Jeremy Smith Feb 19, 2019 11:26:56 AM 29 min read

The Two Simple Laws of Conversion Optimization:  Stop Doing What's Not Working; Start Doing What Will Work

I constantly have my head in the conversion optimization space. I optimize. I strategize. I test. I change. I configure. Basically, I bleed split testing.

Things can get pretty complicated. Why? Because conversion optimization is one arena of marketing in which complexity is the name of the game.

But I also see a beautiful simplicity in conversion optimization.

A lot of the blogs that you might read gloss over the simplicity and dive into the technicality. On the one hand, I understand that. There are quite a few complicated things in SEO. Yes, it can be scary.

SEO can be scary.

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But at the same time, I want to home in on the simplicity of conversion optimization. Why? Because once you see the simplicity of conversion optimization, you’ll be more likely to create truly optimized websites. Simplicity breeds success.

Conversion optimization can be simple, and the point that I want to make in this article is likewise simple.

There are two undeniable laws of conversion optimization:

  1. First, stop doing what’s not working.
  2. Second, start doing what does work.

I’m going to deal with the first of those in detail — stop doing what’s not working.

stop doing what’s not working, jeremysaid

The two laws of conversion optimization explained.

Here is why I think that conversion optimization is simple.

In order to understand something, you have to look at its goal. What is the goal of conversion optimization? The goal is right there in the name. Conversions. More conversions. A higher conversion rate.

Goal of CRO

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If you get more conversions, you’ve achieved your goal.

Which leads naturally to the most important question in all of life (apart from “Why am I here?”) — How do we achieve that goal?

At this point, most CROs leap off into the abyss of complexity.

CRO's leap off into the abyss of complexity

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Ask just about any CRO “how do you achieve your goals?” and she will start talking about funnel optimization, landing page design, split testing, number of variations on element A compared with the number of variations on element B contrasted with the total number of variations, the on-target minimum variation which quantifies externalities in order to quantify the response surface methodology of the explanatory response variables to account for polynomial regressions on orthogonal differentials.

Stop it

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It doesn’t need to be this complicated. At some point, yes, you can get into the weeds and eat your heart out with orthogonal differentials, but optimization doesn’t need to be this awfully complicated.

Which is why I propose the two-law model:

  1. Stop Doing What's Not Working
  2. Start Doing What Will Work

It’s about stopping and starting.

The whole “optimization” term tends to throw people off. By “optimization,” they assume that they need to tweak existing features — expand a button here, change a headline there. Such alterations may produce marginal increases in conversion rates, but that’s not the whole story of CRO.

The whole story of conversion optimization is a lot bigger, a lot broader and a lot more effective. It’s the story of wiping off crap, and completely dumping it on the floor.

Yes, it could get violent.

it can get violent

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Elimination is part of conversion optimization. Why? Because so many websites have this all over the place:

Random crap

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Let’s get into the details, so you can not only understand this concept, but also see it in action.

Stop Doing What's Not Working:

Identify the components of your website that prevent visitors from becoming buyers. Now, remove those things.

Let’s start with the clear-the-table analogy first. A website doesn’t just need to be tweaked. It needs to be totaled. Sometimes, you’re going to have to mess things up before you can clean them up.

There are three basic things that I suggest you eliminate:

  1. Complication
  2. Multiple goals
  3. Too many choices.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

1. Stop making things so complicated.

In many cases, the absence of something helps to optimize a site. It’s all about simplicity.

simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication

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Many CROs are eager to add stuff to a website in order to bring in more conversions. According to such thinking, if they simply throw in a few more headlines, a larger picture, a shinier button or another testimonial, the website will flourish as a conversion-making machine.

It doesn’t always work that way.

In fact, as ConversionXL so capably described, complicated websites perform worse than simple websites. “The simpler the design, the better.” According to the axioms of cognitive fluency and visual information processing theory, simpler websites score higher conversions.

Take this website, for example, Design by Humans, a graphic tee designer and manufacturer.

designbyhumans cover page

The website is simple, yet visually appealing. There are a handful of places that you can click, meaning that you will probably start to go down the conversion funnel.

Compare this with another graphic tee company. Their t-shirt designs have some of the same in-your-face panache, but the website as a whole lacks sophisticated simplicity.

In other words, someone is less likely to actually convert on the site below. Why? Because there is too much random crap competing for the user’s attention.

too much for good conversions

Where would you click on the site above? You’d probably pick one of the designs that most appealed to you. But then again, may you’d find out about the “random mystery shirt” because it costs less than three bucks. Or, then again, maybe you want to find out about paying with bitcoin, or you have an interest in bumper stickers all of a sudden, or maybe you want to click on one of the two banner ads at the bottom.

Wait. Banner ads?! Whaaaaaat?! Why are there banner ads?

This website is a train wreck.

Why is it a train wreck? Because it’s not simple.

What is simplification all about?

It’s not just taking stuff away. At its core, simplification is about producing a well-defined funnel for the customer. When the funnel is clean, smooth, simplified and obvious, you discover that it’s so easy to go down into it.

With a simple and well-defined funnel, customers move, conversions flow and you become happy.

Look at this funnel. There’s absolutely nothing obstructing the user from flowing directly through that little hole at the bottom. Ka-ching!

conversion funnel

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Complicated website models have built up so much crud, cruft and crap around the design and UX that it’s hard for the user to get into the funnel, let alone go down it. So many competing interests create so much friction and complication.

keep it simple

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That’s where you, as the conversion optimizer, need to step in and start taking stuff away. Wipe the table. Shove it aside. Tick people off.

But it’s for a good cause.

Create simplicity, and you’ll start enjoying more conversions.

2. Stop trying to accomplish more than one goal.

Every website should have only one goal.

Really? One goal?

Yes. The more goals you have, the less likely you are to meet any one of them.

Why is this the case? Look at it from a raw numbers perspective. Let’s say you have a website. And let’s say you have 100 visitors. Let’s look at the one-goal scenario, and the multiple-goal scenario:

  • Single goal: If 10% of the visitors convert, then 10 of them will accomplish your goal.
  • Multiple goals: If 10% of the visitors convert, then two might accomplish one goal, four another goal, three another goal, and one another goal.

Which would you rather have?

Optimizing a website for conversions means that you need to define your goals. If something doesn’t deserve to be a goal, then it needs to be removed.

if something doesn't deserve to be a goal, then it needs to be removed. jeremysaid

Just stop doing what’s not working.

I love the quote below by Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism. It has a huge impact on the way someone lives their life, but also the way that you do conversion optimization:

Effective people are effective because they say no

“Effective people are effective because they say no. They say, 'This isn’t effective for me.’”

Let’s modify that quote a bit, so it fits with our principle of stop doing what’s not working in conversion optimization and websites:

Effective websites are effective because they say no. Such websites say “this is not effective for achieving my goals.”

If you hope to have a clear goal for your website, it means that you must remove lesser goals.

Let me show you a website that has a single, clear, well-defined goal.

flatvsrealism, wants you to do one thing

The website,, wants you to do one thing: Scroll down.

Here’s another one. Absolute simplicity. Complete focus on a single goal.

great for design-intensive sites with no ecommerce goals

Okay, but you’re thinking that this is great for design-intensive sites with no e-commerce goals. But what about the vast majority of CROs who are slaving to boost conversions on e-commerce sites?

Again, narrow down your goals. Figure out one goal and stick with it.

Here’s Urban Outfitters to the rescue. They sell a metric ton of stuff. Underwear. T-shirts. Music. Speakers. Turntables. Sheesh. How can they define a single goal?!

Here’s how.

  • First, they figure out what most people on the site want.
  • Second, they figure out what most people are likely to buy.
  • Third, they figure out the shortest path between that desire/intention and the purchase.
  • Fourth, they structure the site in such a way that the user can easily identify that path.

Behold, the result:

urban outfitters

Here’s the theory. Most people who visit Urban Outfitters know whether they want to buy clothes for a man or clothes for a woman.

Thus, they have two choices. Shop Women’s or Shop Men’s. Remember, there’s one goal. But two options.

Urban Outfitters effectively drives its audience to convert quickly and flawlessly because they have defined a goal, and direct users toward that goal with very little cognitive effort.

This seems common sense, but we need to be reminded of it to be really effective. If you have multiple goals, then you are diffusing your effort.

If you have a single goal, you are streamlining your effort. You increase your effectiveness by narrowing your goals.

You increase your effectiveness by narrowing your goals

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3. Stop giving users so many choices.

The more choices you have on a website or landing page, the less effective that landing page will be.

This truth has been proven countless times in scholarly research and peer-reviewed, double-blind placebo tests.

The most famous of such experiments is called the “jam test.” You can read the whole thing in detail from Washington  University. It’s well worth your time.

Researchers presented some grocery shoppers with a display of six different flavors, and other shoppers with a display containing 24 different jam flavors. People were allowed to taste the flavors. Both displays had approximately the same number of people sampling the jam. The eye-popping difference, however, came with how many people actually bought jam.

Thirty percent of the people who visited the six-choice table bought jam.

Three percent of the people who visited the 24-choice table bought jam.

Fewer choices are better. Barry Schwartz, the most outspoken choice theorist, shares this principle in his famous TED talk:

Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, makes this marvelous statement:

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

Think about your users. Choosing is hard for them. Choosing well is harder for them. And if you give them unlimited possibilities, you’re going to turn them away.

The fewer choices you have, the better possibility you possess that someone will make the right choice.

The fewer choices you have, the better possibility you possess that someone will make the right choice

One site that really gets the choice paradox is eHarmony. Everything from their questionnaire to their choice provision makes it simple to keep moving through the funnel and accomplishing objectives.

Take this for example, a screenshot from the signup process. Sure, there could be variations on the theme, but this choice is easy to make.

the choice-simplicity that is present everywhere on eHarmony

I use this as an example because it characterizes the choice-simplicity that is present everywhere on eHarmony.

What happens when you load a site with options? You paralyze your users.

TJMaxx sells a lot of items, but they have reduced choices to make it easy on their users. Take a look.

Not a lot of complexity. Just seven choices. Easy decision to make.

the stop doing principle in action

Again, we see the stop doing principle in action. Stop putting so many choices on your site. Boil it down to a few, and make those few choices feed one goal.


Figure out what’s effective for your site.

Let me be completely transparent with you. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what’s not working. You have to spend a long time with a site, truly understand the industry, and really get to know the users.

But one you’ve invested yourself with more knowledge of the niche and industry, you’ll begin to see those things that are derailing visitors. You can stop doing what’s not working.

Getting rid of stuff is fun. As nonessentials get eliminated, you begin to feel a freedom — the freedom to tweak details, adjust buttons, rearrange copy blocks, and do whatever else you want. You can start doing what will work.

It’s hard to optimize complexity. It’s far more effective to optimize simplicity.

And that’s the simple truth of conversion optimization.

  • Stop making things so complicated.
  • Stop trying to accomplish more than one goal.
  • Stop giving users so many choices.



Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.