About Brian Dean
Brian Dean is the founder of Backlinko.com the place where marketers turn for higher rankings and more traffic. His work has been featured in places like TechCrunch, Inc, Entrepreneur and Forbes.
In his Learn Inbound talk, Brian will show you actionable tips and tactics to help you turn your traffic into leads and customers.
- Your About Page might be more important than you think: having a strong case about who a company does, believe and can provide for its readers while offering a chance to benefit from it.
- Fun CTAs are more than just fun: test your copy in many ways to get readers attention instead of a basic call to actions such as “Sign Up” or “Subscribe”.
- Exit pop-ups can save you in the very last moment: in combination with creative CTAs, you can still convert a reader that is about to leave your page (and they would have left anyway, so you don’t need to worry about annoying them).
- Give extra “bonus content”: It could a PDF, a printable version, an extended version, a tutorial. If you can’t do this for all your content, make it at least for your top performing pages.
Thank you. Whoo, I am so excited to be here today. It's going to be an awesome event. So a couple years ago, I had this problem. I had a blog that was getting traffic. I was getting comments; I was getting social shares, all that good stuff. People were linking to my site. Everything was going well, but I had this problem. No one was actually converting.
So I had all this traffic but of all the people that came only about one in a hundred actually subscribed to my email list, which is by far the number one thing I wanted someone to do when they came to my site.
So I was kind of like one of those guys that drives a Bentley and wears a Rolex, but when you go to his house he sleeps on a mattress on the floor and eats ramen noodles for dinner every night. That was me. On the surface everything was going great, but in reality not so much. And the funny thing was, I was really trying to get people to subscribe. I had a big form on the home page, one on the sidebar, and then if you missed those and you actually read an article and got to the bottom, boom, there was another form. So there were plenty of opportunities for you to sign up and despite all, that, my conversion rate was this 1.38%.
So I want to get a feel for the room. Who here has a blog where they're trying to get emails or free trials or something? I hope so, its inbound marketing, right? Okay, so raise your hand so I get a feel for everyone so I can tailor the talk based on that. Whose conversion rate is less than 1%? Raise your hand. It's okay, we're all friends here. Okay, less than 1%. Who here is 1 to 3%? Not bad. Okay, this is...1% to 3% is not that bad. Who here is crashing at 3% plus? Anybody? Okay, it's tough. And who here has no idea they just came for the beer? Whoo, five, seven people. I figure there's always at least a couple.
So today I'm going to show you how I took this problem, this conversion rate of 1.38% and I took it to over 3 and a half percent in six weeks. And the ultimate question I realized was not just putting a bunch of forms on my site because that wasn't working. It's what do I put in this form to get someone to actually answer their email. It's a trickier question than you might think. So before I show you how I was able to basically solve this problem and get to 3.68%, I wanted to show you one cool little hack that you can use that was actually working for me before.
So there's a page on your site that a lot of people visit when they're already on your site. So you're not going to get a lot of traffic to this page from Twitter or from Google, but when people are already on your site you'll get a lot of traffic to it. Does anyone know what this page is? Someone said "about page." That's right. So your about page if you're looking at Google analytics so people that are already on your site, it gets a lot of traffic and the cool thing is, it's not just any traffic. People that go to your about page like you, right? They like what you're about. They read a blog post or they saw something you did and they want to learn more about you. No one goes to a blog, reads something and say, "This is terrible. I wonder what idiot wrote this," and goes to the about page to find out. Right? People who go there are already planning to sign up. They really want to learn more about you. And in fact, even though I didn't know what I was doing in terms of conversions back then, I had this 1.38% that I showed you, my about page is a completely
different story. Over 6%. And the cool thing is, because your about page, people that visit it are already planning to sign up you don't really have to do any ninja conversion secrets to get them to sign up. All I had was a form in the middle, so as you went about halfway down the about page and then at the bottom, the same one I used at the bottom of a blog post. That's it and it got 6%. And this works because people who are on your about page, they want to become more involved with your site and your brand and who you are and you've given them that opportunity, or really just given them what they want.
So this was one thing that was doing well. I could hang my hat on the fact that I was getting 6% on my about page, but the problem was this,
what about all those people that didn't go to my about page? Which was the vast majority. They came through a blog post from Google, or from Twitter, or from Facebook and left. Or they came and read one blog post, read another, and left or went back to the home page. They didn't click on it. So that's 95%. What about those people?
Well, around the time I was having this problem and really realized it was a huge issue for my business, I became friends with Noah Kagan, who founded up Sumo, and he built an email list of over a million people, which is just insane. So I knew he was the perfect person to help me with this problem so I said, "Noah, I have this problem. Getting tons of traffic, but outside of my about page no one's actually converting." And I knew because he'd been the game for so long and that he had built this email list that he would have some Yoda-like wisdom for me. And this is what he said.
So pop-ups let's talk about them. Let's talk about them it's about time we have an honest discussion about pop-ups. Who hates them? Man. Okay, no, keep your hands up, Keep your hands up. Who hates them? Who here would never use them on their site? Aah, very different, very different. Okay, so I felt the same way. I was actually in the "would never use them" on my site camp. At that point, I never had a pop-up and I was morally opposed to using it. But because Noah had recommended it, this was my little plan. So I put a pop-up on my site for 24 hours and this is what I did. I put up this pop-up using the SumoMe software that Noah created. It took about five minutes and what I did is, I put it on my site for 24 hours and after I started getting hate mail, and people on Twitter bashing me, and people unsubscribing from my newsletter, and people bashing me on Facebook too, and people bashing me on the
street because people hate pop-ups, right? I figure I'll take it down. That
way I can say, 'Noah, look, I tried your advice. It wasn't for me, but
So I put it up and 24 hours later I went to take it down. But before I did, I thought let me see how I did just so I can really prove to myself that this whole pop-up thing is stupid. You get a couple extra subscribers and all
you're doing is angering everyone else that comes to your site.
Here were the actual stats. So keep in mind that my average conversion rate on my site was 1.38% and this is about 4 and a half percent in 24 hours. So needless to say, I've never looked back and I've continued to use pop-ups to this day. But the thing is about pop-ups, is that they don't have to be really annoying, right? They're always going to be annoying, but there are things you can do to make them less annoying and I've been kind of obsessed with this question ever since I ran this little experiment. And the first thing you can do is use exit intent pop-ups. Anyone know what these are? Okay, so they're kind of like they sound, right? Exit intent pop-ups, they pop up when someone is going to leave. This sounds like kind of a minor distinction, right? But it's actually really important because as you're reading a pop-up appears, that's super annoying, right? That's what most pop-ups do. In this case, the person is going to leave anyway so you have nothing to lose by giving them an opportunity to sign up. And this is actually what I used in that experiment and I still got all those extra conversions. These people are actually
going to leave and probably never come back and I got their emails and I didn't know any people that were staying on my site reading my stuff.
Now, the other thing you want to keep in mind in addition to using exit intent is to offer something that that person actually wants. I know this sounds obvious but I see it very rarely done. So this is an example. I was at Search Engine Journal, a couple of months ago and this violated both rules, this pop-up. I was actually reading something and it interrupted me, which is strike number one. That's the annoying thing. That's the one where...who thinks pops are annoying? Aah, but if you're leaving the site it's not nearly as annoying. But most importantly, they were basically saying, "Here's what we want, right? We have 25,112 marketers and counting. Look at us. We're so great." You can be 25,113, isn’t that amazing? Obviously, not. Whoo, who wants to be that? Right? Nobody. So I closed it out. On the other hand, if you offer something that actually provides value to what that person wants at that exact moment, not only will your conversions improve but you'll annoy less people.
So for example, if you come to Backlinko, you probably want to get more traffic or you wouldn't have found it. So when I say, "Hey, do you want more traffic? Sign up to the newsletter and get exclusive updates and tips that I only share with subscribers," which is true, you're going to say, "Hey that sounds pretty cool." And even if you don't want that offer, it's much less annoying because you know that I understand you and I know where you're coming from. And that's why this type of pop-up tends to convert better and it annoys people a lot less than saying, "We already have X number of subscribers. Aren't we so great?"
Okay, so its time for our first pro tip which is to use fun upbeat call to actions in your pop-ups. You can actually use this tip on anything that you have on your site where you have a call to action. Most people, and myself included when I first started, I would use things like subscribe, or sign up, or join. The problem with these calls to action is that they raise anxiety. When someone's going to give you their email, they're thinking, "Hey, how do I know this person is not going to steal my email and sell it to 1,000 people? How do I know they're not going to straight up spam me? They don't, right? They have to basically at some level trust you. And when you say subscribe, and join, it kind of like its level of commitment that no one wants. But when you say fun things like... I'm in, let's do this, get more traffic, lose 10 pounds. Things that are in people's minds, they're much more likely to sign up and it's super easy to test.
So finally I was making progress, right? I was getting people to sign up from this pop-up. I basically had two wins. I had this about page and I had the pop-up. That was about it. The problem was what about all these people that didn't see my pop-up, which were most people, right? It appears for a lot of visitors, but not everybody and a lot of people just didn't subscribe with the pop-ups. So what can I do? So I still really had this problem. The pop-up helped, but it didn't solve it.
So around this time, I had read this post called, "The Best Fiverr Gigs of 2014," and it was all about these like Fiverr gigs you can buy for a small business owner for transcription and creating images and stuff like that. Now what was weird about this list and unique, was that it was a top 10 list. So it was this woman's, Kim Roach's favorite Fiverr gigs. But when you get to the bottom she has a link that says, "Click here to download the top 20 Fiverr gigs." I thought, "Mmh, this is strange. It's a top 10 list, but there are 20. I want that." So I click on it and this box appears to enter my email and I'm like, "Aah, I see what you did there." And I thought it was clever, but I thought also too much work, right? I'm not going to cut my blog post in half and offer half to people that won't sign up and the other half to people that will, right? It didn't make sense, plus you have to do that to every post. It's a lot of work, blah, blah blah, blah. Basically, I noted in my mind it's interesting and moved on.
Around this time, I also saw my friend, Brian Harris, from Videofruit using a similar but much more sophisticated version of the strategy. So instead of cutting his post in half and saying, "If you subscribe you get all of it. If you don't you get half," what he did is he created a complimentary resource to what you just read. So this is actually an example of a productivity post. So this post is all about how to be more productive and when you sign up, you get his video where he shows you how he sets up Google calendar to be more productive. So it's pretty cool. He calls this a post specific bonus, which I eventually changed to the content upgrade because this sounds a lot better. Here's another example.
So he has a post on his site all about how to create a service based business really easily. So how do you do it? Well, he recommends that you go to blog posts that teach people strategies like the skyscraper technique or something, and then you create a service around it and offer it to people. Well, you can teach someone that strategy, but the problem is, how do people find these posts in the first place? How do people find strategies to use? Well, if you sign up, you get 50 articles that can be prime candidates. So who wouldn't sign up to that, right? You read this, you think this is cool, the next step, how do I find these posts? It's actually really difficult, but not with Brian. He flew in and to the rescue, and gives you an easy solution. All you have to do is give an email. So, I thought this probably worked pretty well so I asked him, "Is this really worth it to create these unique post specific bonuses for every blog post on your site? It seems like a lot of work for a couple extra subscribers." And here's what he told me. That his conversion rate is 10% to 30% on blog posts. For squeeze pages where the page exists just to collect emails, 30% is actually pretty good. For a blog post, it's just insane to think that you could get that kind of conversion rate. And as soon as he told me that, it kind of hit me. It made sense that offering something really tailored to what that person is reading and what they wanted would work better, but for some reason I just used the same thing on every page. Whatever page you're reading, whether it's about keyword research, or link building, or on-page of SEO, or anything, you get the same exact offer. And I was doing it because when I looked around the web, at other blogs they were doing the same thing, right? I was just copying everyone else. They offer the same offer for everybody so I should do the same thing.
So for example, copying other people can work but it doesn't work all the time. Example, Taylor Swift, I can't say hello to you and risk another goodbye. One thousand likes, 500 retweets. But when I do it, crickets. What's the deal? That's the same quote. I don't get it. Well, actually, Peep Laja said it best to my opinion...I think this quote speaks for itself and it's something if you do copy other people you can relate to. I was definitely guilty of this, right? I was copying all these other people. I thought, "Well, they have a call to action at the end of their post that says, "Sign up for my newsletter," I should do the same thing." Not thinking of what does that person actually want? Well, they want something related to what they just read.
So I decided to do a little test because I wasn't really ready to roll this out because remember, for this to work you have to create a specific bonus for every single post. That's a massive amount of work if you have a sizeable blog. So I decided to try it on one post. This Google 200 ranking factors post and I did it because it got a lot of traffic, 15,000 unique visitors a month just from this one post which is impressive, right? The reality was more of a mattress on the floor, ramen noodles for dinner situation. So it didn't convert very well. Who cares if you get 100,000 visitors a month to your blog if no one actually subscribes or buys, right? It doesn't matter. So when I used this strategy, that I'm about to lay out for you, I increased my conversion rate to almost 5 and a half percent. Literally just the strategy. No split testing, no consulting with conversion experts. Just this one strategy.
Here's exactly what I did and how you can do the same thing. The first step is to log into your Google Analytics and look at the post that gets the most traffic. Why do you do this? Well, it's because it takes a lot of work to create these and you don't want to start at the pages that get the least amount of traffic and work your way up, right? You want to get the most bang for your buck because this will take time. So I recommend going to Google Analytics, going to landing pages and find the pages that get the most traffic. That's what I did. Then you want to create a...think of this page and think what would someone reading this really want? What's going through their mind? Not only as they start the post, but more importantly as they finish.
Remember Brian Harris's example I showed you where it's all about starting this service based business based on what these blog posts have as services or as strategies and you can execute them. What does that person need next? It's they need some strategies to start using and you can just give that to them. So in my case I was lucky. I had people literally commenting on the post telling me, "Brian, this is what I want." So you had people like Justin saying, "This is overwhelming. This is just so much information. Do you have like a highlight reel? Like a top 10 list that I can just kind of take with me and do site audits based on the top 10?" And I had people like Kristen who were saying, "I like this, but do you have this in a PDF? It's just too much for me to keep going to your site over and over again." So I took Justin's advice and Kristen's advice, combined them, and created this Google ranking factors checklist which basically did what Justin and Kristen recommended. Which was to distil the information into what I thought were the most important ranking factors and also put it into PDF format. Super easy, right? It looks really nice because I had my designer make it look pretty, but you don't have to do this. And the actual thing, because it's actually from the post, only took like 10 minutes to put together.
Now how do you let people know that this exists? You have your checklist or whatever it is you're going to give away that's specific to that post. First thing I did was add this yellow box after my blog post introduction. Now even though they haven't read the post yet, I can still kind of figure out what they probably want. And people that have already visited the post a bunch of times like Kristen had said, she had to keep coming back to it, she can see that now there's a PDF option that you can download. At the bottom, there's this big download icon image so you can't really miss the offer if you're reading the post. That's the key. It's just to make it really prominent.
Now another cool thing that I learned from doing it the wrong way. First thing I did is add forms, it didn't look good. So I used a thing called a lead box. Anyone heard of this before? A lead box? Yeah? It's from lead pages. Basically what it is you put a link on your page and when someone clicks on it this box appears. So it looks like a normal link because it kind of is, but when someone clicks on it this box appears, then you've got them. Then it's kind of too late to turn back and actually there's some psychology behind this. When someone starts an action, they're more likely to finish it. So if you have a form on your site it's not going to convert as well and it looks really bad, right? Because when they see the form they'll skip it and they therefore haven't started the action yet. But when you have the link and they click on it and the box appears, they've started the action and they're much more likely to sign up. That's really all I did.
Five and a half percent from less than a half a percent. It's that easy. And over the next nine months, I got over 8,000 emails just from implementing this strategy. I was getting like maybe 100 a month before that, from these forms I had all over the place. You can use anything. It doesn't have to be a checklist, "Oh, that's what I prefer." You can use a tutorial, you can use a PDF version, and I’ve tried that, if it's a video or a podcast, you can use a transcription, and you can add a video tutorial related to that post. Possibilities are endless. The important thing is that you really target it to what that's person's reading.
So now I was really making progress, right? I had the pop-up; I had this content upgrade on this one post. The problem was it was only one post and it was kind of a special case. It was 6,000 words long, it had 200 ranking factors, and it was really overwhelming for most people. What about those people that didn't read the post? Would this work for a case study or a list post? Well, I tested it to find out. So I looked at every post on my site through a new lens. So after I was done writing, instead of looking at call to actions, and pop-ups, and form placements, and social proof, and all this other stuff we always think of, I looked at it through this lens. Someone who's reading this thing, what do they want? Right? What do they want? And I quickly learned that most of my blog posts are super long like 2,500 words long, 4,000 words, some are 6,000 words. They're really long. So I realized right away that most people want a checklist that they could take with them. So I slowly rolled this out, all the posts on my site, boom, boom, boom, and slowly rolled that out. I did the same exact thing on every one. Yellow box at the top, download image at the bottom, and my conversion rate site wide went from 3.68%, literally, six weeks later and it only took six weeks because it took me a long time to create these checklists and add them to my site. But if I did it right away it would have been overnight. It's really that easy to get subscribers from your blog.
Now the question is, that I always get, will this work for me? If anyone has a blog that's in some sort of self-development, or marketing, or
anything that's the number one question you'll get, right? Like I run a site about bird cages. Will this work for me? I'm 48 and I live in Sweden, will this work for me? It's a question you get a lot and sometimes actually the answer is no. Well, most of the time answer is yes with the one exception.
If any of you run this site called isitchristmas.com, does anyone know this site? This is literally the entire website. Now, I should let you know that, as you might imagine, on Christmas, it says yes, but every other day it says no. Great website. Now in this case, I've had this in my deck for a while and I really haven't been able to think of a way you could use any of these strategies to get more subscribers to this site. But otherwise, I'm pretty sure you can at least try and see how it goes.
For example, let's talk about a niche that's kind of weird, golfing. Anyone golf? Okay, me neither. Oh, there's one guy. So it's not the hottest topic, it's not something that people usually associate with, all these ninja strategies working, but Josh Thompson was a Backlinko reader and he decided to try it. So on his site; he was just copying what I did. He had the big form at the top, one at the sidebar, a page dedicated to getting opt-ins like Peep Laja said, right? Stop copying competitors; they don't know what they're doing. I didn't know what I was doing and he was copying me and of course, he was getting similar results, obviously. He was just copying what I was doing and I had no clue.
So what he did was, he read my case study where I talked about how to
use this content upgrades to get more conversions and he decided to give it a try. He went to a post on his site called "How to hit a draw in three simple steps." I don't golf. I don't know what exactly what this is, but it's some sort of shot, and it was getting a lot of traffic. It was ranking in the top 10 for how to hit a draw and all these related keywords, but
like most blog posts on most people's blogs, no one was converting. Why? He had the forms everywhere, right? He had signed to my newsletter, he had social proof, he had how many people are already subscribed, and he had a call to action, his button colors we tested, all this stuff but it wasn't working. Why? Because he never asked this question before. When he actually looked at his post through the lens of, "Okay, I'm a guy who works in an office during the week, and on the weekends I play golf and I'm reading this thing and my draw shot is terrible and I read this post of a how to hit a draw and I'm done with it, then what?" And he realized that the number one problem with this post is that it wasn't portable, right? If you read the post on a Wednesday after work then you're on the driving range on Saturday, then what? You're not going to remember what you read in that blog post. So it's not super helpful. So he created a kind of a portable checklist that's really brief and that you could take with you and it just distilled the exact movements that you need to make in order to hit a draw shot, brilliant. And he did the same thing I did. Yellow box at the top, download engine at the bottom.
Now it's time for another pro tip. This one's pretty cool. I don't hear a lot of people talking about this but; I found that this works really well. And it's to create a mental movie of whatever you're giving away in action. Now in this case is a content upgrade, but if you give away something or run a service based business, this mental movie can work really well. For example, at Backlinko I always say, "Easily save as a PDF or print for daily use." Why do I say this? Well, the thing I'm giving away is this checklist, right? What's a checklist? Right? It's this kind of thing, you can't picture it really, you don't know what it is, and you don't even have an image of it. But everyone's used a PDF and everyone's printed something and it makes whatever you're giving away seem more like a thing, right? And more like a thing is good because people are more likely to sign up.
And actually Josh used a brilliant version of this. This is great to take to the driving range and practice. So if you're golfer and you read this you think, "Great, this is exactly what I need." You can actually picture someone taking it with them, putting it in their pocket, hitting a shot, "Oh did I...oh, I forgot step number two." Okay, put it back, hit a shot. Think of the amount of value that this provides in terms of real value but also perceived value compared to join 5,670 marketers and counting, right? There's a totally different world in terms of adding value and that's why it works so well and that's how he was able to get from about a half percent to almost 3% using this one strategy.
Now originally, I thought golf was the most boring niche that I could give you as an example, but luckily I got an email from a Backlinko reader who runs a site about life insurance. Not even just life insurance, life insurance tools that life insurance agents can use to do this and that. Super boring, right? So like most people, he had a post on his site that was doing much better than most. Everyone has that. It's the 80/20 principle. In his case, it was the thing about how do to use something called compulife's quote form. Now I didn't know what this is, but I did
some research, and what it is is basically a form you put on your website if you're an insurance agent and people can get a quote from it based on their age and whether they smoke and blah, blah, blah, and you get it as a lead and you can contact that person. So if you're an insurance agent, this is actually a super helpful thing. Chris found it, it's really helpful, and
he found that most agents weren't using it. So he wrote a post about how great it is and how they could use it. The problem was this, like most people, they had this feeling. Most people would read the content and click away. Does that sound familiar to you? It definitely did to me and that's why his sitewide conversion rate was about 1%. So here's what he did. He looked at his post, and thought through the lens, what this someone wants? What is someone reading this want? Well, he learned from comments and emails that most people understood the value of this thing, this compulife quote form, but they didn't understand the tech side how to install it. They weren't very tech savvy and required some technical knowledge to set it up. So what he did is he created a
guide that walked you through how to do it. He gave them what they wanted and his conversion rate shot up.
So last pro tip, which is create 100% exclusive content. So I've created PDF versions of posts and they work okay, but nothing works like something exclusive. For example, this post on my site, it's just a checklist that distils the information from the post, and for the people that click on that link and get the lead box, it converts at 52%. So not bad but not great. Now compare that to this which is almost the exact same offer with one little difference. You see the difference? You get two bonus YouTube marketing strategies. Tiny trivial difference, right? Converts significantly better, 25% better just from that. And there's so many cool things that you can give away. Bonus techniques, case studies, tutorials, swipe files and that's what Chris did. He gave away something unique and his conversion rate went from 1% to 6% literally using this one strategy. Because he created something tailored to that post and he also gave them something exclusive. It's very powerful once you punch when it comes to getting subscribers.
So now that I solved this problem, I'm getting more subscribers, my conversion rate is going up, life is good. As my email list grows, my revenue grows, I'm able to travel the world and my email list largely builds itself. And it's because I discovered the secret to turning content into conversions which is giving people what they want. Thank you.