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Last updated: August 2017
We have noticed that our most successful clients have many traits in common, traits that are worth studying, emulating and applying to your own business. The following interview tells the impressive story of one of our clients, Chris Morling. Chris grew his evening side project into one of the most popular—and profitable—financial-comparison websites, money.co.uk.
From the outset, the odds were stacked heavily against Chris. We work with many financial-service startups, and they face some tough obstacles:
Not only did Chris beat those odds, but he did so without any external investment. Few companies bootstrap to such a level of success. Even fewer are willing to discuss how they did it. In the following interview, we ask Chris about how he did it. Regardless of which industry and country you are in, the interview contains some valuable lessons.
In 2009, Chris hired us to grow money.co.uk’s sales. Even then, his company was already successful, generating sales of $6.6 million (£4.7 million).
Six years later, money.co.uk’s sales had soared to $32 million (£23 million), with net profits of over $21 million (£15 million). That’s a 65% net profit margin.
Chris: We focus so much on things that need to be improved, we sometimes forget to acknowledge our achievements. Winning the award was a nice opportunity for us to step back and reflect on how far we have come.
Chris: It has been a combination of factors:
First, we focused on user experience and improving conversions. Our increased conversion rate quickly led to an increase in traffic from our paid advertising, SEO, and email marketing. As a result of the increase in sales, we were able to negotiate better commercial deals with our advertisers, which made a huge difference.
[For more on this subject, see our article about the three benefits of CRO that can drive your company into an economic “virtuous circle” of growth.]
Second, we found ways to better monetize our website. For example, we introduced new products, offers, and services. This increased our average revenue-per-visitor, which in turn allowed us to bid more per click on paid search.
[This article on gap analysis describes how to profit from adding new products and services.]
Third, my mindset and ambitions changed. Until about four years ago, I was happy to have a small, profitable business with just 14 people. I didn’t have the belief that we could compete with the leading companies in our market, and build a well-known brand.
Then I realized, “If we can achieve this high volume with a small business, what could we do with a bigger business?” I wanted the excitement of new challenges and new targets.
We now believe we can compete with the market leaders—and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I now realize how important it is for a company’s leader to have an ambitious mindset.
[This article describes Bill Gates’ observation that “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”]
Chris: I started my own business in 2001, on my 31st birthday. I was working for Oracle at the time, and needed to learn HTML so I could teach web design to my colleagues.
To learn how to create websites, I built a little directory in my spare time called Financelink. As I developed it, I discovered that there was a commercial opportunity.
My wife could see how passionate I was about building websites and suggested I give up my job and start my own business.
So I resigned the next morning.
Chris: I purchased the money.co.uk domain name in 2008. I’m not sure where that figure came from. I signed a non-disclosure agreement that prohibited me from disclosing the price I paid for it.
There was no SEO value in the domain, but I wanted a domain that was easy to spell, memorable and authoritative. money.co.uk met all those requirements perfectly.
Chris: Back then, our traffic was coming predominantly from SEO and PPC, but we didn’t have a structure by which we could continually improve the conversion and the user experience. Because we were paying for traffic, we realized that improving the conversion rate would be one of the most cost-effective ways of increasing our revenues and profits. So conversion rate optimization became a massive focus for us.
After a few weeks, I wanted ideas that we hadn’t even thought of. So I wanted to use a company that had experience in financial services, but also in other industries too. I became aware of Conversion Rate Experts through that first article you wrote. During our first meeting, you recommended we take a step back to reassess what we were trying to achieve. You discussed our strategy beyond the website. Should we be focusing on email marketing? What social-media platforms should we use to communicate to our users? Back then, few companies used Facebook and Twitter to communicate with their customers.
It was eye-opening for me that we weren’t looking only at A/B-testing. We were taking a step back and analyzing the entire business.
Chris: Most people have a limited understanding of conversion rate optimization. They think it’s just about changing small elements on a website.
I was surprised to discover that Conversion Rate Experts looks at a business more holistically. You challenge what’s currently being done, and look at many ways of increasing conversion, beyond the existing website.
I remember my first discussion with you. Right from the start, you were very open, and laid down the fact that we were going to be looking beyond straightforward A/B-tests, swapping buttons, and things like that. You were looking for monumental wins, and suggested big changes across our business.
Chris: You recommended, and helped us to build, what became the second-busiest financial community in the UK. The community has since evolved into a fantastic review platform, with tens of thousands of reviews. So I’m extremely pleased that you encouraged us to do it.
Building a community also gave us a really strong email list. We have about half a million subscribers, whom we contact every week with financial tips and offers. This helps us to build loyalty and provides repeat business. Many affiliate websites are no more than a station through which customers pass on the way to their destinations. You persuaded us that there’d be huge strategic benefits to becoming a central hub.
Chris: The biggest impact was on our PPC activity—AdWords, Bing, etc. The increases in conversion made us able to buy more traffic, which enabled us to negotiate better commercial deals with our advertisers. It directly impacted our bottom line—and still does.
If a company can’t afford to advertise on PPC, then the only way to solve the problem is to increase the website’s conversion rate. Once we had improved our conversion rate, we were able to enter new markets that had previously been too expensive for us.
We have also been able to expand into TV advertising. TV is very expensive, so the better we can convert those visitors on our website, the more affordable the activity becomes.
Chris: We use Decibel Insight to understand the user experience. It shows us where users get stuck on our website. Its form analytics is useful too.
We’ve had a feedback box on the website for years. It’s a great way for our visitors to notify us about a poor user experience. On several occasions, it’s made us aware of bugs that we weren’t aware of.
We use UXPin, which allows us to easily create interactive wireframes. We prefer our prototypes to be interactive, not static. When we user-test them, the users can see how the site will work, so we get better feedback.
UserTesting.com helps when we make changes to the website. If one person struggles to find something or to complete a task, then it’s fair to assume that others will experience the same issues. We don’t need to conduct hundreds of user-tests; we can get valuable insights by running just a few of them.
We use Qualaroo for on-page surveys. It helps us to understand how our users think.
A/B-testing and multivariate testing is key to everything we do. We test almost every change we make to our website. And we are constantly surprised by what works—and what doesn’t. We implement A/B-testing using our own internal technology.
Chris: Unconventionally. I don’t set financial targets for the business. I think they can distract from what’s important—which, for us, is the customer. It’s important that the user experience isn’t sacrificed at the expense of profitability. On this matter, we are fortunate in not having to answer to shareholders or investors.
To avoid suboptimization, we don’t use financial metrics (such as sales or revenue) to reward individual team members. We’re a collaborative team, and our success is a collective effort.
Obviously, we do use KPIs within the business. We just avoid tying them to staff compensation.
Chris: Fear of failure is not something we suffer from. A fear of failure can quash creativity. I don’t mean failure as a result of laziness or complacency; I mean failure as a result of trying something new, of pushing the boundaries.
We work in a culture of testing and experimenting to enable us to succeed. If something doesn’t work the first time, you can evolve and try again. That’s what I encourage my team to do.
Chris: For me, it has been money well spent. The world’s most successful online businesses are 100% committed to conversion rate optimization. That says it all.
Educate yourself, and get an understanding of what’s involved. There are lots of resources out there.
Take a look at what other companies are doing. Look at the tools available. Then, take a long, hard look at your website. Look at the way you work. Consider the opportunities for your business.
Finally, have a discussion with a specialist company such as Conversion Rate Experts. Ask them about their approach. Ask how they’d improve your website.
Chris: I really enjoyed working with Conversion Rate Experts. It made me think out of the box—pardon the cliché. I think it’s important to regularly set aside time to challenge what we do, to look for improvements, to come up with new and exciting ideas. That’s invaluable.
It’s not just about ideas. Working with Conversion Rate Experts is like getting a personal trainer. They force you to get off your ass and do something. They make you accountable. They make things happen.
Because you’re investing money to work with them, you’re motivated to see a return on that investment. This forces you to focus on the activities that get results.
I now have a strong belief in A/B-testing, and the confidence to make bold changes to our business model. I’ve become almost regimental about dedicating time and resources to improving our conversion rates.
money.co.uk’s story contains many important lessons, but we think the following ones are worth highlighting:
The staff members at money.co.uk share many of the traits that we observe in the most successful web companies:
We aren’t surprised that they’ve achieved such phenomenal growth.
1. If you’d like us to work on your website—to dramatically improve your conversion rate and profits (like we did for all these companies), then claim your FREE website strategy session. On this free phone consultation, one of our experts will discuss your conversion goals and suggest strategies to double your sales.
2. If you’d like to learn conversion for free, go to our “Learning Zone” page, where you can download templates of million-dollar winning pages. Or, if you’d like us to build your company’s in-house capabilities (not for free), then contact us and we’ll discuss your requirements.
3. If you’d like to work for us—or see why our team members love working for us—then see our “Careers” pages.
All of our articles are subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
So far, we have helped to grow clients in 37 countries in 11 languages.
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