The Magic Buy Button is Just Smoke and Mirrors

Here’s a video that shows a split test – great, we love case studies! YAY!

But…

There’s something terribly wrong with the advice given in this video. It encourages you to copy this button design because it was a “winner” in a Google Website Optimizer test – and the premise is this button design will also be the best design for your site.

So what’s wrong with taking a proven winning design and putting it to work on your site?

Let us count the ways. For example, what is the color scheme of your site? It’s a good idea to test using a button color that contrasts your design. So if you’re Office Max, you would want to split test maybe a green, or a blue button against its current yellow-orange design. The narrator mentioned red is a “stop” or “warning” color – but if your color scheme is light blue, perhaps red works best for you. Don’t just take this design and assume it converts best for you.

Aside from your website aesthetics, what business are you in? Do you sell electronics? Eco-friendly furniture? How about flowers, candy and gift baskets? If you are a high fashion retailer, does “add to cart” outperform “add to bag?” Would mustard yellow work on a feminine, haute couture site like Couture Candy? Or what if you sell in the UK, does “add to cart” outperform “add to basket?”

You also don’t know what other designs were considered losers. The testers likely disregarded red because it is a “stop color.” What if red was tested and blew mustard yellow off the hot dog?

Consider this cart button was the top performer for a sales letter for some subscription-based marketing club (for $97 a month!). You know, those sales letters that you’re never quite sure what you’re buying, but it comes with some kind of free gift valued at $X95? In this case, the “free” gift is DVDs that promise to be a shortcut to actually testing stuff based on some guy’s testing:

Don’t Waste Time and Lost Sales On Split Testing – Simply Borrow My Results

Here’s the big idea. You don’t have to waste your time or money split testing. You don’t have to spend months and months before you go to market, or thousands of dollars in PPC advertising like we did to learn what really works. You can simply borrow my results.

I can almost guarantee you simply based on the large scientific numbers that we use to gather the results of these tests you could never gather this information even if you had 8 years and a million dollars to waste trying.

Please, please, please don’t drink this Kool-Aid. We hope that last week’s webinar on testing drove home the value of doing your own testing, and got you excited about getting your hands dirty.

If time and money is a concern, consider that you can at least use Google Website Optimizer – a free tool, and start with a simple test to get your feet wet. The worst that can happen is you learn something new about your customers. At best, you learn something about your customers and improve the profitability of your website.

Tomorrow we’ll share a success story of a Get Elastic reader who took the testing plunge and discovered the treatment (test version) realized a 4-6% increase in sales. So check in tomorrow.

For more information and over 250 testing ideas, check out our webinar with Bryan Eisenberg and Bryan’s book: Always Be Testing. And check out our webinar replay with Bryan Eisenberg: I Know I Should Be Testing, But…

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21 Responses to “The Magic Buy Button is Just Smoke and Mirrors”

  1. I’m sold =) Now where is that Kool-Aid… Is this guy for real? This is pretty hilarious – thanks for calling him out Linda.

  2. [...] Read the commentary in the Get Elastic blog post and I think you’ll agree.  My personal experience from testing hundreds of sites proves that there’s not one “magic” buy button, page layout, or product display.  All businesses are different (thus keeping me employed and working on new projects). [...]

  3. Great post Linda, you make solid points. Every test has a result, even ones where the variables are completely unrelated and arbitrary. Just because a test has a result doesn’t mean a relationship exists. The other problem I have with this video and optimization tests on things like ‘add to cart’ buttons is that they show definitive improvements but fail to disclose that add to cart buttons, in the grand scheme of things, have a very small weightage on the buying process. If all web traffic was simple clickstreams by automated bots this would have made sense, but human behavior is far too complex to be broken into a simple three (or even ten) variable equation.

  4. Carlo says:

    Thank you for bringing out some truth Linda. This post is probably going to piss off a lot of Internet marketers, but it had to be said.

    That’s Ryan Deiss, Internet Marketer. He mostly makes money by selling stuff to people about how to make money selling stuff to people. He has some gems, but like with everything in life there is no quick guarantee with anything. You can’t take entire systems, just bits and pieces of what works.

    Too many information products promise some sort of quick and/or guaranteed results. The desperate and pushy hard sell tactics many Internet Marketers use give people who sell information online a very, very bad name.

    Testing is very important, as Get Elastic and the A/B Testing book goes to prove. I’ll have to get the word out about this post.

  5. To me, the big button they tested against (the first alternative shown in the video) didn’t even look like a button. It looked like an oversized text-entry field.

    I do find that orange is often a good color for buttons, and that larger buttons are often better than smaller. But “often” does not mean always…

    You’re right Linda: it’s important to do your own tests.

  6. [...] love this article about the magic button smoke and mirrors show!  It sums up nicely just how bad the “get rich quick” attitude has become.  I know that [...]

  7. If everyone had the same button? What a wonderful world it would be…… Sounds like a song to me….

    What about Amazon and Proflowers? Their buttons look nothing alike to me, but both have excellent sales….

  8. Dr. Pete says:

    Just like those long sales letters, this fits into the Easy Answer category: people want to believe that there’s an easy, one-sized-fits-all answer to every business question, and we professionals are just hoarding it to make the big bucks. Personally, I’ve learned to just let go of those prospects, because they’ll never put the thought or effort into making an online business work. Testing is for people who take making money seriously.

  9. jay says:

    Linda and the rest… put your snark gun back in the holster. seriously. Diess teaches people in the information business to do the same thing you preach… split test. Implied in all this is that your results may very. Sheesh.

  10. Tim Leighton-Boyce says:

    Linda’s question:

    Or what if you sell in the UK, does “add to cart” outperform “add to basket?”

    Caught me eye. I once attended an e-commerce seminar in which we were assured that “cart” beats “basket”, even in the UK from someone who had tested it across various sites. But they did not go into specifics. I would like to have been sure, for example, that it was only the word which changed, and nothing else. It might have been relevant to know the type of market too.

    Has anyone from the UK reading this done such a test, I wonder? Would you be able to share?

  11. jay,

    True enough, he does advocate testing. But he also does present this particular button as some kind of holy grail. I don’t believe there is one perfect button, suitable for ANY website.

    Tim,

    Yes, I’d like to see such a test too. I have observed, in user tests, confusion when anything OTHER than “cart” or “basket” is used. For example, one site had a shopping “bag”. I observed more than one user searching for a “cart” button when a “bag” was right there!

  12. The video is pretty thin on evidence how they have conducted the test. If it is true they only tested those 3 other button variations, clearly the big orange button is the winner. Using split testing for this is just bad promotion.

    We have recently tested a website that actually uses red buying buttons – conform the styleguide. The test persons did not have any problem with (or remark on) the red buttons. Of course, a usability test is different from quantitative testing, but the test did confirm the article’s conclusion that it all depends on context.

  13. Haha! Linda, I’ve been reading your blog for long enough to recognize the error here from just the first paragraph and the video opening frame. Thanks for the ecommerce education.

    Didn’t one of your interviewees talk about how Amazon tweaked their buy button and all his clients immediately phoned up frothing at the mouth and wanting the same new super button that Amazon had? …when it turned out Amazon had only tweaked it to allow them an extra line of text somewhere else on the page.

  14. @jay

    Thanks for stopping by the blog. I may have come across as snarky, but actually this product being sold does not imply that your results may vary. It’s not promoting testing, it’s selling test results.

    I can’t read “Don’t Waste Time and Lost Sales On Split Testing – Simply Borrow My Results

    Here’s the big idea. You don’t have to waste your time or money split testing. You don’t have to spend months and months before you go to market, or thousands of dollars in PPC advertising like we did to learn what really works. You can simply borrow my results.

    I can almost guarantee you simply based on the large scientific numbers that we use to gather the results of these tests you could never gather this information even if you had 8 years and a million dollars to waste trying…”

    …without getting a little pissed. Why? Because this is misleading.

    Actually no, he is selling his results and claiming this will save you time and money on testing.

  15. Two things I found interesting…

    1) if you Google “Don’t Waste Time and Lost Sales On Split Testing” you find only links to THIS blog – not the original source material.

    2) the original source suggests one of those 5 background colors at the top of the page is a secret weapon for converting sales… but then it uses a different color for its own sales panel.

  16. That’s the problem with inexperienced and untested web design. So many factors come into play, into convincing customers to buy. So many people want to take A from Amazon, B from Ebay, C from their top competitor, D from Overstock, etc – and put them all onto their site. But each of those site doesn’t use those features together (otherwise the same company would just say “build me a site that looks like X”). You know?

  17. Match colors. Make it visible. Do research on color’s mental effects on people. Common sense will tell you that there are more factors involved in a person’s decision to buy than the color of your button. Also, if the button works for another site and not yours, there are factors of that site that affect the decision as well. It dosen’t matter how close of a match you and your competitor’s sites are. There might be a small dot in the top right corner that is affecting your page’s cleanness. Who knows.

  18. One of my customer recently hired a “landing page optimization” company, who told them to use a red or green add to cart button because those convert the best.

    Talk about over-generalizing???

  19. Naz says:

    But isn’t it ironic that this site uses an orange subscribe button? (but yes I agree with the premis of multiple split testing)

    • Interesting observation :) the orange was chosen as it was part of our corporate color palette, blue and orange. We haven’t done any button testing on the blog but would be an interesting test!

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