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How to be a data-driven marketer: content, design and conversion lessons from Unbounce’s Oli Gardner

May 29, 2019

Written by Lucy Fuggle

Don’t show your mediocre marketing to Oli Gardner…

It’s almost a decade since Oli Gardner co-founded Unbounce, the landing page builder that helps tens of thousands of marketers build high-converting pages in a fraction of the time you think you need.

Oli was at the helm of Unbounce’s marketing from day 1, rolling up his sleeves for the CRO, SEO, social, email and PPC efforts that grew the company into a team of 175+, that has powered over 650 million conversions for marketers around the world.

There’s a reason that Oli has been on the Turing Fest stage four times, and we’re thrilled to welcome him back to the Grow track this August: quite simply, he’s a world-class expert in conversion rate optimisation, using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. 

As Oli reminds us: technology generally isn’t the root problem — bad marketing is. So, in anticipation of another of Oli’s unique keynotes, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights and key takeaways from his previous TF appearances…

Got a bit more time? Grab a cuppa, sit back, and become a better marketer with Oli Gardner:

How a data-driven marketer thinks

At the end of 2017, Oli looked at Unbounce’s 0.26% average conversion from blog view to new trial and wasn’t happy. He wondered what a lot of content marketers have thought: “Is it a waste of time? Should I be doing it?”


“I reached out to Andy Crestodina, probably my favourite content marketer, and told him the problem. He said that 90% of his traffic came to the blog and just 0.03% converted. I said, ‘That’s even worse!’ He replied, ‘no, it’s ok. It plays a different role.'”

Content gets the links, builds authority, and drives the rankings. So when someone searches for Chicago website development, they find Andy’s companyContent plays a key supporting role: you need to know that conversion rate, but when you understand the part it plays, it’s ok.

“But I still wasn’t happy with it,” said Oli. “I wanted to change that number because I thought I could.”

So Oli wrote 20 posts and 37,000 words in 30 days, thinking that creating more product-focused content would be a breeze…


Six months later, the posts had converted 158% above Unbounce’s blog average.

That was a massive success. I was really happy with that. But it was so much work. It exhausted me. I was working 15 hours day, and that doesn’t scale. It proved a point, but it wasn’t something I could continue doing.


The experiment made Oli think how to create customer-centric content that puts Unbounce in front of people for mutual benefit, so they could see the cool things you can do with it and he could get more customers. He also wanted to do it in a way that scaled.

Unbounce changed the way they approach their content marketing with experimentation and data – which is precisely what should influence marketing decisions and strategy pivots.

Stop mindlessly following trends

“Everyone’s a designer. Design is just problem solving. Your job is to solve problems,” says Oli. “Design is empathy, it’s not just copying other people. That’s not the right way to do design.”

Oli wants us to stop jumping on the trends bandwagon. He brings up the plague of explainer videos in the last few years that bombarded us with 400 blog posts about why you should use an explainer video, followed by 150 videos in the form of an explainer video explaining why you need an explainer video.


You need to research what your audience actually wants. Maybe it is an explainer video —but maybe that’s the last thing they’re looking for. See what your data says before making a decision.

Pinpoint the data you and your team need

When Oli asked a group of marketers what types of data they’d most like at the start of the project that they don’t usually have access too, most people answered:

  • customer interviews (49%)

  • industry benchmark reports (42%)

  • demographics (40%)

  • inbound search phrases/keywords (33%)

  • previous campaign performance (31%)

  • website session recordings (29%)

  • click heatmap (27%)

Most of that data isn’t hard to access, and it’s worth the time and effort to get hold of it before going full steam ahead on a marketing campaign.

Some useful resources

Know what’s important (hint: it’s almost certainly your product…)

If you’re a SaaS company, your product should be the star of the show — but in Oli’s view, most SaaS marketers are actually really bad at this. “I’ve written 300 blog posts about landing pages and maybe 4 of them show the product in some way,” he says. “This is your product, and we need people to look at it.”

You need a product awareness goal. This might be to let people know your product exists, tell people about a new feature or use case, or show them how to use your product in a way they might not have imagined.


Get back to the fundamentals – and do more in the moment

A couple of years back, Unbounce shared a common problem with most other SaaS businesses that have a blog: nobody clicks the CTA in the sidebar or the header. Oli wanted to fix that while letting blog visitors know about Unbounce’s three products. As so much traffic went to the blog, increasing conversions here could have a big impact.

Oli changed the Unbounce navigation to focus on what they actually do: who they are (Unbounce), their value proposition (the conversion platform for marketers), and their three products.


With a bit of tracking, Oli found that the topic matter of a post was strongly connected to its conversion rates. “The highest traffic post on our site is about email marketing,” says Oli. “It’s nothing to do with what we do, and nobody clicks on the CTAs. Because they have zero relevance.” 

After introducing the new navigation, Oli saw some big changes on key pages. “That’s the great thing about blog redesigns. It influences so much traffic,” says Oli.

This is the type of project that’s worth thinking about and digging into the data for. “We need to do more in the moment rather than thinking that people are going to come back,” says Oli.


Use M.O.M. for data-driven marketing

At Turing Fest 2018, Oli talked about his M.O.M – that’s his Marketing Optimisation Map. It’s a content marketing strategy for product awareness, built on an event-based behavioural model.

Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” experience. As you know more about your website visitors, you can change the experience at right that moment to make it more personalised.

There are three parts to the map: 

  1. Context. What do we know about people? But more importantly, what do we want to know about people so we can change the experience right there and then to be more relevant to them and more personalised?

  2. Content. What interactive content can we use to do that, to facilitate this exchange? How can we answer their questions?

  3. Conversion. How can we make our data more interesting, more viable, and have more product-based information in it? How can we make it more meaningful so we can use product awareness type metrics to measure the success of our content marketing?

With M.O.M, you can use questions, rewards and accelerants to create more engaging and valuable content experiences.


Develop better product awareness data

I had all of this content, it worked and it was really great, but there was not a single piece of information in that content that was labelled to explain what it is. There was nothing meaningful going through GA.

Knowing that visitors watch on average 67% of your video isn’t a meaningful metric. If you’re trying to sell a product, knowing that 54% of visitors saw the product in action is way more meaningful

Oli defines it as a PIV, or ‘Product in View’ moment. It’s when someone actually sees the product. “Ecommerce does this well. Content marketers do not,” explains Oli.


With the right tracking set up with Google Tag Manager, you can see how many people view your products and which types of product views really inspire people to convert. That adds meaning to your PIV moments.

1. Register the product view. Use Element Visibility to fire an event. It’s the most basic level of knowing someone looked at your PIV. 


2. Add product attributes to the code. After you add the code, it’s accessible in Google Tag Manager so you can take that information and do whatever you want with it, such as custom scripts. “Best product Google has ever made,” says Oli.


Design with purpose creates data with meaning 

Oli interviewed and surveyed over 700 people who work on marketing teams to see how they feel about working with one another, and found that 81% of designers have to start their design work before they receive the copy or any data. That’s a fatal flaw.

“It’s like painting by numbers. No wonder we get generic and template-y designs,” says Oli.

You need data from the start to inform your design process. Data-driven design leads to empathy, which leads to results that actually matter


Follow The Data Driven Design (3D) Process

To encourage more data-driven design, Oli created The 3D Playbook: an interactive optimisation lookup chart for marketing teams. It’s a giant interactive Google sheet that you can easily filter to understand what data you need to be collecting for a focus area.

1. Consult The 3D Playbook. It takes the overwhelming amount of data that exists and narrows it down to the formats that are most relevant to what you’re working on. You can access it here.

One example: if we want to optimise a new CTA, you can see that the Call to Action (CTA) row highlights in green the tests that might be relevant to us. One of these would be a “6ft Test” to check the contrast from a distance:


2. Collect data. Making this a collaborative process will empower your team and create working relationships that remove some of the frustrations that marketers, designs and copywriters often feel. A simple status document helps.


3. Make observations. Viewing the data (recordings, heat maps, survey results, etc.) together develops empathy and ultimately better digital experiences.

Have the whole team take notes as you look through it. Write down all of the observed mistakes, problems, reactions, frustrations, surprises, and successes. Then, rate the severity of each observation from 1 to 5.


4. Assign micro metrics. Every observed pain point needs a corresponding solution. If you can measure it, you can optimise and improve it. Assigning micro metrics ensures you can measure the impact of every design decision you make.

5. Design card mockups. “This is the MacGyver phase”, says Oli. Take your observations, hypotheses, and your new understanding of the user experiences, and sketch before/after ways to solve each problem as a team. Remember, we are all designers.


6. Test & measure micro metrics. Micro metrics focus on the holistic elements of the whole. Each observation you are trying to improve creates its own micro metric that can be measured as part of the reporting process.


There’s always an experiment you can be doing to improve your marketing with data. Changing a word in your form fields can help you collect work email addresses instead of fake emails. Testing and tweaking the tone of your web copy can help you avoid conversion killers. Start seeking out more data and you’ll be a better marketer.

More from Oli & Unbounce…

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