By: Woj Kwasi on 03-04-2018 in Content Strategy, Fun, Inbound Marketing, Interviews, Marketing, SEO

Who would have thought that Oli Gardner – Scot, Unbounce co-founder, MacGyver-er, frequent cusser, no BSer, name-change-considerer and frequently-voted best speaker at virtually every conference he keynotes would be as riveting one-on-one as he is up on stage?

Oli Gardner interview

Our own Woj Kwasi had an inkling. That’s why he pinned down the globe-trotting orator for an insightful interview at MozCon. Woj and Oli explore Oli’s journey from Edinburgh to Canada, Unbounce’s history and its future with artificial intelligence, the power of insights over data (and how to get them), how to improve the conversion rates of almost anything, and whether there’s anything Oli can’t optimise.


According to your profile, you’ve considered changing your name to Landing Page?

Oli: Well, the story there was when we started out, I was blogging like crazy and guest posting everywhere. And I thought if I change my name to Landing Page, at the bottom of all these blog posts, the term “landing page” would point to unbounce.com, which would be amazing.

And I did the research and it’s not that hard to change your name in Chicago, where I was living. The hard part is undoing it. I mean, it’s a lot of work to change it because you’ve got to change it so many places, passports and all this kind of stuff.

But yeah, you have to go in front of a judge, at least in Illinois, to change it back. And I just foresaw that they’d be like, “Yeah, I’m going to let you suffer through that for a year because you’re so stupid.”

You’re from Scotland – how did the migration to North America happen?

Oli: I was at university in Edinburgh and, between my degree, and half of a master’s after that, there was a presentation by the university called BUNAC, a couple guys from the British Universities of North America Club. It’s like a government exchange where they just open up 2,000 student visas in both directions.

The guy from the US presented and he said, “You can come and work in California, Redwood, for three months and work in a kids camp.” Okay. And then the Canadian guy gets up and says, “You can come to Canada for 12 months and do whatever the f*$% you want.”

Woj: Pretty good options.

Oli: Canada, please! So you had to pay for your flight and then have £500 over time, which was like $1200 Canadian to survive on when you get there, so you weren’t going to die. So my grandmother, she paid for my ticket and I saved up the rest working a bar job. I was with three friends and they all bailed at the last minute. So I thought I’d look like a total dick if I didn’t do it now and I’d let down my grandmother who bought me a ticket.

So I wound up piggybacking with some other guy who was in the year below me. Honestly, I didn’t really like him. I feel bad saying that. He had a job in Lake Louise already lined up. I didn’t have a job. I wanted to go to Vancouver, but I was really scared at the last minute because I was super shy. I’d never been anywhere so I went with him and went to Lake Louise Inn. He had a housekeeping job. We saw the HR manager. She was stoned off her face and she thought I had a job too. So she just gifted me a job.

So I was there for five months, then went to Vancouver to complete my mission.

Woj: And how old were you when that happened?

Oli: Twenty-one. Then I traveled around the US in a camper van, bumped into a grizzly bear and decided I wanted to be a wildlife photographer. So I went back to the UK for a couple of years, got my first job, then just went through the process to move back to Vancouver.

Woj: Fantastic segue into my next question…

So you’ve been to Kangaroo Island, what are some of the most mesmerising locations you’ve ever experienced and captured?

Oli: I’ve always wanted to go to Australia so I made a three-week trip a year and a half ago and hopped all over the place. So I went down to Adelaide and off to Kangaroo Island. That was the first stop. Ayers Rock is legitimately remarkable. It really does look special at sunrise and sunset. It’s pretty incredible.

Uluru - photo of Ayers Rock by Oli Gardener
Image Credit: Oli Gardener

And then I tripped around and went to Wave Rock and Pinnacles and found my friend in Perth. And I have friends in Melbourne. It was amazing. But in terms of places that are mesmerising… Yellowstone’s my favourite place because I do equal parts wildlife and landscape. Wildlife is more unpredictable, but it’s more exciting when you’re almost being gored by bison.

Woj: They’re pretty big.

Oli: Yeah. When you stand that close to them…I almost got too close actually. So that’s kind of my favorite, but I love a desert as well. That’s mind-blowing when you get off into some of the really remote places there. It’s staggeringly beautiful.

What role did you play in founding Unbounce and, in particular, forming the company’s values?

Oli: So Rick, our CEO, he had two business ideas back in August 2009. Then about 10 of us got together, just talking about the ideas over drinks. And we chose the best idea, basically. None of them were terrible. I don’t quite remember what it was. It was something to do with dynamically controlled ads, but what respectable website is going to let you change the ad on the fly? You could make it say anything. I think it was a terrible idea. And then we whittled the numbers down to six of us, who had all worked together in the past at a startup called Bluezone. We all got laid off on 9/11. Not because of 9/11, just a coincidence.

Anyway… so we all decided “yeah, let’s do this” on August 14th, 2009. And we needed a marketer.

It seemed most natural. I had never been a marketer before. Didn’t like marketers, but I’d done a lot of UX, usability and interaction design. So I always had a strong opinion, and I figured that was the right way to go.

So that’s kind of how it began. And the values, yeah, I was heavily influenced by Moz because they’ve always been like a big brother to us, but a couple of years ahead in terms of their growth. And they’re close, Vancouver and Seattle. Rand‘s a good friend of ours. He was an advisor very early on at Unbounce.

A post shared by Rand Fishkin (@randderuiter) on


We decided we needed to have core values at Unbounce. So we bought us a new leadership team. It was most of the founders, I think. And then a couple of other people who’d been with us a long time. We came to Seattle, actually. It was set up wonderfully. I think Stef Grieser, who’s our national marketing manager, set it up, at the time.

So we started that morning at one open kind of workspace. Just a big table in a room by ourselves and we started brainstorming how to come up with this kind of thing, trying to identify who we were. And then we went for lunch somewhere. Then we went to another working space. It was just like we can’t go in the same direction down the street in Seattle. Then another place for dinner and we just had this amazing day of talking it through and stickies everywhere. Halfway through in another restaurant we were like, “F*$%’s sake. We’ve just got TAGFEE. Well, a slight modification of. Let’s focus, focus!”

Eventually, it came down to six values. We didn’t have a good name. They didn’t sound good together. The only thing we kind of came up with was THE CDG, the “Customer Delight Gang”. That’s kind of how it works.

It stands for Transparency, Humility, Empowerment, Courage, Delight and Generosity. There’s a seventh unofficial one that I came up with that a lot of people are in support of. We were going to launch it officially as a seventh, but a couple of people were concerned with the language. Basically, it’s GAS, which stands for “Giving a Sh!t.” Which is way more important to me because it underpins all of them.

If you give a sh!t, every other value becomes bigger and more powerful. But some people were afraid that the word “sh!t” wasn’t appropriate.

Woj: And “gas”, you know.

Oli: Well, that’s the thing. “He’s got gas. She’s got gas.” But, you know, that’s delightful.

But it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to overdo, which is something I’ve noticed. Because when it’s used sparingly, I brought it up in a meeting recently about someone in a situation. And Rick, our CEO, turned to me and he said, “Yeah, you were right about that, the whole GAS thing. So that was the best thing you said all day. Spot-on with that.” But thinking about it in my head, I don’t know if it was present, if it was there officially, whether it would just be overused and it would become annoying. I don’t know. But that’s the one I believe in the most.

Woj: Well, I guess to the credit of all the Unbouncers I’ve interacted with, it feels like they all give a sh!t.

Oli: Yeah, they absolutely do. Some job I worked at a few jobs ago – the worst I’ve ever had, was some tech company and I was a programmer and I was out of my depth. The coding that was asked of me, I just could not do. I hated every moment of every day of the year I spent there. But the owner was so paranoid in the dev room where the developers worked. There was a laser over the door that you had to swipe your card to turn off. We figured out, though, if you’d run really fast and jump through it, it didn’t trigger it. We probably all lost some hair working there!

What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of having co-founders at Unbounce?

Oli: We have six, which is very rare. I think I saw a graph at one point where the more co-founders, the more successful companies are. But it’s just not very common.

The major advantage was we didn’t have to hire anyone for two years because we could do everything. There was a healthy overlap of creative and technical between many of us. So as we were kind of getting started, I was a little unsure of who was going to do what in certain things. And then Jason, our COO at the beginning, suddenly puts his hand up and says, “Can I do legal and finance?” We’re like, “F*$%ing right you can.” So I was saying, “Okay. I get to do all the creative stuff.”

That was the major advantage. There’s only one disadvantage, and that’s that we all have a smaller piece of the company than we would have if there were two. That’s the only disadvantage.

And some people do have more. We started equally, but some of us had to take a salary early on because we were just broke. Three of us had to. And that’s what’s really interesting, the learning from that. Because that’s meaningless at the beginning. That’s pennies. But now, it actually makes a big difference eight years on, to how much you own.

Are there any advantages being based in Canada?

Oli: I think so. At the beginning, everyone assumed we were in the Valley. We’d get emails and LinkedIn messages saying, “Hey, do you want to meet up for drinks?” “You know we’re over 1,000 miles away, right? Do your research. We’re not there.” I think it’s great because Canada’s just an amazing country. We’re all very thankful that we live there and how amazing it is. Vancouver is an outstanding place. And I think there’s a certain style to Canadian business. I’m not sure that it’s good. And now that I’m learning more about how investment and how that kind of thing works.

There are different kinds of investors. In the Valley, a lot of the investment is all about pumping money into as many companies, as fast as possible. If it fails, they don’t care. They’re just banking on the big win. And that’s never been our approach. We want to get to revenue. Let’s be profitable. We were profitable quickly and for years. We invested more than we had. We put a healthy balance of where we take our profitability and over and under, just to make sure we’re investing enough in the company for hiring and anything like that.

We could be profitable in a second if we want to, but we like to make sure we grow the right way. But also carefully.

Woj: So you guys just bootstrap things moving forward?

Oli: No, we’ve never turned down the idea of raising more capital. It just had to be for the right reason. And we know what the right reasons are. And we always have that in the back of our minds when the right opportunity comes around. So we’ve never been like, “We’re not going to do that.” We just want to do it correctly. And we’ve had some really great advisers, some of them investors. Someone said, “You should raise a bunch of money,” but the ones who we trust were all like, “You guys are doing fine. Don’t do it.” They were actually very selfless in saying, “You know what? I could ask you to be involved and raise some money, but I don’t think you should.” So it’s nice to actually be surrounded by people who are a bit more caring.

Woj: In 2011, your massive blog post for Moz, “The Noob Guide to Online Marketing” helped put Unbounce on the map from a brand awareness perspective.

How much impact did that moment have on the culture within Unbounce and how has the wheel of marketing changed since?

Oli: I do lots of guest posting. I did a post on the Moz blog, which was called, “The 12-Step Landing Page Rehab Program.” And the impact was the same. You post anything on Moz and it does well. But on the main blog, it did great. It performed so well and started establishing a little personal and company brand for us. And then Rand reached out and said, “You’re going to post again.” This is six months later or something. I said, “Yeah, and it’s going to be epic.”

And so this is funny because we didn’t have core values then. But if you look back at the way we behaved, you can see them there. That courage and generosity in that. Because courage, as a small startup to, A, spend months, not full-time but months coming up…it was a 15,000-word post, a 50-million pixel infographic. And I’m a pretty good designer, but I’m a very slow designer. And that’s the other thing. It took me so long. I loved doing it.

I remember being with Justin and Carter, going, “Okay. I need your technical help here.” I was trying to figure out how to get all those segments, the circle thing…I was like, “How do I do this in Photoshop? How can I mathematically…that’s correct and the right shape and everything.” We’re all sketching ideas on the wall, whiteboarding it, and finally figured it out.

But it was also the courage to put it on the Moz blog. And Rand said, “Are you sure about this? This is massive.” I’m like, “Yeah.” Our blog was okay, but nowhere near the size of the blog and the community that Moz has. So I’m like, “Yeah, I want to do it.” And when we put it on there it smashed every record and held them for years. It’s been beaten now, I think. It was just incredible. It’s been translated to 12 languages. We get sent photos of people who print it on their office walls, 6 feet long, the whole infographic.

The Noob Guide to Online Marketing – Infographic

Woj: It was useful. It was probably one of the true  “information is beautiful” kinds of infographics.

Oli: Well, and the interesting thing was it was a self-referential journey. So it was basically a six-month course to becoming a marketer. And I was just talking about my own journey as I learned all of this stuff and tried to master it. And I think that’s why it resonated with people. Just the comment thread on the Moz blog was insane. It was just so enjoyable to go through that process and see how the community reacted. I wrote my first Moz column and people were like, “Ah.” It was crazy. And I wasn’t a speaker back then because that scared the crap out of me.

But that Moz post had a pretty profound effect on the perception of us and it really did help put us on the map.

It really did two things. It was that, from the content perspective, and we did a technical integration with MailChimp that was kind of the big product accelerator. Those two things kind of happened at the same time, which really pushed us on.

Unbounce is one of the best landing page interfaces I’ve used, because it’s drag and drop, fully customisable. Was it always that way?

Oli: Yes. Always super flexible so you can change anything. Because it was important to us. There are honestly things I don’t like about it. It frustrates the hell out of me sometimes. But it is very powerful. You can recreate a pixel-perfect rendition of your design, your Photoshop file, whatever it is in there because you have full control. You can use a template if you want. And that’s important to us because brand matters to us. We want to have customers who are brands and companies, valid, real businesses who care about that and don’t just want some landing page.

Woj: So you wanted to make it like a seamless, fully branded experience, rather than people going, “Oh my God. I’m on a landing page. Get me out of here.”

Oli: Exactly. It needs to feel exactly like your ad, exactly like your website, just on-brand. We felt that. And the commentary that went along with it when people were using it, they valued that.

There’s a lot of stuff you can hack. I was working with a friend, Nicole, on a page that they were putting in a whole bunch of Facebook pixel tracking, custom code in there to do some custom tracking. She’s working on optimising Scott Stratten’s UnPodcast, which is really cool. So we were hacking some of that together and it’s kind of fun. Very different to when we started. Rick’s vision was, “Yeah, we just need some text on a button.” And that’s it. It’s a landing page. Because we came from the gambling world where it wasn’t lead gen, it was all about click-throughs for offers, discounts, stuff, like $60 free for your first poker game or whatever. So yeah, we didn’t have a form.

Woj: There was no data capture initially?

Oli: Nothing. It took us a while to kind of go, “Oops.” But I remember Carl, our CTO, said they just didn’t want to create and build it. I think Carl was saying, “Really? We’re going to build this thing? I think that’s way over the top.” I don’t remember what he wanted to do instead. Buy something? I’m not sure. But Justin took that as a challenge and went away and just quickly coded up a, “Well, here’s how it could work.” With a little bit of this functionality. I was like, “Holy crap.”

Woj: Make it live!

How has the wheel of marketing changed since 2011?

Oli: One thing that’s changed is that I now know that SEM and PPC are the same thing. They were two things on this. I was a noob, becoming an expert and that was a faux pas. Other than that, a lot of things are different. It’s just technologies come and go. There’ll be things in there, social platforms that don’t exist anymore. I think Digg does still exist, but why would anyone care?

I got…because I was a noob back then, I got kicked off all of those channels early on. I wasn’t doing it right and it took a couple years before I could get back on some of them. I had some big apology emails like, “Hey, I didn’t know I was doing it. I’m really legit. I’m sorry. Can you let me back on the platform?” But then there’s a lot of new tech as well that didn’t exist then. So I think that’s probably the biggest change. And I’d have to re-read it to know what other bullsh!t I was saying.

A post shared by Oli Gardner (@theoligardner) on


A finding from your Conversion Benchmark Report (that I’m still coming to terms with) is that words that convey joy lowered a particular campaign’s conversion rates by 40%. Is the joyfulness in marketing really over?

Oli: Yeah. So this whole study was based on analysing the text of 74 million interactions with 75,000 lead gen landing pages in 10 different business verticals. And so it gives the average conversion rates, that kind of stuff. And then there’s reading ease, word count, sentiment and emotion.

Yeah, there are certain surprising things, and then certain verticals where you get what you expect… in travel, anger is bad. The more angry words, the worst the conversion rate can get. Then there’s just some fascinating observations.

You probably don’t want joy on a bug exterminator’s website. You want some fear. You want some disgust. These ugly mosquitos or crazy spiders. So everything’s different.

There are some verticals where you need to be as simple as possible and some where you want to be complex. And there are somewhere you want to be complex or simple but not in the middle. It’s fascinating. And then you can use cool tools, like readable.io to kind of measure your reading ease and make changes to it. I love that tool. It’s very cheap. We’re going to build all that stuff in the app, eventually. We already have a little Chrome extension that analyses the text on the page and it’ll highlight words of different emotions or something. I can’t remember. It’s kind of cool.

Woj: A bit of sentiment analysis?

Oli: Yeah. And that’s just if you have the page open in the app and the Chrome extension. It’s not built into the app, but you can kind of work it together. Working with fun stuff, our data science team is growing and growing.

Woj: The algorithm’s getting smarter?

Oli: It is. I saw some demos of that in the machine learning parts of it. That was pretty fun.

So when analyzing data, how do you determine the difference between information and insights?

Oli: Information is just data that’s lying around. Well, data by itself is meaningless, a lot of the time. Information is kind of a layer above that, where it comes together and actually tells you something. And then an insight is something meaningful you can glean from that that’s related to whatever you’re doing. In my talk, that’s the observation phase, where you have to be looking at the data within the context of what matters, who your visitors are, what they’re trying to achieve.

Insights are a very personal kind of thing.

You can look at the same data set and different people would derive different insights from it because it depends how you think or how intuitive you are or how smart you are or whatever. So insights are sort of a strange thing.

What insights led you to develop the concept of data-driven design, and have you MacGyvered anything lately?

Oli: Seriously, MacGyvering is my favourite thing to do in the world. I like how our frameworks processes have helped optimise how people work. And I care a lot about design.

MacGardner - the art of MacGyvering

I respect it and I geek out on great design. I’m okay so I have a little bit of that frustration. I have a large respect for it, but I also see how dysfunctional marketing teams are and how disrespectful marketers and designers, in particular, can be toward one another. And sometimes that’s warranted because some designers are just full of sh!t and they’re not open to data and a different way of working. Conversely, marketers just think design is about things being pretty. Not all of them. I’m trying to bridge that gap and help people work together and develop more empathy, digital empathy.

I read things like exit interviews when someone leaves, like the designers. And some of the commentary they’ll throw out, just because…”I’m not respected.” I interviewed a ton of people in the company, and they just unleash and I’d have someone say, “Design isn’t respected.” I was like, “Holy f*$%.” It is, but also it isn’t, I guess because someone’s feeling that way. And I used to be the creative director. I ran the creative team. And we just hired an amazing new senior art director, Cesar Martinez, who I’m really excited about working with in the future. But I just care passionately about it.

But also, I love data. I wouldn’t be interested in being an optimiser in marketing if I didn’t. So yeah, MacGyvering. I built a digital studio in my basement for my photography. I just geek out really hard on being able to solve a problem by looking around the room and what can I use to do this thing right now from anything that’s in plain sight or at least in the house? I could live my life doing that, honestly.

Woj: Speaking of MacGyver, let’s say that some bad guys have just come into the room. They’ve locked you away into, say, the lift and before they snatch you, you can take three items from the room. What are the three items to hatch your escape plan?

Oli: Okay. We’re in a convention center. Looking around, there are a few works of art. A statue of a crow or something. There are escalators. Couldn’t fit an escalator in a lift. There’s a garbage bin. There’s some, I think, there’s hand sanitizer. I would take the hand sanitizer thing. There’s lubrication in there. That’s going to be good for something, whether it’s to keep myself happy before I die or… what else is there? That’s so tough.

Oh! I’d take that thing over there, that long pole statue with the spiky things on it. That would be a really good weapon. And I could also jam it between the doors once I lubricate them and open them a little bit.

Woj: I just noticed an emergency phone on the wall. Maybe that would reach.

Oli: Oh yeah. I think it would get halfway there and it’d snap. Yeah. I think I’ll take the bat phone. That’ll be good.

Based on your experience and experiments, what is the ideal relationship between marketers, designers, and copywriters?

Oli: It is for everyone to kind of start at the beginning of the project at the same time. Because often, someone, whoever’s leading it, the marketer maybe, the project manager, will do a bunch of stuff ahead of time, which may or may not include collecting some data. And if people aren’t involved in that then they’re just kind of being handed stuff. Like, “Oh, here. Here’s a brief. Can you just go and do something?” There’s not enough collaboration at the beginning.

I know that’s a very simple thing to say. Okay, yeah, work more together, but that’s why I created this process because it’s designed for you to do that.

And if you can simplify it like that, then it’s easy for the whole team to understand. You can collect like, “Okay. I’m going to look in GA and pull this report. You, designer, how about you go and do a bunch of usability tests. And you, copywriter, get in Hotjar and put a survey on the blog and look at some heat maps.” All come together, look at the stuff, make observations as a team and then you sketch. I’ve been running brainstorms for years. And the way some of the team runs them is really cool, where we talk about stuff for a bit and then everyone leaves the room with a big sheet of paper and you go sketch all your ideas.

And then you come back and you present. And you can see 90% of what you said is nonsense, but some is gold. And you put all the best ideas together and then the designer gets to go away and start doing something that is agreed upon and is built on collective insight and knowledge. So I think that allows people to see each other’s talents. And that’s the important part because when a marketer can see how a designer thinks and works and be included, they’ll have more respect for them and vice versa.

Woj: You almost created a blueprint that all three of those roles can look at and track as a project.

Oli: Yeah. So the copywriter designer/thing as well, that’s really common is that the designer will say, “I can’t start designing it because I don’t have any copy.” And then they have to wait a week and they either do some generic design on the way or they wait a week and they’re doing something else. And then the copywriter gives them the copy and then it’s, “Oh, your headline doesn’t fit in my design. I’m going to make your headline shorter.” “You can’t do that. I wrote that headline. It’s perfect. That’s the message.” “Well, it doesn’t fit in my design.” “Well, change your design.” That’s the problem with templating. They’re a great starting point, but you can’t be bound by them.

What’s the most important element of a landing page when you’re looking into increasing conversions?

Oli: There’s no real kind of single, universal element. I would say the clarity of communicating your value proposition is the one thing though.

Because if you can’t make your value proposition clear, you’re screwed, basically.

Woj: And is that why the app, the automation tool you’ve been demoing, appears to be focused on copy only?

Oli: No. That’s just because that was the easiest place to begin because all we have is the copy and the design. Interpreting design is very complex. There are three things: there’s the copy, the design and then there’s the traffic. So what we’re doing now is working with a couple of universities on doing the visual analysis, neural nets and all kinds of stuff so they’ll just look at a screenshot of the page and try and understand conversion just by looking at it.

And then the third part is the traffic. So what is the context? Because all this does right now is on the page. But when we merge that with the context of all of the information in the traffic logs and, hopefully, some other external context, then the algorithm will become more powerful and it will work. It will figure things out much more quickly than just copy alone. But I think copy is still the most persuasive element of any marketing experience. Design can be incredibly persuasive, but it depends on your industry. Beautiful, sexy, lustrous design might be important to fashion. In some other things, it’s really just about really communicating as quickly as possible. So definitely, clarity is right up there with everything.

 

What is the best way to display content below the fold of a landing page, considering that all useful information about a product cannot be accommodated above a fold?

Oli: The best way to put it below a fold is to put it below the fold. I have some good stuff about that in my CTA Conference talk. It’s so massive, I couldn’t put it all in. That sounds wrong.

But the fold has been this debated topic for years. It was important back in the day when Jakob Nielsen brought it up that X% weren’t scrolling. But those days have gone. They’re changing. It’s still important. Something we’ve seen repeatedly is the amount that people scroll down your page… well, there are different ways to help them do that. There are visual cues, there’s using internal nav, so sticky nav and stuff encouraging more exploration because they’re choosing where they want to go and it’s bringing them down the page.

But almost more importantly, what we’ve discovered is if you take your call to action and move it all the way at the bottom of the page, people have to look for it. So they go hunting and they read all of this content, or more of it, on the way there. So then there’s a chance, and we’ve seen this increased conversion several times. I think that, often, even if you get more signups above the fold, they might not be as qualified because they haven’t read some of your content. They might get in your app, they have a problem. “It needs this feature. It doesn’t do this.”

Maybe it does, but they can’t find it. In Microsoft Word, there are so many features. There are many you’ll never know exist. It can be the same thing. They might leave. But if they’ve seen the whole thing, then they may have seen the SalesForce and MailChimp logos as they scroll down. They know integration exists. Or they may have caught words or imagery that makes them more qualified or better educated and may have a higher lifetime value as a customer.

Woj: So really, it comes down to design. If you want people to scroll below the fold, you have to include that in the design?

Oli: Definitely. So the clarity is probably the first part. So you have to communicate well enough that they’ll go, “Okay. I want to stay here. I get what this is.” Yeah. Then you can use the design to change on-page behaviour, to draw them to different places and to highlight different things that’s where the copy starts it and then the design takes over.

Woj: And that’s where we need to debunk that notion of, “Oh, this is the standard conversion rate for a landing page.” Whereas if you want to change that, and in some cases, you might need to lower that conversion rate by getting them to do different things. You’ve got to cue them toward those elements.

Oli: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what’s fascinating about my current talk and process, which I learned as I developed it, was this whole micro-metric thing. When you look at the data and you make 15 observations based on usability tests, heat maps, all that kind of stuff, then when you run a test, you’re looking at all of those things. Because your new design ideas need to influence change based on those observations. So you can look at 15 micro-metrics, like, “Have I changed behaviour based on that, that, that?” And then the conversion rate, of course, is king, but not always. If you change things in the right way, like I was saying, if you can reduce the number of fake emails submitted in your forms by 37% and you take a little hit in conversion, I would take the better email list. And if you’re not looking in that detail, you’re missing the picture.


Are image sliders still a thing? If not, what are the alternatives? Grid box, static bound images, no images?

Oli: Yes, sliders still exist, much to the chagrin of myself and many other optimisers. But something that was bubbling last year, that I think is going to be more of a trend this year is this thing where you basically get a wireframe on page load. You see the page load as a wire frame and then the content starts to come in. And what it does is it gives you this quick signal that, okay, it’s loading. Because it could happen much more quickly and give you some sense of a layout and then content will come in. I forget what it’s called, but it’s pretty cool.

Some things like that are happening. Hopefully, yeah, sliders will disappear. That’s where, hopefully, the automation space where we’re going, at some point will be able to automatically gather the data that says, “Nobody goes to slide two, four and seven of this thing. Just delete them.” And its insight that comes with solid foundational data that you can go, “Hey, can we please take this off now? Look. It’s legitimately not working.”

Woj: Disproven with the data.

Oli: That’s my favourite talk that I want to do, hopefully, in a year’s time. Twenty things you always thought you knew about conversion or marketing we’ve now proved are total and utter bullsh!t.

Woj: Oh, that’d be awesome.

Is it a good idea to display product videos next to a lead form or does that dilute the visitor’s attention?

Oli: It depends what it is. Yeah, there’s no right or wrong there. Product videos can be great out front. Someone told me about the experience of having a test drive in a Tesla recently. He said it’s something you just do because the customer experience from start to finish is just so incredible. So I was looking at their website and they are the most frustrating brand in the world in many ways because there’s no data. There are no details on the thing. Their videos aren’t complete. They don’t show you the things you want to see. It’s so annoying.

So product videos can be great if they’re created to present the information that the consumer actually wants. That’s where things like Wistia’s chapters can be really great because you can have visual cues as to where the chapters are. You can also have titles, I believe, associated with them. So people can see what’s going to be in this video and choose where they want to go, choose their own adventure based on the content. Then you can look at the data and go, “Everybody actually is just…” They had a great example when they first launched this. It was from a car manufacturer, how they had all the things that were so powerful. All anyone cared about was the iPad-style display. That’s what everyone was clicking on. That’s the tech that they cared about so the insight you can derive from that video, in that case, is a great mechanism for learning.

itbusiness.ca reported that you are on a quest to revive overlays, aka pop-ups. What’s the motivation?

Oli: Well, we released overlays as a feature in Unbounce for many reasons. They’re a highly used interactive device.

The reason we’re calling them overlays is because we’re trying to draw this line in the sand that pop-ups are bad. That was in the past. These are the future, done respectfully.

We’re trying to take the stance of responsible use of technology. These things work really well when you do them right. And it can be a delightful experience. They can be funny. My ex-kickboxing instructor, Richie, he used them on his site and it’s got some really funny stuff on there. People love it. It depends how you use it. We’ve got customers where they ran an experiment where they had product-based overlays and they put it on their blog versus some content-related ones. And the product ones on the blog, just 0.5% conversion rate. The content ones convert at 10% so it’s something they needed.

And then, conversely, the content ones on the website, not the blog, didn’t work, but the product ones did. It’s choosing where and when. We built pretty advanced triggering targeting in there so you can really do it right. We have 10 different overlays we’re using on the Unbounce site in different places. But once you’ve seen one, you never see another. We don’t let you have that experience because we care about doing it responsibly and using it as an interactive device that is just genuinely, actually helpful. We’ve had them convert at 29% because it was offering videos for an event. And it’s like, “Yeah, I want free videos.” That’s something people want. So as long as you’re not just interrupting people for the sake of shouting at them, they can be a really powerful thing.

Woj: I guess to Wil Reynolds‘ point, if it’s done in the context of the searcher’s journey, where you can kind of make the pop-up as the next step, it can be quite useful.

Oli: Right. And there are many use cases. I mean, like if it’s for offers. “Yeah, I’ll take 15% off shopping in this store.” We call it traffic shaping, where you take someone from one page and push them somewhere further down the journey that was actually relevant to what they’re trying to do, but you can kind of help move. You can experiment with different paths. But one of the core things is the advanced targeting. You can really give someone a good experience and also quickly figure out what’s not a good experience. And keep working it.

My dream in the future is that your functional testing is automatically done for you.

So it’ll say, on your pricing page, “Never put one of these here ever, ever, ever because it hurts conversion rates. But on your features page, a scroll depth of 60% overlay performs better than this. Use that.” Artificial intelligence will take these things to different places and make sure. I taught this in another talk. It was last year at CTA, where we can implant our core values into an algorithm. So if delight is one of your core values, it can make suggestions to add some more delight into this headline or into the copy on this overlay.

Because that’s the fear, that machines are going to take over. Well, if we inject some stuff in there, then we’ll be helping to make sure that doesn’t happen, developing some digital empathy. I think if we can read emotions in a book and learn from that and take positive steps, a machine can read that too and do something with it.


How will AI help Unbounce operate as a conversion automation platform?

Oli: Basically, we’ve planned out seven pillars and I forget them all right now, which is off the optimization path. Creation is one, obviously. So we’re going to build. That’s where the builder comes in. and then there are insights and analytics. We have all these different pieces and then automation just sits in the middle of all of that. Speeds it up, brings insights faster. So it’s going to be an interesting journey because things already come to light, like the myth-busting thing. The algorithm teaches us.

Yeah, it might be something you can use as a micro signal, but it’s not something that actually directly impacts conversion. We’ve shown that the form field is not predictive of conversion. It will impact conversion, but it’s not predictive. There’s no guarantee that if you do this, it will do that. But when we start layering on the copy, as well as stuff about the form, then we actually do find predictive things in there. So it’s about finding all these things that kind of go together.

We have seen some funny things, some outliers in the data where in this industry, this type of page, these types of words that represent joy or whatever emotion could be helpful in increasing the performance of the page. You’d have some words in there, suggested words. One of them for a webinar, I’ll just make one up, could be “telephone pole.”

Woj: “Yorkshire terrier.”

Oli: Yes. Obviously, filtering and everything needs to be stronger and stronger before you really get true predictive stuff and suggestion engines that can actually do this and increase conversions.

Woj: Nice. Your role as a speaker has solidified you as a thought leader in the industry.

Do you have any advice for founders who have yet to take that leap?

Oli: Yeah. It’s the most important thing you’ll do, I think, or at least on the marketing side. But someone has to be a speaker. I didn’t do it for years because I was scared. But now that I have, it is the best thing for me, personally, my growth as a person, as a professional, as a marketer. The way I started it, once I got into doing it, was I read, “How to Deliver a TED Talk,” by Jeremey Donovan. Amazing book. Changed the way I think and how I structure my talks. And I watched a TED Talk every day on the commute to work because my commute at the time on the bus was 17 minutes long. That’s how long it takes. Eighteen minutes was the length of the TED Talk. So I’d get to work every day like, “Ah, I’m going to change the motherf*$%ing world.”

Oli: There are three things I really care about with speaking. There’s the design of the presentation itself, making it visually compelling and persuasive. There’s the delivery of how you present this as a speaker, a physical person. And then there’s what you’re saying. And being entertaining. Entertaining, educational and inspirational and trying to do all three of those things. We’re actually doing a workshop. Part of our commitment to gender diversity and speaking at conferences and in the workplace, we’re doing a thing called CentHER Stage. It’s a workshop for women who want to be public speakers. We’re going to do it at Unbounce.

It’s a passion project so we’re doing it on the weekend. We’ll have maybe 20 people there and there’ll be a bunch of coaches. I’ll be one of them. They’ll have some great female speakers come in to coach. Hopefully, it’ll be like a Voice kind of thing. But there’ll be some presentations that everyone sees, and then you’ll have a cohort.

Name three sources of constant inspiration for you. Books, podcasts, people?

Oli: It’s terrifying that nothing jumps out. It sounds horribly narcissistic that I can’t think of any.

I would say I love buying books, but I never get very far into them. There are always a few speakers.

Woj: I heard that you and Nicole love records.

Oli: Yeah. I got back into vinyl recently.

A post shared by Oli Gardner (@theoligardner) on


I designed this whole wall with these Canadian butter crates on there, which I meticulously designed. It’s perfect.

Woj: MacGyver.

Oli: Exactly. And I love geeking out on that stuff. So I guess design is an inspiration to me. It’s not a person or any specific thing. It’s just what I see. Either bad design or something just amazing. So that’s a big influence on me. Nicole is a big influence on my constantly. Surprising in different ways how we work. We’ve been together for two years. We’re learning a lot about each other. And well, there are always certain speakers that I follow. I’m very competitive. I just want to get a higher rating than them.

Woj: Is that the Tyler Farnsworth story?

Oli: No. That was a good one. That was so weird. But no, back in the day, it was that I wanted, first of all, to become a top-rated speaker at an event.

Last year, I was top-rated at 76% of all the gigs I did. I take it very seriously and I’m competitive as f*$%.

And I wanted to beat Rand Fishkin and Wil Reynolds at the same event, which I did last year in Edinburgh at Turing Fest. I was saying to Rand last night at dinner, the most important conference after CTA Conference, is ours, Unbounce in Vancouver. Number two is Turing Fest in Edinburgh because that’s where I’m from. MozCon is the only other one I’ve actually said, “I want to speak there.” I like speaking everywhere. It was the only one, just because of our friendship and company and personal. And as a marketer, it’s just one of those places you want to speak. So checking that off the bucket list today was pretty epic.

Woj: Nice. And I remember when I interviewed Rand the first time a few years ago, he mentioned you as a speaker, as one of the speakers that he wants to see. So hopefully, his dreams came true today.

To wrap things up, what’s a question you wish you were asked but never get asked?

Oli: That.

Woj: Yes!

Oli: I don’t know. But I do enjoy when there are great questions. I never, ever, ever want to be asked the question, “What are the five essential elements of a landing page.” Stop it. I like getting into the more meaningful side of things.

Woj: Do you have decks for your vinyl?

Oli: Yeah. I have this beautiful wooden turntable. It’s Clearaudio Concept. I bought it a year before I even had records and before I had an amp or anything like that. I still don’t have a great setup beyond that. I can play it now. I’ve got an amp and stuff and speaker. But it’s beautiful.

Woj: Cool. Well, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

Oli: My pleasure.


If you enjoyed this interview and picked up a knack for optimisation, MacGyvering and cussing as much as we did, be sure to follow Oli on Twitter and check out some of our other interviews: