4 Lessons We Learned in 2019 (and How Marketers Can Apply Them in 2020)

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It’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it? And it’s not over yet.

Even if you’re still knee-deep in holiday and end-of-year promotions, it makes sense to take time to pause. Now’s the time to reflect on the challenges, opportunities, and accomplishments of 2019—before the crazy starts up again.

With that in mind, we’re revisiting the big lessons drawn from our most popular pieces on digital marketing and landing pages. For each, we’ll talk about how you can best apply these lessons in 2020 and beyond.

Lesson 1: Slow page speed is killing your conversions.

Unbounce predicted that 2019 would be “the year when the difference between fast and slow content becomes the difference between showing up in the search results (whether paid or organic) or disappearing completely.”

In January, we also published Think Fast: The 2019 Page Speed Report to shed some light on how slow loading times are impacting conversion rates.  

We wanted to know where improving page speed was falling in the marketers’ yearly priority lists—as well as what their customers experience (and how they behave) when a website is slow to load. 

This research stirred up all kinds of reasons why you definitely need to keep speed in mind when creating landing pages. For instance, Google says 53% of visitors will bounce after three seconds of waiting. But our check-in at the Call to Action Conference in late 2018 revealed that 85% of participants’ pages came in slower than 5 seconds at a 3G connection. (We’re not naming names, but some took more than 20 seconds.)

The survey results also revealed that consumers are pretty frank about the impact that slow ecomm sites can have on their willingness to buy:

What surprised us most, however, is that improving load times remains an overlooked way of optimizing the visitor experience. Very few marketers we surveyed identified it as a priority for the year, even though those who did have likely seen the benefits. 

What Marketers Can Do in 2020

The thing is, these page speed concerns aren’t going away.

The average time for a web page to load is actually slower at the end of 2019 than it was a year ago. Some marketers have resisted making big improvements to loading times in the hopes that technology will save them (“5G is coming any day now!”). But speed remains a competitive differentiator. 

Google hasn’t backed away from forcing the issue, either. They’ve always said that speed matters, but in November, they outlined plans to indicate when a site has been historically slow to load using badges in Chrome: “We think the web can do better and want to help users understand when a site may load slowly, while rewarding sites delivering fast experiences.”

All of this adds up to a continued need to boost speed on your landing pages and website. To help, Unbounce’s Garrett Hughes put together a shortlist of page speed fixes (plus a downloadable checklist). And if you want to achieve blazing speeds on mobile devices, you’ll also want to investigate using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) as well.

Marketers need to get faster and stay that way.

Let’s make speeding up a habit in 2020.

More Reading About Page Speed

  1. Think Fast: The 2019 Page Speed Report (Stats and Trends For Marketers)
  2. 2019 Is the Year of Page Speed. Are You Ready?
  3. 7 Page Speed Stats Every Marketer Should Know
  4. Increase Your Landing Page Speed (By Stealing Our Homework)
  5. Your Shortcut to Lightning-Fast Speeds. AMP Landing Pages Come to Unbounce.

About Unbounce Speed Boost. We’ve made backend improvements to the landing page builder to ensure that, under the hood, every landing page you create is designed to follow Google’s best practices for performance. So you don’t have to think about it. You can read about these improvements here.

Lesson 2: A/B testing isn’t your only optimization option.

At Unbounce, we’ve been preaching the gospel of A/B testing for a very long time. (For as long as there’s been an Unbounce, as a matter of fact.)

Here’s a snippet from our very first website, ten years ago: “With built-in A/B testing as a standard feature, you can experiment with unlimited variants of your page until you achieve the optimal design.” 

In those days, we saw the promise of a “no-nerd approach to landing page construction” that included “a digital dashboard to rival the Starship Enterprise.” (No-nerd? Riiight.) 

Unbounce.com circa 2010

Today, A/B testing remains an incredible way of testing an informed hypothesis about your landing page. For many people, though, the number of visitors you need (and the time necessary) can put it too far out of reach. No wonder while 98% of marketers recognize testing has definite value for their business, 42% say it’s too difficult for them. 

But optimizing and A/B testing aren’t the same thing. And smaller teams and businesses that don’t get the critical mass of traffic to test efficiently should still make optimizing part of business as usual. 

What Marketers Can Do in 2020

Nobody would blame you for taking a one-and-done approach. If you find yourself in the camp of marketers who’ve struggled to A/B test in the past, the good news is that the times are a-changin’. New pathways to optimizing your landing pages are opening up as you read this.

In November, we made Smart Traffic™ available to Unbounce customers. Powered by machine learning, this tool dynamically sends each and every visitor to a page variant that’s right for them. Plus, while running A/B tests requires tons of traffic, Smart Traffic starts optimizing after as few as 50 visits.

It’s not only extremely rad, it’s also bone simple: build some variants, set a conversion goal, and turn it on. I encourage you to try it out for yourself.

Beyond Smart Traffic, it’s almost guaranteed that machine learning (from us, from elsewhere) will continue to reshape your marketing stack and enhance your marketing practice. In 2020, you can expect more options when it comes to optimization, personalization, and automation. 

The takeaway: adopting a growth mindset means making optimization an everyday practice. Thanks to new technologies, the barriers are beginning to topple—so keep an eye out for opportunities.

More Reading About Marketing AI

  1. Marketers Need an Easier Way to Optimize Landing Pages
  2. Match Each Visitor with the Landing Page Most Likely to Convert [Introducing Smart Traffic™]
  3. How Marketing AI Will Transform Your Lead Generation (and Conversion)

Lesson 3: We all need to raise our marketing IQ.

According to a recent paper published by 13 marketing scholars with the Harvard Business School, marketers see the most potential gains when machine learning technologies enhance human capability: “The brightest future,” they write, “is based on the synergy of what the machine can do well and what humans do well.”

Machine learning will free us from the grind, allowing us to do more of what humans do best. But this also means that it’s more pressure than ever to become the best darned human marketers we can be.

It’s time to raise our marketing IQ. That means moving beyond best practices, received wisdom, and going with your gut. It means making smarter, more informed decisions based on a highly developed skillset. And it means optimizing yourself as a marketer, not just your landing pages.

We think it’s incredibly important, which is why raising your marketing IQ was the theme of this year’s Call to Action Conference.

Over three days, we sought to bring marketers and industry leaders together to talk and sharpen our skills in six vital categories: design, copy, analytics, process, emotion, and strategy (which ties ’em all together).

Unbounce Co-Founder Oli Gardner summed up the benefits of high IQ marketing in a blog post earlier this year: “This is marketing that takes things to a new level, going past surface-level findings to understand the true value of your generated leads.”

Oli Gardner at CTAConf
Oli Gardner at CTA 2019

What Marketers Can Do About It in 2020

In 2020, BYOTL (be your own thought leader). Keep devouring blog posts and other content from the experts, sure, but look for those sources that challenge the status quo and go beyond the best practices. (If you’re looking for some blog recommendations, I think this list from The Search Agency is a pretty good place to start.)

Finally, if you weren’t able to join us at CTAConf in 2019, you can also get caught up on all 20 speakers, watch videos, and review slide decks on our recap site. This includes experts like Joanna Wiebe, Larry Kim, Ross Simmonds, Nadya Khoja, Jason Miller, and Andy Crestodina—as well as a few surprising perspectives on marketing today.

(Finally, binge-watching you can feel good about.)

More Reading About Marketing IQ

  1. Call to Action 2019 Speaker Videos and Slides
  2. The Simple Reason Why Your B2B Lead Gen Conversion Rates Are Completely Wrong
  3. Raise Your Marketing IQ at CTAConf 2019

Lesson 4: SaaS rebrands are a huge challenge.

This lesson became immediately apparent when people began to take notice of a single illustration trend that dominated SaaS branding in 2019.

As Unbounce’s Luke Bailey wrote in a post back in August, “Depending on who you ask, these drawings and animations are either fun and whimsical, or strange and faceless. Maybe you see them as friendly-looking doodles … or maybe you see them as just plain weird.”

It was the sheer ubiquity of these “little buddies” in 2019—especially given the time and thought that SaaS marketers put into standing out from the crowd—that’s particularly striking.

Jimmy Daly, Marketing Director at Animalz, first called out how common the style was becoming:

Like many of us, Daly doesn’t necessarily dislike this trend, but he isn’t sure how these illustrations were suddenly everywhere. In his words, what gives? Should SaaS brands even care about achieving originality? And if not, where should there focus lie?

These are some big questions, it turns out, and I’d recommend checking out Luke’s epic post for the details on his quest for answers. (There’s some interesting speculation in the comments too.)

What Marketers Can Do About It in 2020

Given the enormous pressure to carve out an identity that’s distinct from competitors, marketers might be tempted to try to avoid all influence from others in their space. Even if this were possible, though, it probably isn’t the best approach. Wildly different branding isn’t necessarily what your customers want from you.

Instead, Luke advises taking a more thoughtful approach to your SaaS rebrand:

If you’re planning to launch a new version of your website in 2020, there’s nothing wrong with looking to other companies you admire for inspiration. But, at the same time, you’d be doing your own brand a disservice if you just try to straight-up swipe someone else’s style.

Luke Bailey, Unbounce Content Team

Luke says to consider your product, your place in the market, your target audience, and your brand personality before jumping on any design trend. Striving for some originality makes sense, sure. But matching your brand with your audience is more important.

Whether the cycle of SaaS rebrands in 2020 brings us more of these little buddies or something a little more out there (“What if our new website was, like, entirely turnip-based?”), it makes sense to keep your eyes on the prize: converting visitors into customers.

More Reading About SaaS Branding

  1. Here’s How the Illustration Design Trend Caught Fire and Why Every SaaS Is Rebranding
  2. [Brand Reveal] Celebrating You with a New Look

Get Ready for 2020…

The lessons you’ve learned from 2019 don’t stop being relevant at 11:59pm on December 31st. It turns out that the earth orbits the sun all the time, and we’re just marking the time.

So how will what you learned in 2019 transform how you do your job in 2020? What are your own marketing lessons going into the new year? What are your marketing resolutions? Now’s the time to start thinking…

We’d love to hear your answers in the comments below.

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