11 Ways to Increase Your Conversions – An Interview with D Bnonn Tennant

D Bnonn Tennant
11 Ways to Increase Your Conversions – An Interview with D Bnonn Tennant

D Bnonn Tennant is a conversion optimization coach, he’s knows exactly how to create a website that makes money.

In this interview Bnonn shares 11 website elements that we can tweak to improve our conversion rates…

You can listen to the interview or read the entire transcript below…

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Joseph Bushnell: Hey, welcome to the online marketing show, this is Joey Bushnell. Today’s special guest is conversion optimization expert, D Bnonn Tennant. Go to attentionthievery.com to find out more!

Bnonn, thank you so much for being on show!

D Bnonn Tennant: Very glad to be here.

Joseph Bushnell: Bnonn, how did you get into conversion optimization?

D Bnonn Tennant: Well, I started in web design and moved on from there. I started off just as a hobbyist web design and I had a friend who needed a business website made and it was going to cost him a lot of money and I thought to myself, I could do that myself. That kind of launched me from my dead-end IT job into a freelance career. I realized if I could do it for him, I could do it for other people.

But at the same time, while I was designing his site, he didn’t have any words which he could put on the site himself, any copy, and so I started to look into writing copy and writing was something that I had also done for a long time, so I found that I just happened to have a convergence of skills which were very useful for getting people to take an action on a site.

Because of my emphasis on copywriting, I found that I was approaching the design of the site not just to make it look pretty (which I think is what most designers do) but to accompany the message and to support the message so that people would take a particular action.

Which gradually moved me toward studying direct response copywriting, direct response marketing, and in the end I read all the John Caples and David Ogilvy and all the classic direct response copywriters so that I had a very clear idea of how exactly you were supposed to move someone from that initial slight nod that they have at the headline, to the nod of the call to action where they actually click the button and do whatever it is that you want them to do. It sort of snowballed from that point and just a case of continued study, really.

Joseph Bushnell: OK. If we go over to your website, you talk about something called attention thievery. What’s that about?

D Bnonn Tennant: Well, attention thievery was how I started to think of conversion optimization and it was because my whole persona as a freelancer was built around this InformationHighwayman.com domain and I’ve got a slightly Wild West vibe to the website.

I decided to run with that and use a metaphor which would fit into what I was doing and so I talked about attention thievery, essentially just stealing people’s attention for long enough to get them interested and to keep their attention.

It’s not just a case of getting their attention to begin with, but it’s also a case of continuing to hold their attention. That really is what the essence of conversion rate optimization is, because if you haven’t got someone’s attention and you can’t keep their attention, then they’re obviously not going to become a client or even subscribe to whatever you’re offering as a lead generation in most cases. So conversion optimization is really a case of stealing and keeping people’s attention.

Joseph Bushnell: Would you say most people are struggling with this? Is this a difficult thing to do, Bnonn?

D Bnonn Tennant: It is a difficult thing to do and one of the big reasons that it’s difficult is that people think it’s difficult, when it fact it’s not really rocket surgery.

It’s something which is fairly easy to do, if you don’t get tied up in knots thinking about it, and I think copywriters have a lot of blame to hold onto here, people tend to assume that copywriting is a dark, mystic art and that in order to get people’s attention, in order to keep their attention, you have to know these very advanced persuasion techniques, these kind of chokeholds and joint locks, this copywriting kung-fu that only ninjas can do! Which isn’t the case at all.

One of the focuses of my work has been to teach ordinary business owners, who really aren’t interested in conversion optimization itself, how to keep people’s attention in order to sell them more stuff because as long as you know some fairly simple principles, it’s actually not all that difficult.

You can learn a lot of that stuff very quickly and you can do a lot of it yourself and very often it’s better to do your own work in terms of copywriting especially, than to hire a copywriter, because you know your product and your audience so much better than a copywriter can and you know yourself better as well, so you can write as yourself and develop that kind of rapport. That’s obviously something which is particularly important if you’re freelancing, where you’re selling yourself, as it were.

Joseph Bushnell: Let’s talk about some specifics then, about how we can actually do this and improve the response on our website.

My first question is… you mentioned on your website’s free report, that there are 3 questions that every page should answer when a visitor lands, so can you run us through that please?

D Bnonn Tennant: Sure. These are essentially the 3 questions that your prospect is asking when he gets to a page. Now he’s not necessarily asking these consciously, but if he were to reflect upon what’s going on when he arrives, these are questions that you need to answer in order to actually keep him on the page and to keep him reading.

The first question is: Where am I?

You need to make sure that he’s oriented on the page.

His next question, once he understands where he’s gotten to, which is usually he starts by looking at the top left of the page to see what the company name is, then he scans down and looks at the navigation to see what sort of things the site has on there, and then he looks at the headline to see what the page itself is about, so he’s moving from the general to the specific.

The next question, once he understands that, assuming he does, is: What can I do here?

What can I do on this particular page? What sort of actions are you wanting me to take? Very often people will arrive on a page, they’ll get a basic idea of where they are and what you’ll find is that they don’t actually read a lot of the copy, they’ll scan down and look for a call to action (often of course, a call to action is above the fold, which is a separate issue) but they’ll try to find that call to action so that they know what it is that you want them to do on the page. Then they’ll go back and they’ll read some copy to see if they actually want to do it.

And that’s the third question, is: Why should I do it?

Joseph Bushnell: Assuming that we’ve got a particular element on our page, a particular call to action, something specific that we want them to see, how do you actually get someone to look where you want them to look on the page?

D Bnonn Tennant: Well, there are a couple of different ways… there’s a sort of minimal approach that you can take and then there are a couple of advanced techniques that you can use.

In the minimalist sense, getting people to look where you want them to look is actually just a case of putting stuff where you know they’re going to look. So when someone arrives on a page, as I’ve mentioned, they look to the top-left corner of the page because they want to find out where they’ve gotten to.

If you know they’re going to be doing that and that they’re looking for information about where they are, it only makes sense to put your company name, if you have a good tagline put your tagline there as well and your logo and so on, in the top left, or thereabouts, you can move it to the center sometimes, people can accommodate that. Obviously putting it at the bottom of the page or the right-hand side is probably not a very good idea.

By the same token, when people arrive on a page, they’re looking for information, they’re scanning for information, they’re not actually looking to read anything yet. They’re searching for short chunks of text that stand out from the page, so giving them short chunks of text that stand out from the page in a logical order, where the biggest chunk of text is at the top and then you’ve got smaller chunks underneath, which obviously would be your headline and your sub-heads, they’re naturally going to gravitate toward those, because those are the larger and easier-to-digest pieces of information on the page that will help them to decide whether they want to invest the time in reading everything else.

Very often people don’t invest the time, because it’s hard, they’ve got Facebook and they’ve got YouTube and they want to play their games and watch their videos, and chat to their friends, they have a lot of distractions.

Even if it’s a business client, you have a lot of other websites competing for their attention. Usually, if you’re in any kind of B2B, you’ve got a lot of competitors and you have to assume that if you’re not doing this as well as your competitor’s websites are, then you could be in trouble because people aren’t going to be looking to the right parts of your page in the same way that they’re looking to the right parts of your competitor’s pages.

In a more specific sense, if you want to get a little more technical, there are a couple of tricks that you can use to guide people’s eyes, especially to guide them in ways which they otherwise wouldn’t follow.

So if you want them to look at a particular part on the page first, for example, rather than going straight to your headline, an obvious way of doing this is by using contrast. For example, if you have a very bright red box on the right-hand side of your page where people don’t normally tend to look, it will get a fair amount of attention compared to if you just use a plain white background for that part of a page.

Other methods of getting people to look where you want them to are using scan-able items, which really just expands on your headlines because people are looking to scan your copy and the unfortunate truth is, that although you might spend a great deal of time on your copy, only about 20% of it is ever going to get read by any given prospect.

So using bold to highlight particular phrases that are very important, using lists is very helpful, provided you keep them sort, because people like to quickly scan those sorts of things, and it also really helps to break up the page.

One of the big problems that people have is that a lot of their action is governed by this filter in their brain, this kind of lizard brain, as many people call it, which decides for them what they’re going to do before they even really think about it.

They look at a page, if it’s got a long paragraphs of unbroken text, their lizard brain decides that’s too hard and the first thing they do is they scroll. They don’t even think about it, they don’t think, well, I’ll try reading the first sentence, they just scroll. Whereas if you break that text into several nice easy paragraphs, you put a list in the middle so it sort of breaks it up even more, gives it a lot of visual contrast, the lizard brain thinks, oh, this is interesting, and it jumps into the bits that stand out.

But there is actually a third way of getting people to look where you want them to which you have to use very carefully, but it can be very powerful, and that is by using an image, a reasonably high-quality image, of someone who is relevant to the page, so you can’t just use, a lot of people use stock photos with models who are obviously way too pretty or way too happy to actually have anything to do with the business that you’re running. You need to use someone who’s obviously relevant, it could be someone on your staff, it could be a picture of a customer, Basecamp, for example, do this really well.

The important thing is that where their eyes go, your eyes go. If they’re looking at the headline, you will look at the headline. If they’re looking at a particular important piece of copy in a box, for example, you will look at that piece of copy in a box, it’s just the way that our minds work, it’s that lizard brain directing us before we even know what’s happening.

The difficulty is that because images have a heavy weight on pages, they have a lot of drawbacks as well as a lot of good things going on, so you can use them to direct people’s eye path, for example, but they also take a while to load so on mobile devices they can be a liability. For every 0.1 of a second that your page takes to load you can lose 1% of your conversions.

They also tend to be something people don’t look at first, surprisingly. Web designs assume that everybody wants to see pretty graphics when they go to a web page. This isn’t the case at all, in fact what we find is that when we look at the research, when we do eye tracking studies and so on, what people look for when they come to a webpage is text and they actually ignore the images until they figure that they’re worth looking at because the text had told them so.

So there’s a tradeoff to be had with images, but if you can find a good image that is reasonably high quality, is relevant, conveys value in some way and has a person looking at an important piece of copy, that can be a very powerful way of directing their eye path without them even realizing.

Joseph Bushnell: Let’s dive a bit deeper on the subject of images. What kinds of images are going to help us to increase conversions?

D Bnonn Tennant: Well, I always say that there’s only one kind of image that you want on your site, and that’s an image which conveys value in a way that copy can’t.

You can interpret that a little bit loosely, for example, if you had an image which is relevant to the copy, an image of a person, which isn’t directly conveying value but is moving people to look at a piece of copy that they otherwise might not, that’s emphasizing value in a way that the copy itself couldn’t because people are looking at that piece of copy, whereas before they wouldn’t have, the copy itself couldn’t achieve that.

But as a general rule, what I mean is, any kind of image that you put on your page, any kind of graphic or picture or whatever the case may be, it needs to demonstrate something in a way that the copy cannot.

So a great example is a before and after shot, those are used in weight loss, I can’t even think of a weight loss campaign I’ve seen that hasn’t used one and there’s a good reason for that, they work extremely well, they’re very, very powerful ways of showing a very credible proof. You can just say, “Hey, before I was 600 pounds and now I’m 200 pounds,” but it’s much more believable if you show them an actual picture.

A similar kind of situation is with graphs, charts, any kind of situation where you’re trying to deal with numbers or you’re trying to show people statistics or results, very difficult to make that interesting or quick to absorb if you just write it down. Whereas if you show someone a line moving upwards and another line moving downwards and say, “Hey, that one going up is ours and that one going down is the average of our competitors,” that’s very quick to understand and to take in and a very powerful way of conveying value.

What doesn’t convey value though, is as I mentioned, stock photographs. Stock photographs tend to reduce conversions and trust because people know that those people don’t work for you. They subconsciously think, “Hey, I’m being a little bit hoodwinked here, there’s something going on,” and IBM did a study where they replaced the stock photos on their pages with photos of people who actually work for IBM and found that their conversion rates went up. Even though those people weren’t as attractive, the images were relevant, because they were people who actually worked for IBM, so it made sense to have them on the page and they weren’t deceitful in any way because again, the people work for IBM and they weren’t just photos of models who’ve been taken off of some site where you pay a royalty to use their picture.

Other forms of graphics can be up in the air. Obviously showing shots of your product, if you’ve got a physical product, very important to have high-quality pictures of that if you’re selling online, but a lot of web designers use abstract kinds of graphics and fancy backgrounds and so on on pages which don’t necessarily make any difference. They can make the page better to look at.

If you are making the page better to look at, making it more beautiful and they’re doing it in a way that it’s not just designers who think it’s more beautiful, but you’ve actually talked to people who don’t do web design, people who represent your average customer, and they think that “yeah, this is a really attractive site”. That’s actually quite important as well, because it conveys a kind of false value. I hesitate to use the word false because value is something which is purely conceived in the mind, so any kind of value is really value, but it’s not related to your product, it’s just related to how people feel about your site.

The halo effect is incredibly powerful in this regard, it’s the same as, people judge websites in exactly the same way they judge faces. When we meet someone who is attractive, who has a face that we like to look at, we assume that person is intelligent and trustworthy. When we meet someone who is unattractive, we assume that that person is a bit of a dullard and possibly don’t leave your purse lying around near that person because chances are it will disappear. It’s irrational, but it’s the way that our lizard brain works. Once again, the lizard brain is in control.

The same is true on websites. If you have a website which is very attractive and looks good, people actually think that it’s easier to use, even when it’s not. They also think that it’s more trustworthy, they think that it’s more credible, they think that the product is going to be better and so your conversion rates tend to go up. If you can use graphics to increase the attractiveness of your website without sacrificing too much load time, that can often be a good way of going as well.

Joseph Bushnell: What about videos? In general, do you use much video on websites?

D Bnonn Tennant: That’s a good question because I personally don’t, but I’m in no way opposed to using video because the truth is that especially on things like, in webinar registration pages, video sales letters, that kind of thing, video can be very powerful. It can definitely increase conversions.

I’m working with a chap in real estate at the moment who is having a tough time increasing his conversion rate on his page and he’s discovered that putting a video on his page reduced the conversion rate, but putting the video on his page and have it auto-play increased the conversion rate and it’s simply because when people see a video, they don’t tend to click it to play it. If it’s playing already, however, they tend to get sucked in and as long as the opening is good, it’s easier than reading copy, they just sit there and listen and watch the nice graphics go.

So video can be very powerful and I don’t really do video because it’s not my area of expertise, I’m a little bit obsessive about doing everything myself, so because I can’t do video, I just don’t use it. That’s not necessarily the best approach to take, you shouldn’t necessarily do as I do, you might want to do as I say, video is definitely a good approach to use.

The one thing that I would say, apart from obviously you need to test, you can never know until you test, sometimes video will reduce your conversion rate, but the one thing I would say is at the moment I’m seeing this fad going on which I think may have started with lead pages where people are using these opt-in pages which have a video play as the background.

I’m pretty skeptical about that because of the fact that movement is so distracting to us because it’s another part of our lizard brain, when we see something move, we need to be able to know, is that a cheetah that’s going to eat us or is it just a buffalo. When we see movement on the internet, that same part of our brain kicks in and so we’re constantly distracted by it from looking at the copy that we’re supposed to be reading.

I’m waiting until the results are in with regard to the video background opt-in pages to see if those actually increase conversions. My suspicion is most of the time they probably won’t and as time goes on, it will get worse because of the fact that it’s no longer new and interesting.

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah, I’ve seen that as well, it’s something they released a little while back and I saw it and thought, yeah, that would be cool to try out, but it’s interesting to hear your take on it. So I think, I’ll give it a test and we’ll see what happens with the results.

OK. So moving on to another topic, you mentioned in an article, that clarity trumps persuasion. I’m wondering first of all, why does clarity trump persuasion, and two, any tips for writing clear copy?

D Bnonn Tennant: Definitely. Well, the reason that clarity trumps persuasion is simply that writing clearly is much easier than writing persuasively. I could put that another way and say that writing clearly just is persuasive, whereas trying to write persuasively often ends up not being clear.

The number one complaint that people have on the internet, if you look at studies which are done by people like Jakob Nielsen and Brent Coker, who are usability experts. The number one problem people have is not with navigation or site structure or anything like that, the problem is they can’t find the information that they want on the websites that they go to, that is the number one complaint… I can’t find enough information.

That usually starts with the headline. I mean, how many headlines have you seen that try to be clever or witty and end up just being incomprehensible, you don’t know what they’re saying so you don’t know why you should read the rest of the site.

Starting with your headline, all you need to do is tell your prospect what the page is about and why he should read it. Essentially you need to imply a promise of some kind of value.

So if you’re selling, I don’t know, tractors, figure out what it is that your prospects are coming to the page for, because it might not just be to buy tractors, you have to understand how they’re getting there. Maybe they’ve been searching for some kind of particular feature of the tractors, you talk about that feature in your headline. If they’re just looking to buy a new tractor because their old one is crapped out, you talk about that in your headline.

I mean, it’s not rocket science, it’s incredibly simple, but people think that because it’s copywriting, it must be hard. They try to incorporate all these advanced persuasion techniques and they try to read people—like you know, all the great copywriters, Clayton Makepeace and John Caples, they get tied in knots trying to be persuasive when all they have to do is be clear, because all their prospects are looking for is clear information that will help them make a decision about buying something.

You asked for specific techniques that you can use, one of the main things I would say, is that especially on corporate websites, I think it’s probably less of a problem for some start-ups, although start-ups have their own issues with not having any copy after the headline, but definitely with more corporate websites, and I think this rubs off on freelancers who feel like they need to sound the same way, the huge problem they have is using terms which basically mean nothing because they’re sort of abstract.

So you see terms like “the leading provider,” “innovation,” “implementation,” all these kinds of words that have obvious Latin origins, they come from the Latin language. They are all very vague, they sound impressive because they’re long and they’re kind of technical sounding, because they’re from Latin, which is a language of science, but they don’t really mean anything.

The problem with them is that you just can’t create a picture of them in your head, whereas if you use words which we use in everyday conversation like the words that I’m using right now, most of them, they may derive from Latin in some instances, but often they derive from Anglo-Saxon, so they’re short, they’re basically the words of barbarians, they were designed to convey things like kill and eat and those sorts of things.

They work much better for forming images in our mind and if you can form an image in your prospect’s mind, if you can give him concrete words, simple concrete words that he can actually imagine, that goes a hugely long way toward increasing clarity because what is clarity if not the ability to see something in your mind?

Joseph Bushnell: Absolutely. I totally agree with you, Bnonn, I mean, I hate those corporate style websites. I can’t stand reading “project management solutions” and so on. What does that even mean?

I guess, it’s everyday language we should use, isn’t it?

D Bnonn Tennant: Yeah, use the language that your prospect would use, don’t try to sound smarter than your prospect, because he won’t like it.

Joseph Bushnell: All right, onto a different topic, are there any best or favorite fonts that you like to use on a website and do fonts even make a difference?

D Bnonn Tennant: It’s funny, the first question I get asked usually is, “Should I use a sans serif or a serif font?” The answer is actually, it doesn’t matter. Plenty of studies have shown that sans serif is better, other studies have shown that serif is better. They’ve done one really decent study, those studies were almost flawed, the one decent study on the issue by a chap whose name I forget now, unfortunately, is that there really is no difference.

The key is not actually whether the font has little feet and bits sticking off it or whether it’s a nice clean looking font like Arial, the difference is, is the font big enough? That’s the number one complaint that people have, is that the font is too small.

Most web designers, even today, are still setting fonts at about 12, 13, 14 pixels, which is too small. It needs to be at least 16 pixels. If you Google 16 pixels for body copy, you’ll find an article which I wrote some time ago for Smashing Magazine, which was highly controversial and generated your standard kind of very polarized response, but that article outlines exactly why you need to be setting your fonts nice and big.

The second issue… is the font designed to be displayed on the screen or not? Because there are plenty of fonts which were designed before the computer era, which are very beautiful fonts, you print them out they look great, but because of the fact that they have very frail letter forms or very tall, what’s called an x-height, so the stems of the letters are very long compared to the bowls. They tend to be very difficult to read on the screen, the shapes just don’t convert well when you’ve got a set number of pixels that you need to use to render them.

So you need to find fonts which have been designed for the screen and there are many, many fonts that have been designed for the screen that look really good. I mean, if you’re in doubt, you can always use Arial or Georgia, those are the classic pre-web-font era fonts that you can still use. But you can also use, Google has an enormous range of quite good fonts on their website now, if you go to, I think it’s Google.com/fonts.

You can also use systems like Typekit or Font Squirrel, there are plenty to choose from, but it’s a good idea to test them on different screens and make sure they look good on mobile, make sure they look good on a big screen, make sure they look good on a small screen. Ideally, test them with your prospects, with your target market, make sure that they can read them okay.

Joseph Bushnell: OK.

D Bnonn Tennant: I guess that doesn’t really answer your question because you asked me for my own favorite. But I’d prefer to give you some good principles. In terms of my own favorites though, I’m very fond of a font called Open Sans. I’m also very fond of a font called Merriweather, which was created by a guy called Evan Sorkin, which is the main font that I’m using at the moment. So you can take those two.

Joseph Bushnell: Cool, OK. That would be for the main body copy of a website?
Sometimes I use Dafont.com, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on there— but basically it’s got all kinds of crazy stuff, but I guess there’s definitely some that you would not use, the more sort of “out-there” crazy ones, you wouldn’t want to use it for more than just a logo, do you know what I mean? Like you said earlier about clarity, I guess you want clear font, would that be true? At least when it comes to our websites main font.

D Bnonn Tennant: Yeah, yeah. There are a lot of fonts which are designed to be cursive or decorative or display fonts, which you definitely wouldn’t use for body copy because they just wouldn’t be readable, but they make great fonts for logos.

Some of them make great fonts for headlines as well. You can find some good fonts on Dafont or on Google web fonts or on Font Squirrel or Typekit, which you definitely wouldn’t use to set large amounts of text that you’re going to have to read. But they work really well, they stand out really well for a one or two line headline, for example, where the size is quite large comparatively.

Joseph Bushnell: My next question is, does the number of columns that we use on a web page matter?

D Bnonn Tennant: It does to some extent. It matters, especially for body copy, because if you have—this is something I see quite a lot on home pages in particular. People have a tendency to create pages where they have several different things they want to say, and they decide that the best way to do it is to put them side by side.

So they have three things to say, so they create three columns to say each and they kind of make them about the same length so it looks good. As a general rule, that’s a bit like walking into a business and having three receptionists greet you at the same time. It’s rather difficult to make out what each one is saying and to know which one to listen to.

However, while you normally want a single column for body copy, once you’ve got your prospect’s attention and he knows that he’s going to read it, he knows what you’re talking about, the headline’s got his attention, he knows he wants to read on, you want to have a single column of body copy with a single left-hand margin because that’s where his eye keeps going back to, so it makes it much easier to read if the margin doesn’t move around.

On a home page or a directory page, a home page sometimes can be a directory page, where you’re basically telling people where to go before they read body copy. Your company might do three different things, so you’ve got three different prospects come into your home page. That complicates things and you do sometimes find that using three columns of text is the best approach there. The important thing is not to have a single headline with three columns of copy underneath, but to have three columns, each with their own very clear headline.

Often using images in situations like this can be very powerful because you can use an icon which is immediately understandable to help to visually differentiate each piece. You know, if you sell tractors and trailers and boats, having a picture of a tractor, a trailer and a boat above each of the three columns makes far more sense than just saying, “Tractors, trailers, and boats,” it helps to lead people visually to where they want to go.

Joseph Bushnell: Cool, OK. How about sidebars? For example on a blog, often you’ve got either on the right or the left-hand side next to the main body copy, you’ve got a sidebar with opt-in boxes or adverts or whatever. Is that acceptable or is that detracting from things?

D Bnonn Tennant: Adverts will always tend to detract because adverts are designed to get attention. I think there’s always a trade-off with ads. If you need to have them, you need to have them, but ideally you wouldn’t.

Opt-in boxes are a bit of a different issue. I wouldn’t call them a column exactly, it is true that if you’ve got a single column of copy on your blog and you’ve got a sidebar, that’s a two-column layout, but what you don’t have it two columns of body copy. What you normally would have, especially in terms of the design, is a column of body copy and an obviously separate box which you can use to perform some other action which is related to the copy. That’s actually quite a good way of doing things because if for no other reason than people have come to expect it, it’s become a standard.

If you go to a page and it’s got a column of text and then on the right-hand side you see a box, you think, “Oh, that box is probably some kind of action that I can take so if I like what it says in the text, I can sign up to get some more of that.” That’s a good way of doing things, but you don’t want the sidebar to compete too heavily with the body copy, so you need to make sure that it’s visually distinct enough that people don’t get confused about which one to read first.

Joseph Bushnell: How about colors? Do colors matter and if they do, what kinds of colors do you find work best?

D Bnonn Tennant: Colors are very important, but the problem with colors is there isn’t any particular color which is very important, it’s more how you use your colors. There are a couple of basic rules for colors.

First of all, don’t ever set your text on a black or a dark background. If you’re using white text on a dark background, it’s very hard to read compared to using dark text on a white background. You want your website to look more or less like a book in terms of its colors for body copy.

The second important thing is that you want your color use to be limited and consistent. You don’t want to use a huge range of colors because it’s confusing, people expect colors to mean certain things and if you use lots and lots of colors, they assume that it means lots and lots of things and they don’t know what and it confuses them and makes them anxious. When people are anxious, they tend not to buy things.

You want to, as a general rule, select two main colors and then a highlight color and then possibly another color to go with it. So if you were using, for example, two shades of blue, you could then have a highlight in orange and a highlight in white, that would be a pretty good color palate.

You want to make sure that you’re using those colors consistently so if you’re using the dark blue for all of your headlines and you make sure you use it for all of your headlines so everyone knows a dark blue is a headline. If you’re using the orange for links, you want to make sure that orange text is always a link; all that orange text which isn’t a link is obviously not a link because it’s much bigger, it hasn’t got an underline, it’s in a different font or whatever the case may be, it’s on a different side of the page, that kind of situation.

In terms of picking your colors though, that’s really up to your brand, what sort of colors work well for you. You can have a look online, there are infographics which list what people’s favorite colors tend to be and what people tend to associate colors with.

For example, using red for a call to action, you might think that’s a great idea because red is associated with passion and desire. Unfortunately red is also associated with danger and when it comes to actions, when it comes to taking an action, red is more associated with danger than with passion. For example, red lights, stop streets and so on. You have to take an action and the red means stop, so using red on a call to action means stop, which is why red doesn’t tend to work well on calls to action.

The thing is, there are exceptions to every rule so it’s not that red will never work well, it’s just that orange is usually better because it’s the second-brightest color, it gets attention really well but it doesn’t have that same connotation.

However, using orange on your whole website is not necessarily a great idea because most people don’t like the color orange all that much. That said, you might find that orange separates your website really well from competitors or it reflects your brand really well, in which case it’s worth the trade-off.

As I say, there are no best colors, but there are ways that you will find that the colors will work best on your site. The only way to really know is test it.

Joseph Bushnell: Sure. I guess people are getting better at this over the years. I remember back in early 2000’s, late ‘90’s— those “Geocity” days, I mean, they were all sorts of colors, like you said, black websites, white writing and all sorts of long chunky paragraphs, just really ugly—

D Bnonn Tennant: Some kind of strange horizontal rainbow lines, flashing stars.

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah, if I see a website like that, I just think, wow, they’ve probably not updated this since 1995 and I’m out of there, regardless of, they could’ve said—

D Bnonn Tennant: Yeah, very much so.

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah, it could’ve had the best headline ever, I’m not reading it, I’m out of there.  But they’re gone, you don’t really see those very often now.

D Bnonn Tennant: No, you don’t. Every now and then—there is an archive of really bad websites on the web somewhere, which is always fun to look at, but as a general rule, I think that anyone who is doing business on the internet has kind of moved on. You’ll still find a lot of pretty bad websites which follow some of the kinds of layouts and so on, but they’re usually not overtly terrible in terms of their colors.

Joseph Bushnell: What elements can we include on our website to increase trust?

D Bnonn Tennant: One of the big ones is a photograph, and that’s something which you’ll see in classic direct response mailers, they often include a picture of the guy who’s writing it at the beginning of the letter. This is me and that’s just because again, our lizard brain connects with faces and when we see someone’s face, we feel like we know them better and so that solidifies a sense of relationship. Even though we have no actual relationship with that person, we feel like we do because we know what they look like.

Similar thing happens in movies. I was originally going to marry Natalie Portman, for example—don’t know her, have no idea what she’s like, but there it is!

Another element that you can use, especially works well after calls to action when people are kind of lingering on their call to action and they’re not quite sure, they’re sitting on the fence, a great way to push them over the fence and to get them to click is to use logos from companies which you have worked for, been featured on—assuming that they’re famous companies. Those kinds of things often work really well at that point because people are thinking, oh, should I or shouldn’t I? I don’t really know this guy. Then they see, hey, he’s worked for Coca Cola and Nike, well, he must be pretty awesome, and they click the link.

In a similar vein, you can also use testimonials; those are quite powerful in some cases. I’m not quite as sold on testimonials as some other copywriters are. It does depend on your industry and there is a perception, especially in some industries, the internet marketing industry is probably one of them, that testimonials are just made up.

So I actually, on my website, at AttentionThievery.com, I do have testimonials there at the bottom of the page, but I picked ones which strongly reflect the key unique selling proposition which I’ve identified by talking to my customers, which is basically that I’m no bullshit.

I don’t use any of that kind of language in my copy, but in the testimonials, I actually picked ones that all use colorful language, specifically so people can see these probably are real because he wouldn’t have just made this up.

So as long as your testimonials are realistic, definitely don’t use testimonials that have a picture of some stock photo attached to them, which people know isn’t actually the person that was sending you the testimonial. If you’re going to use pictures, use their actual photo. Those are three trust elements that work pretty well.

Joseph Bushnell: OK, cool. One thing, I don’t know if this is the right answer or not, Bnonn, but I always include in a testimonial a picture of the person, obviously like you said, not stock, it’s a real picture of that person, and also their website. So if someone, I don’t think anyone’s ever probably gone and done this, but if they really wanted to, they could actually go and find out about that person and actually see that they’re a genuine person that I worked with. Would you say that’s a good idea generally to do that?

D Bnonn Tennant: It can be a good idea. I used to do that on my main website, in fact I may still do that on my main website because I haven’t updated it for a good long time. My concern with putting people’s websites on the testimonial is that it gives them a link to click which takes them away from your page. That can lead to lost conversions.

In my case, I don’t actually have anything like that and that’s because the testimonials that I gathered are from an anonymous Google form. I sent out a survey using Google docs and I have no idea who entered the responses, so I can’t actually put anything like that. So I just say straight up in the copy, “I have no idea who said these because it was an anonymous survey, but you can check it out and see if it’s true yourself by signing up.”

If you are going to include information, I think it’s a good idea, because it tells you that this person has specific details about the person who gave the testimonial, which are harder to make up. I mean, in a way it’s not really true. You can make up a name and an address just as easily as anyone, but because the name and the address is there, people tend to assume that it’s not made up, it’s a specific detail that adds credibility. So putting that kind of thing in definitely does help.

I would probably type the URL just as plain text and not have it as a link, so people can see the site is there, but they can’t click on it to go away from your page and not sign up to whatever it is that you want them to sign up to.

Joseph Bushnell: OK. My final question was… a lot of this stuff, I’m sure you found out through rigorous testing, Bnonn. What do you use to split test and actually find out what colors are working better, what fonts are working better? What tools would you recommend for that?

D Bnonn Tennant: It’s funny actually because there are a number of tools and I haven’t actually tested most of them in much detail. The reason for that is that I have a very non-mathematical mind. I take a very heuristic approach to conversion optimization. I learn principles and I learn to apply those principles in copy and in design and usually what I do is, I get other people to do the testing for me, so I do the work for a business and they’ll have analytics set up and they’ll tell me, oh this design worked well and this design didn’t. So I actually have relatively little involvement in the analytics side, because it’s not my strong point.

However, I do have some familiarity with Google analytics, I use that myself. It’s not the easiest system to use, but it is free, which has a significant advantage and it has got a lot better in recent years because they’ve been essentially updating the interface and the features to compete with other offerings which have been advancing over the years.

I also have a pretty good relationship with Unbounce. I think their product is really good if you wanted to actually build a landing page that you can test and it’s all in one place, you don’t have to worry about using anything else, it’s all just there, you can do it, it’s nice and easy.

LeadPages also has quite a good reputation among some people that I trust. I haven’t used it myself and I have my reservations about it. I think that some of their marketing material is a little bit what we in IT used to call “cowboys,” people who kind of shoot from the hip and don’t test as rigorously and aren’t quite as thorough as they should be. For example, Ian Brodie uses LeadPages very successfully and he swears by it. I tend to take what Ian says pretty seriously, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Visual Website Optimizer is the other one that springs to mind, which has a very good reputation, especially as in easy to use and having a good feature set that allows you to split test easily.

Joseph Bushnell: Very cool. Awesome. Bnonn, thank you so much for being on the call today. You’ve been really generous with all the info you shared. Where can we get more of this kind of stuff?

D Bnonn Tennant: I have a free email micro-course, which covers some of this stuff and actually goes into detail on some other stuff as well, which you can grab at AttentionThievery.com and if you want more, then unfortunately, as I’m running a business, you do have to pay, but if you sign up at AttentionThievery.com, you can find out how to do that.

Joseph Bushnell: Well, it’s well worth it and to make more sales on your website, it’s something that’s going to pay for itself.

D Bnonn Tennant: Indeed.

Joseph Bushnell: Excellent, that brings to end today’s episode, thank you for tuning in. Bnonn, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.