going to do, if you buy 20 copies direct from us or send us the screenshot of the receipt on Amazon, you get a free 30 minutes with me to get on with your team and just answer any questions you guys might have, or present to your team about optimization. We’ve already got a few folks lined up for that, which is great, and fun to hear.
But yeah, I think just Amazon. We have it in every format imaginable up there, paperback, hard back. We’ll do … There’s an audio book I recorded. You get to listen to me rap a verse from Hamilton, which is one of the chapters- [crosstalk 00:25:10]

That alone might be worth the price.

And yeah, and then we have it for sale as a PDF up on our site as well. So there’s a lot of great options here, and we’re just trying to make it as accessible to everyone as possible.

No, that’s awesome. And it’s a testament to how great it is. Most of you listening have probably heard of Nick Sharma, and he has the foreword written. And the foreword, when you read it, you’ll realize that this book has to be read by your team, by your organization. You might have to give it to an executive above you to prove that you need to be doing CRO, but it will do the job of making your site function better and allow your team to understand the why’s of CRO, and get you pointed in the right direction for sure.

Yeah, yeah. One of my proudest moments in this book was getting that foreword back from Nick, and he said he’ll be handing a copy of this book to all the teams that he invests in. And that right there is the best testament I could have asked for.

Oh, phenomenal. Great work, Jon. I’m proud to be associated with you. And I’m glad I’ve been able to read this book, and my brands are going to be better for this for sure.

Awesome. Well, thank you. I appreciate the chat today.

Yeah. Thank you. Go get the book. Stop listening to the podcast now. Go get it.

All right, Ryan. We’ll talk soon.

All right. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to Drive and Convert with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow. To keep up to date with new episodes, you could subscribe at www.driveandconvert.com.

About the Author

James Sowers

James Sowers is the former Director of The Good Ventures. He has more than a decade of experience helping software and ecommerce companies accelerate their growth and improve their customer experience.