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Powerful Proven Principles To Optimize Conversions

Powerful, Proven Principles To Optimize Conversions

By: Deborah O’Malley | Last updated May, 2021

There are few proven strategies that ALWAYS work to lift conversions. Usually, you don’t know for sure unless you test.

But, years of experience and analysis of hundreds of A/B test case studies shows: there ARE powerful, proven principles you can apply to optimize conversions.

What are they? Take a look.

Here’s the first three (of seven) fool-proof strategies you can use to optimize conversions on your site:

1. Don’t Use Hero Image Sliders

Let’s start with the most obvious.

If you’re a veteran CRO strategist, it won’t be a huge surprise to you that hero image sliders are NOT effective.

Yet, still sliders (also called image carousels) remain one of the most used design elements on the web!

Just take a look at this popular fashion apparel website:

Why are sliders so pervasive?

Well, because managers, designers, and stakeholders love them.

The format makes it easy to pack a bunch of images and ideas into one spot.

But, they work.

For viewers, sliders can be confusing, difficult to use, and frustrating. Especially on mobile.

In fact, some research shows, only 1% of visitors click on sliders. Sliders can not only negatively impact conversions. They can also hurt SEO.

Still need more convincing to not use them?

Real-Life Example:

Here’s a real-life example from Clarks shoes.

Simply changing the dynamic slider to a static banner resulted in a 17.5% increase in CTR.

Additionally, removing the dynamic slider caused bounce rates to dropp 16% — keeping more people shoe shopping.

The Tangible Takeaway:

Don’t use hero image sliders! They’re an easy fallback solution for designers and can appease management or stakeholders — but they’re not good for your customers.

Instead of a slider, test the optimal hero image format that most effectively showcases your products or services. Get creative with the structure, and design. Test what works best.

Also, test the effectiveness of sliders on other areas of your site. Anecdotally, I’ve seen one study indicating sliders worked well to showcase customer reviews. But, more testing needs to be done to prove or disprove this idea.

Have you run a slider test? What were you results? Share your study and see it published on GuessTheTest.

2. Avoid Using Stock Photos

Like sliders, stock photos are an easy fallback solution.

Go to your favorite stock image site, download a pic, throw it up, and voila. You’ve just added some color and personality to your web presence.

However, the experts recommend you don’t use stock photos. Revered researcher, Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group did  a formative eye tracking study showing that stock photos of generic people tend to be ignored and can hurt conversions. In contrast, pictures of real people tend to be viewed more and can help conversions.

This finding is especially true in places where you’re trying to build personal connections with your audience — like on the About Us section of your site.

Real-Life Example:

Here’s the gaze map plots from the real-life eye tracking study by Nielsen Norman Group. The blue dots show gaze (which is when the eye moves, then stops — or fixates — to look.

The bigger the dot, the longer the gaze.

On the left image, notice how the gaze plot shows that people scanned the real-life photos?

Now, look at the picture on the right.

Notice how there’s no blue dots on the generic stock photo — just on the text?

Interesting. But, what’s going on?

Why did no one attend to the photo? And, how did they know to not focus on the image if they didn’t hardly look at it?

While doing my master’s degree, where I specialized in eye tracking research, I learned that we can see things — and  cognitively process images — quickly enough to choose whether to focus on them. Our amazing perceptive abilities enable us to generate a first impression and judge a website in mere milliseconds.

And, because we can make visual judgements so quickly, we’re able to immediately decide to tune out and ignore images that don’t come across as authentic or resonate with us — especially if they’re not immediately relatable. Hence the reason we tune out most stock photos.

The Tangible Takeaway:

It’s not always easy, but where possible, avoid using stock photos of people on your website. Test the effect of using vectorized cartoon-like images instead. I haven’t seen any studies yet showing this alternative works better. But, it’d be an interesting finding to know. Why not test it? We’ll publish your results as a case study.

And, let me say. I get it. It’s not always possible to NOT use a stock photo. So, when you absolutely have to use stock people photos, pay particular attention to the visual cues in the picture. And, ask yourself, what does the image communicate?

What it subtly portrays may greatly affect conversions.

Need proof?

Here’s a test to try right now:

What do you sense when looking at this image?

Defensiveness? Closed-mindedness?

In this image, the arm-crossing gives the non-verbal cue of being closed off — which may make people less likely to convert.

As well, according to some research, business-related images tend to make people behave more competitively. Which can be advantageous in the right context. But, can work against in your in other situations.

So, before plunking down an image because it looks good, or has the right colors in it, consider the context and purpose of the picture.

Also, recognize that we tend to unconsciously mimic non-verbal behavior. So, you need to pay careful attention to body language when selecting stock photos of people.

You may find it best to use pictures of people smiling to elicit a positive emotion, which may help prompt conversions.

If you want more image psychology insights about this picture check out the post on the GuessTheTest Facebook group. You’ll get inspiring insights from CRO experts around the world. And, you can add thoughts in the comments thread.

3. Put a Call To Action (CTA) In Your Hero Image

Duh? Right. . .

It’s right up there with not using sliders. It’s SO obvious — and yet so few people are doing it.

If you optimize clients’ websites, an easy and big ticket item to look for is whether they have a CTA within their hero image. Adding one will almost certainly increase conversions — and make you look smart!

Real-Life Example:

Here’s a real-life websiteoptimized for a client. They have a neat business model. They’re an online plant nursery delivery company. They deliver thousands of different plants to you — FREE of charge!

But, can you tell that from their hero image?


That important info is no where to be seen. Well, maybe in the tiny text below. . . if you really squint.

And, even if someone dilligently read all the text, what would they do next? Where would they go? There’s no obvious place to enter into the purchase funnel.

An enticing CTA button — with descriptive text that outlines your USP — right within the hero image takes care of this entire issue. Getting your customers to convert.

The Tangible Takeaway:

Create a clear and obvious Call To Action within your hero image. Use text and imagery to describe what sets your product or service apart from the competition. Make your CTA compelling and ensure it serves the immediate needs of your web visitors, bringing them into your funnel.

What are your thoughts on these proven principles? Does your experience mirror these suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below.

And be sure to check back next week for the remaining four fantastic strategies.

At, our aim is to help inform your digital marketing efforts with valuable and inspiring A/B tests and CRO tips, tricks, articles, and resources that help turn your ideas into profitable ones. We hope you’ve found this article useful and can immediately apply it to improve your own marketing performance.

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