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Where do ideas come from? (Part 3)

On Monday we tackled the concept of the “range of all feasible options” from which to draw A/B test variations. Then, yesterday, we looked at a trivial example - the range of all feasible options for a button’s border radius. Today, let’s cover a long but incomplete list of sources for the ideas that populate this range.

Let the ideas flow, with no restraint or censorship. But remember that ideas are cheap! We’re just making a big pile of them, so we can sort them, so we can decide which ones to test, so we can learn what works. None of these sources of inspiration can guarantee success. You have to measure it.

Competitor research

This is a great, and dangerous, place to start. If your competitors are using long form landing pages, maybe you should try one. If they’ve broken out their signup process into a multi-step form, that might be worth testing.

And maybe not. Maybe their landing page conversion rate is in the toilet, and they’re freaking out about it. Maybe they implemented the multi-step form because someone senior thought it’d be cool, and it’s broken their funnel analytics. Take notes, take inspiration, but proceed with caution.

Non-competitor research (“seen around the interwebs”)

You don’t have to limit yourself to competitors! People on your website find things, read things, look at pictures, navigate, fill out forms. You’re free to pick up ideas on how to make those activities easier and more enjoyable … from anywhere you like.

See a clever use of iconography on a hipster clothing website? Try it on your SaaS landing page. Does Salesforce have a particularly smooth signup flow? Try it on your vitamin shop’s checkout.

Clickstream analysis

Also known as “digging into Google Analytics.” Are there behaviors you see in converting visitors that you don’t see in non-converting visitors? Pages they visit, interactions they have? How could you encourage the non-converting visitors to take these actions?

Facebook’s “7 friends in 10 days” is a now-classic example of this. (Remember that you have to test this; correlation is not causation.)

User testing

Rent a lab, DIY with hallway testing, or use a service like usertesting.com. What do users struggle with, and how could you make things easier for them? What questions do they have, and how might you answer them at just the right moment?

Are they looking for elements that aren’t present? Does your navigation say “seating” when they’re looking for “chairs”?

You’re working with a perilously low sample size, and possibly unqualified users ಠ_ಠ - but it doesn’t matter, because you’re just collecting ideas to test (✿-⁠‿-)


Current customers are a great source of information, since they actually converted. You can also use tools like Hotjar to add surveys for website visitors.

Ask questions about what they’re looking for and unable to find, then process the responses like you would with user testing.

Previous A/B test results

This is a great source of ideas; they even come with data. Did you observe unexpected behavior in a past test? Did a variation lose on desktop but win on mobile? What did you learn, and what does it make you want to try next?

Other people’s A/B test results

Taken with a grain of salt, test results from other sites are a solid source of inspiration. You can visit Guess the Test, GoodUI, or testing platform blogs (like Optimizely or VWO) to read about tests.

BE CAREFUL. Remember these are just ideas. It’s dismayingly common to see tests declared winners without any note of sample size, or degree of statistical confidence, or even what was being measured.

They’re just ideas. Throw them on the pile.

Heatmaps and scrollmaps

Are people clicking in vain on images or blocks of content? Maybe you could link to another page, or make them interactive, or provide more context around them.

Do converting visitors scroll to the 5th section of your landing page more often than non-converting visitors? Could you try moving that section higher?

Visitor recordings

This is a labor intensive but intriguing way to learn about your actual visitors. Tools like Hotjar or Fullstory will provide the recordings; it’s up to you to find time to watch them.

A couple suggestions:

What’s different about these recordings? Where are people getting stuck? What can you do get them unstuck?

You’ll get the best results when you know what you’re looking for, and can tag, filter, and sort recordings to cut down on viewing time. But if you’re not using recordings now, a great start is to set aside 15 minutes a week and watch just a handful. I promise you’ll get at least 1.3 ideas.

Ideas that come to you in a dream

Remember, ideas are cheap. It doesn’t matter where they come from. If you’re dreaming about your website, I applaud your passion and urge you to take a long weekend. If you dreamt up an idea for a test, throw it on the pile!

This is definitely an incomplete list of sources for ideas. Where do your ideas come from? Do you think of any of these sources as invalid, or more likely to yield bad ideas? Hit reply and let me know.

© 2022 Brian David Hall