Website not giving you the results you expected? How about some non-judgemental feedback from a fresh set of eyes? Apply for an online marketing tune-up with Paul Montreal

It’s all about the feels. (Open Listings) A Y Combinator website marketing tune-up.

by Paul Montreal. Average Reading Time: about 14 minutes. website marketing tune-up

I’m doing a marketing tune-up on Peter’s website It’s a real estate company, that uses technology to cut out the middleman and save you money. Hire them to buy a house for you, and they’ll refund you half of their commission. These guys are doing a pretty good job, so this one is going to be about the details. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn…

Website marketing makeover.

Click for full page screenshot

“All we do is test and build”

Even before we look at the site, I have to give Peter props. When people apply for a tune-up, there’s a short form. One of the things I ask people is – “Are you willing to test my ideas?” It’s a simple enough question, designed to set up the right expectations. This is for doers, not dreamers.

Of course everyone says yes, whether they actually do end up testing my feedback or not. But the interesting question is – why would people ever not test professional feedback? Especially if they’re not getting the results they want?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because there’s a whole part of our personality completely devoted to protecting our identity, our beliefs, and the decisions we’ve already made. It’s fundamental to who we are as a species.

So, even if we’re struggling to solve a problem, more often than not, we stick with our previous decisions. We do the same thing over and over and blame the rest of the world for not falling into line with our genius.

The human brain has this amazing capacity to make whatever we think seem “logical”, at least to us. We believe all sorts of things that Spock would raise an already raised eyebrow at.

This way of protecting our self image is at work every day. In our interactions with the world. In the products we create. And in our promotion decisions.

We trick ourselves that there is “one true solution”. The logical answer. And we put all our chips on the table, praying that our genius will be validated. Or, we play “dippy toe in the water”. Where we execute (sometimes a good idea) with so little tenacity or promotion that no one ever gets a chance to see it or act on it.

So, what I love about Peter’s application today is that when I asked him if he was willing to test my ideas, he didn’t just say yes, he said “All we do is test and build”.

I fricking love that.

If you remember nothing else from this tune-up, remember “All we do is test and build” and go forward with the same attitude. If you do, you’ll win. But it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because you have to let go of those bullshit ideas you’re holding onto. You have to let go of the internal “logic” of what you think you already know is true. You have to give yourself over to what actually works in the real world. You have to notice what your customers actually do, or don’t do.

If you can train yourself to do that. By starting small and building on the back of tests and experiments. While doing enough promotion to make those tests count. Then you’ll make dramatic strides forward.

Marketing isn’t about “the one true way”. Sure, there are patterns. But there are no instant wins. It isn’t a gamble. And it certainly isn’t personal.

So, let’s proceed. Like marketing Zen masters, free of attachment. And see what we can learn…

Online marketing help.

Bouncy bouncy, no catchy monkey.

We arrive on a page designed to grab our attention with just a headline, sub header and a couple of call to action buttons. There’s a giant background image to set the tone. This page is designed to look like a single page, free of distractions, so the user can focus. But it isn’t really. It’s really a long page, begging for you to scroll down and read the rest of it.

Only you can’t tell, so there’s an animated arrow bouncing up and down saying “scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, scroll down…” It’s hard to illustrate in pure copy how annoying it is. But let me try again “scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, scroll down…”

That animated arrow defeats the whole purpose of using this kind of focused page. It takes away all the attention from the thing you want me to focus on in the first place.

Action: Never let a website template determine the experience of your customers. Templates can be a great starting place, they can also be a huge limitation. Think about exactly how you want your user to feel at every single step of the process and ruthlessly remove anything that gets in the way.

Nail your pitch in just a couple of lines.

Let’s take a look at the copy…

In giant letters we have “Buy any home in California from your laptop” and in much smaller letters we have “And save an average of $21,482 with our 50% commission refund.”

Then we have two buttons “Browse listings” and “Create an offer”.

I don’t think you’ve sold the basic concept clearly enough yet.

I’d be testing more variations of this most basic explanation of what you do. And I’d make sure the main concept was unmissable, all contained in one line.

Something like: “Buy any home in California through us, and we’ll give you 50% of our commission.”

Then, you can put a number on that in a sub header. “Make an offer from your laptop, and get an average of $21,400. That’s free money to cover your moving expenses and help you settle in your new home.”

Now, to properly advise you on better copy I’d really want to be looking into your customers and your refunding in more detail. The most critical thing I always want to know is – what is the customer’s problem?

There are all sorts of things that a home buyer will be stressed about. The costs of moving are just one of those things. So, if your pitch is quite simply “we’ll save you money” then you want to be linking those savings to the pain that they are already feeling. Start by highlighting the costs and the inconvenience and the stress. And then serve up your solution as the ointment that’s going to make it all feel better.

From what I can tell, this is free money from a buyer’s perspective. You’re giving them a portion of your commission, money that would ordinary be taken out of the seller’s end and given to the realtor, right? It should feel like winning the lottery to the home buyer. It should wipe out all their moving worries in one smooth swipe.

Action: Spend as much time as it takes to perfect the one or two line condensed pitch that explains what you do and how you’re different. Then make sure you’re presenting that pitch in its full but condensed manner. Highlighting the problem as well as the solution. And not being limited by your template again. Template designers don’t like lots of words. Don’t suffer their bias.


The compounding effect of confusion.

Confusion is caused by just a few tiny details. But those details build and swell. And that causes our users to feel bad about their ability to understand the world. And no one likes to feel bad about themselves. So they bail.

Now, when it comes to language, there will always be regional differences. I’m from the UK and work with people all over the planet. So I come across colloquialisms all day long. But as a general rule it’s always good to question the most basic of “trade” phrases to see whether people instantly understand them.

Take the second button – “Create an offer”.

That phrase spun around in my head. What does that mean? Does it mean “Make an offer on a house?” Is that the Californian way of saying “Make an offer?” I understand “Make an offer”. But do I understand “Create an offer”.

You could say “they’re obviously the same thing you idiot”. But are they? One of those phrases I understood instantly. One of those phrases distracted my brain and caused a low level of confusion.

I watch Shark Tank, they make offers all the time. I’ve never heard Barbara say “Cuban, are you going to talk all day or create an offer?” No, she’d say, “Cuban, are you going to talk all day or make an offer?”

If it’s an isolated thing, the user might carry on. But if there’s a second, or a third thing that makes them stop and think. (And people really don’t like to think). The pressure builds up and they’ll bail. And there are lots of tiny examples throughout the site. When “Browse listings” turns into “House Hunt”. When the contact button moves from the top of the page to the bottom. When the phone number disappears. When key links get hidden behind a “menu” button. When the “one big idea” shifts in focus from page to page.

Action: Whether “create an offer” is the best way to phrase that call to action, or not, don’t be afraid to go through your copy with a fine tooth comb and ask “how can we make this sooo simple to understand, that is just slips right into the brain without resistance?”.


Talk to me.

It’s good that there’s a phone number at the top of the home page (it should also be on the rest of the site). But I don’t like that there’s a chat icon next to it, which isn’t really chat, it’s a basic contact form.

These are big ticket items here, I wouldn’t be running a site like this without a reliable live chat option. A lot of people hate the phone, but are happy with text chat. Contact forms are the worst of all worlds, they’re like a black hole for messages. There’s no record of your message, you don’t know who, if anyone is on the other end.

Action: Replace contact forms with personal emails or preferably Live chat. And be consistent on every page. So that people can contact you instantly in whatever way makes them most comfortable.


Model the media that already works.

I love that you’ve actually linked your “featured on” logo’s with the original posts and articles. It’s great for social proof and trust. Especially in an age when a lot of people just add logo’s without any real justification.

But I want everyone to click on the first link to an ABC news feature and notice the power of video. (You’ll have to wait a few seconds for the dumb ads to run, but stick with it). Just by watching the news report, I got a much better understanding of your service. As journalists, a news site knows that all stories are really stories about people and their journey through the ups and downs of life. (And their pets). They’re never really about technology, even when they are.

If you don’t yet have the resources to do a video for the home page (which I would highly recommend), then try featuring that news report instead.

Action: Go through your existing press, see if any of the media reports actually explain the product better than you do already. Especially by video. Feature one of those video reports up front, not hidden away. Or model their approach. Hire some journalism students and direct your own human interest / faux news feature.


Move the slider. Explain the “obvious”.

Watching the ABC video I also learned that the “see how much you’ll save” part of the page, is actually a slider. (Which is obvious to you, but not knuckle heads like me). All it takes is a few additional words…

“Move the slider to see how much you’ll save”

It’s also another good reason to have a video that walks people through the story and your site. I highlighted how well I think the new Basecamp marketing site executes a simple video walkthrough in a previous tune-up.

Action: Your customers aren’t designers, or coders. And they haven’t spent the months, or even years, working on your website like you have. The general principle to live by in your design is “Don’t make ’em think”.


It’s all about the feels. Lead with the human benefits, not the mechanical features.

You’ve listed “how this works” with a series of big headlines and short supporting explanations. I’d try and tighten up that copy. It reads like a features list from the perspective of a technically-minded person. But it doesn’t matter if you’re selling real estate in the middle of Silicon Valley. The people buying it will be in a far more emotionally driven frame of mind when they’re moving home. (Whether they believe that of themselves or not).

In this example you highlighted the phrase “Manage your offers online” which is really a feature…

Manage your offers online
Create offers whenever you like. You control the terms; our agents will review and present the offer to the seller, ensuring you have the best possible shot at getting it accepted. A buy button for any home in California!

I’d lead with an emotional appeal. The human benefit of those features. And avoid trying to be clever. “A buy button for any home in California” sounds cute. But cute and clever rarely convert. A far better line to highlight from that paragraph is “You control the terms” or even better “You’re in control”.

I know that “Manage your offers online” is essentially promising your user a level of control. But it’s an abstract idea to them, just like a “buy button” is an abstract idea. The less abstract we can make things, the more impact they will have. There’s nothing abstract about “You’re in control” in a situation where the user probably feels anything but.

Likewise, no one ever lay awake at night thinking “I wish I had more on-demand info and reports”.

And “Data = Confidence” is an argument you will only be able to sell to about 10% of the population. If that. The other 90% actually feel confidence when they can see and hear human beings who seem like them. So, People = Confidence is more accurate.

All that “data” actually relates to the PEOPLE your home buyers will be interested in. Their potential neighbours. The type of kids their children will go to school with. How secure they are likely to feel walking down the street of their new community.

Action: Use the data and the tools to focus on the people and the feelings. The phrases we highlight, the headlines we create should be far more emotionally direct and relevant. Only after we’ve got the lizard brain’s attention should we pull out our calculators and explain how the numbers make sense.


Resolve incongruence around people vs technology.

There’s a feature I love on the site, when you click the “Create an offer button” we’re introduced to a real human being, with a smiling face and a name and everything! She even comes with a personal introduction. That’s exactly the kind of “peopleization” that the site needs.

But there’s also some confusion around who she is and what it means to be “your listings agent”. Your copy is trying to say “we use technology to bypass people, so you save money”. But actually, people want people to guide them through a super expensive purchase.

So, you need to really resolve this issue around how much people are going to be supported. Or not. And trust me, people want support for major purchases. I don’t care what the technology is. In an open market (monopolies etc aside), it’s the technology with the best human support that usually wins in the long run.

Action: Work out how you are going to sell the general idea of “this is about technology” vs “we have real people to help you through this major life investment”. It’s critical to the issue of trust.



This is a tune-up requiring lots of little tweaks. Far too many to list and make sense of here. But it’s a process of re-focusing, re-framing, shifting attention from one idea, to a more appealing idea. Many of the answers, in fact most of the copy, is already in there. It’s just over shadowed by small design elements and too many attempts to sell the big idea from different angles.

I’d lose the copy on the homepage and have nothing but a video that covers the basic premise. Then, the rest of the site, should only have 3 things they can do. “Learn how it works” in more detail, “Browse Listings” and “Make an offer”.

But I think the guys behind this are on the right track. And if they can combine their focus on testing and building, with the human elements of people, their problems and their emotional drivers. Then I think they’ll work it out.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this tune-up in the comments. Until next week, stay the course, see it through, make your mark!

Website not giving you the results you expected? How about some non-judgemental feedback from a fresh set of eyes? Apply for an online marketing tune-up with Paul Montreal

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