Website Optimization Guru Interview: Zack Linford

Last updated |

zackguruWhat better way to learn some great website optimization tips than from other experts? And I am delighted to say that I have managed to line up an interview with one of the most up and coming website optimization experts in the industry – Zack Linford of He offers some great tips and insights on their blog – and now on this interview too. So let’s get started…

Q: What made you decide to focus on doing website optimization?

We got our start in web design in the late 1990s, and found a niche in .GIF banner design – back then you got  less than 10k in file size, maybe 3 frames of animation, and 468×60 pixels to make your case and drive a click.

Seeing the differences that regimented testing made on click-through-rates made a lasting impact on me, and from those beginnings we founded an online marketing business in 2001.

Q: What website optimization mistakes do you see that frustrate you the most?

Over-design & lack of clear messaging are our pet peeves. A favorite quote of mine, attributed to Mark Twain amongst others, is “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” In other words, if you can say it with less, do so. This applies to both design and ad-copy. Web users have incredibly short attention spans and at BEST will barely scan your page copy. This requires you to get your design out of their way, focus on clear content, and let them identify key points to make a decision immediately. Rarely will the “less is more” philosophy hurt conversion rate, and distilling design & messaging has the added benefit of allowing for faster testing cycles.

Q: Can you give us a few examples of your favorite well-optimized websites, and the reasons why?

Building on the above comments on clarity in design, one of my all time favorite’s in the category of well optimized websites is the newsletter landing pages like this:


Does it look like a first grader have built this? Sure. Will your classically trained designer shudder? No question. But does it convert like a monster? You bet! Look at that page, you’re dealing with a logo, a tiny color palette, ultra clear headline messaging, a form submit button, and an teaser image with the greatest conversion word ever used – “Free”. Elegant and simple.

Beyond that example, we admire for their culture of testing (particularly in price elasticity), for their ability to provide a “premium” feel to reinforce the luxury goods they sell, and for their crisp landing page designs.

Q: There are now many tools that can help diagnose website optimization issues. What are your favorites and why?

Good question – half the battle in website optimization is understanding the points of friction that your users are experiencing. Our three favorite tools to help with this are:

1) – For less than $100 you can have three complete strangers go through your website, attempt to perform a task, and listen to their annotation and observe them through a screen capture. Watching users flounder through your meticulously designed website is a humbling process, but invaluable to understand where your friction points are. A similar service that’s newer to us is which provides all of the above, but also includes video of the facial response of users on your site.

2)– UserFly is the more macro-version of UserTesting – this system allows you to watch as live user sessions play out on your site, and dig into the data.

3)– Incredible set of tools, the “attention heatmaps” in particular have provided us with double digit conversion insights on a regular basis, well worth the price of admission.

Finally, worth a mention is a newer tool that has disruptive potential – GazeHawk.comprovides eye-tracking studies for less than $50.00. Online solutions like mimic the functionality without being as exacting, and most traditional eye-tracking vendors rely on expensive hardware solutions and charge 10 – 20x that fee. Definitely a service we’re experimenting with, and worth a test.

Q: Can you give us a few website optimization tips that our readers might not have heard before?

Absolutely, here a handful of our favorites:

• Stop using your stock photos as window dressing.  Time and time again we see websites using cut-and-dry stock photos that act more as color accent and filler than conversion element. Doing something as basic as having your stock-photo LOOK at the product you’re selling, or form you’re promoting can drive substantial conversion gains. Expanding on the idea of your stock photo leading and driving interactions is something that we’re testing on a regular basis.

• Integrating seasonality, day of the week, or even the weather into your site! Building subtle messaging into your website that reinforces a personal connection with your users can drive real conversion gains. Seasonality is something that many merchants ignore, but a simple holiday greeting can boost engagement, and this strategy even works on days-of-the-week. 99% of the working population is having a crappy Monday morning, leverage that in your favor with messaging – people respond to updated, relevant, and timely content that reflects what’s going on in their lives.

• You can squeeze out 2x the conversion rate of your trust symbols with proper placement. Adding security symbols such as a BBB logo, Verisign logo or other trust symbols can instantly drive up your conversion rate. But we’ve been able to squeeze out a multiple of 2x the regular trust symbol conversion lift by testing the placement. For instance with traditional ecommerce clients we’ve found that a highlighted Verisign or other symbol directly to the right of the credit card field can assuage user’s fears at their most vulnerable point, and drive more transactions.

• Your website speed drastically impacts your conversion rate. If you’re not focusing on your website’s speed as an integral conversion element you’re ignoring low hanging fruit. A 4-second delay can drop your conversion rate by 25%, and we’ve been stunned by how many of our clients’ out-of-the-box hosting environments see substandard serving rates during peak hours. A strong primer to craft a pitch to sell server investment to your team is available here

Q: Tell us a little bit about Conversion Voodoo and what makes you unique.

Conversion Voodoo provides website optimization services for high-volume websites for no money up front, and we are paid entirely on a performance basis. Rather than simply pair out advice like our competitors, we build and execute full experiments, from the technology, to the copy, to the design.

Our ability to drive eye-popping results is directly attributable to the quality of our team – we employ MS level computer scientists down to hard-scrabble direct mail copywriters that all have a depth of experience that’s unusual in this emerging field.

Q: What type of fixes and improvements usually see the biggest dividend in terms of ROI for your clients?

The number one way we drive ROI is bringing consistency to testing procedures, and executing as many testing cycles as a client’s business can sustain. The addition of even one additional testing cycle a month can lead to double digit conversion gains in a calendar year. We’ve found that internal teams often have priorities shift, and miss opportunities to nail every possible testing cycle which is why having our full external team focused 100% on conversion rate optimization is so valuable. Beyond that, we find that for clients that already have a regimented internal testing procedure we drive the largest gains in our ability to help segment and super-target experiments.

Note – Just wanted to say thank you Rich for providing us the opportunity to share a little bit more about who we are, and what we do. We’re sponges for great conversion content, long time fans of your blog and look forward to working together in the future!

So there we have it – some great insight from Zack Linford that hopefully you found useful. And thanks to Zack for allowing me to interview you!