Habits of a highly successful web team: an interview with one of the UK’s fastest-growing web businesses

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Top Cashback in fast track
TopCashback made number five in The Sunday Times “FastTrack 100.”

We’ve noticed that our most successful clients have many of the same traits in common. If you’re serious about growing your business, you should study and emulate their habits and culture.

Here’s a good place to start: One of our clients, TopCashback, has made number five in The Sunday Times “Fast Track 100”—a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the UK.

TopCashback grew from sales of just £600,000 in 2008 to £15,500,000 in 2011. And the company did so in the midst of a severe recession and in a highly competitive industry. TopCashback’s Operations Manager, Adam Bullock, has kindly given us an interview about how they did it.

In case you’re not already aware of cashback websites, here’s how they work: A consumer signs up for the cashback website and then purchases services or goods from other websites via the cashback website’s affiliate links. Once the cashback website has received its affiliate payments, the site pays a percentage of that payment back to the consumer. TopCashback claims to be the first cashback site to pay 100% of the cashback payment to the consumer. It earns all of its revenue from online advertising.

Q & A with Adam Bullock from TopCashback

Q: Congratulations on getting so high on the “Fast Track 100.” How does it feel?

A: When someone suggested that we enter it, we thought we might make the top 100 or scrape along somewhere at the bottom in the 90s. When we saw that we were fifth, we actually went back and checked with them, as in “Are you sure?”

It was also remarkable because of the stiff competition and the fact that the numbers are calculated on three years of growth, not on just one great year.

Q: So you got invited to Sir Richard Branson’s house?

A: Yeah, they serve champagne to the winners, and we will get a tour of Richard Branson’s Oxford mansion. We’re all arguing about who gets to do that.

Q: Could you describe how TopCashback started? What was the company like before we started working with you?

A: Mike and Oliver started TopCashback six years ago. For three years, it was very small but kind of got by, with a few thousand new members each year. In the last three years, we ramped up our marketing a lot. We now have about 1.2 million members.

Before we worked with Conversion Rate Experts (CRE), we seemed to have no real structure to what we were doing. We, or an affiliate, would come up with an idea and we’d say, “All right, that sounds good,” and we’d stick it on the website. We just assumed that if we thought an idea was good, it would have a positive impact on growth. Before long, our pages became cluttered and we didn’t know what to do about it, because we were not measuring the effect of each successive addition. At the same time, we were quite afraid of making large changes, because we didn’t really know how to measure them.

When we signed with CRE and started to measure carefully, we soon realized that our assumption about a positive impact wasn’t always the case. We also gained confidence about making big changes because you told us that it’s the big changes that would have the big impact we had been looking for. We were more confident about testing them because our measurement tools were in place. If the changes didn’t result in the improvement we expected, we could promptly take them off and try something else.

Q: So measurement provided the safety net that made you feel fine about making those changes?

A: That’s it. Previously we wondered, “Should we make a change? Do we know if it’s going to work?” We were never on firm ground. We kind of knew about Google’s split-testing tool, but we never really used it properly, and we had no confidence that we knew what we were doing.

CRE gave us that knowledge in terms of the best way to run tests. So nowadays, we run a lot of tests. Using your methodology, we continually come up with improvements—big and small—so we regularly have better-performing pages on the site.

Q: You have an amazing-looking sales graph now, don’t you?

A: Yeah, it’s pretty nice.

Graph showing Top Cashback’s revenue growth during a major recession.
TopCashback’s growth during a major recession.

Q: Many of our most successful clients have an amazing product or service. Our first task is often to communicate the benefits more prominently and clearly. Do you feel that was the case with our treatment of TopCashback?

A: Yeah, but oddly enough it started not with listing the great features but instead with looking at objections. You helped us to put together surveys, and we got feedback from prospective members firsthand to explain why they didn’t sign up. And even if they did join but never signed in again, we tried to get feedback from them to help us understand what their objections were.

CRE came up with three lists: objections, “trust factors” (or things visitors didn’t believe), and things visitors didn’t understand. That gave us quite a clear structure of what we should be doing in terms of moving ahead.

So now we talk a lot in the office about trust factors. “What do we need on this page?” We might pull in a quote from The Sunday Times or The Telegraph or something like that to give us some credibility that TopCashback isn’t a scam.

Q: What were the major challenges you found in terms of actually doing conversion rate optimization?

A: We initially worried that someone would come in and say we needed to drastically change the homepage and we would lose the whole message and half of the business. I mean, that was the main concern: that you were going to start telling us things that we didn’t really want to do.

When we actually started, you were very considerate. You described what would be ideal to do and what would be the minimum to do, and you then came up with something in between that would be a significant change but wouldn’t cause us to lose the whole experience of the site or lose the things that were important to us as a business.

One other challenge was just internally trying to make sure that our people had done their tasks before the next progress meeting with CRE. I guess that’s a problem with all businesses: that the day-to-day work sometimes takes priority over strategic things. But when we started seeing the results of the tests, we could justify it, and we managed to prioritize everything we needed to do.

Q: Can you remember how long it was before you saw positive results from the project?

A: Yeah, it was the very first test that we did, so it was within a few weeks. We were monitoring the split-testing results and we saw a 17% conversion rate improvement for people coming to the site and signing up. Because we’ve got millions of people visiting the site, that was great.

Q: One thing we find with lots of our clients is that sometimes a modest increase in the conversion rate can be the difference between their being able to afford certain types of traffic and not being able to. We’ve watched how you’ve managed to go from being a web company to being able to afford offline media. You’ve done a lot of that now, haven’t you?

A: Yeah, we did national TV advertising from June last year all the way throughout the rest of the year. We’re trying to see how we can reach out to people who aren’t aware of the TopCashback site or still have doubt. As you mentioned earlier, when we sit down and look at our site, we sometimes think, “Why isn’t everyone using it?” It’s a no-brainer. “If you’re looking to buy products from a website, why don’t you come to us here? We can get you cash back.” Now we’re spreading that message both online and off.

Q: Some of our clients get more new ideas implemented than others. In fact, often there is a huge difference between the most productive clients and the least. Do you have any thoughts about implementation that you think make you particularly productive?

A: We thought if we’re going to be using CRE, then it was pointless to listen to your advice and not actually implement it. So we simply made a point of trying to do as many of the things that we’d discussed on the calls as possible. The other thing we do is not just make a change and move onto something new, but we circle back later and change it again. So for instance with the 17% conversion boost we talked about earlier, that was a change we made 12 months ago. We’re still looking at trying to improve it. Hopefully that 17% we saw may jump up to 19% or 20% or something like that.

We are also more methodical now about our decision-making process for tests. So when someone comes up with an idea, we now sit down and think, “What will this impact? Could it be done differently?” It helps us to avoid the negatives as well as achieve the positives.

Q: What surprised you about how our process has unfolded in your company?

A: For one, it was the amount of people who actually got involved and gave feedback and ideas. I’m used to getting sales pitches from companies where they seem great but then when the project actually starts, you get one contact who isn’t very contactable.

It was different with CRE—your consultant seemed always to be contactable, and at times you had multiple people giving feedback and ideas on what could be done to improve the site, which I think is something we needed. I hope as a company we are like that as well, but it was certainly refreshing to see that CRE would follow up on the promises you made.

Q: Can you remember why you chose CRE in the first place?

A: Two reasons, actually. One was that you were recommended to us personally. The other was that several of us had seen presentations by CRE at different events in the past.

Among all your slides is one where revenues jump up at the end with a massive spike. I’m quite skeptical of salespeople and what could be seen as a sales pitch, but after I spoke to you, it was pretty clear that all of your consultants were knowledgeable and passionate and that they had different transferable skills that they could apply. There seemed to be a big knowledge base from which we could pull to perhaps give us the direction that we needed, which we couldn’t see in our own little bubble.

See TopCashback’s site

Top Cashback
TopCashback’s homepage.

You may want to visit TopCashback’s homepage to get some ideas about strategies to apply to your own site so that you can boost conversions.

See a detailed case study of what we did!

If you liked this interview and want to know the ins and outs of how we helped TopCashback grow its business, take a look at the TopCashback case study, which offers a more-detailed breakdown of what we did.

Also, make sure you’ve read our other case studies. They contain many principles you can apply to your business straight away.

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