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The Power of 5 Second User Testing and how we've used it to de-risk a Brand Refresh

By John Woods  |  November 22, 2022
So, what is 5 Second User Testing?
It’s a user research technique where participants see an image for a short time period (typically, but not always, 5 seconds!) and are then asked some questions about their impressions.
 
OK, but what can it be used for?

It can be used to add value and reduce risk in a whole range of marketing projects by providing insight into the effectiveness of the visual design, headline copy and information architecture of a piece of content. 

Sounds good…so why do you like it so much?

These are the key advantages of 5 second user testing:

  • It’s flexible: you can test your own live content, or content that is still under development, or even a competitor’s content.
  • It’s cost effective: you can run a basic test for a few hundred pounds. (More complex tests cost more, but it’s still a very low-cost solution compared to most user research methodologies.)
  • It’s quick: it’s possible to complete a test within a day.
  • It works: even when testing complex B2B propositions, time and again we get great insights from 5 second testing that help to improve marketing performance.
  • It engages stakeholders: the results from the tests are easily digestible and thought-provoking even for non-specialist stakeholders.
Hmmm, 5 seconds doesn’t sound very long…

It’s plenty of time! We’re looking to test the immediate visual impact of the content. We are looking to find out whether it gives a strong and effective first impression, and to find out if there are any sources of confusion that need to be eliminated from the design.

The first impression isn’t the whole story about marketing effectiveness but it’s a crucial component. For example in search marketing, if your landing page doesn’t immediately create a positive impression for the visitor, they won’t hang around to read the detail – they’ll hit the back button and move on to a competitor’s listing.

OK, I’m interested, does it work for B2B?

Yes! Perhaps surprisingly well. We’ve used 5 second user testing with great success across a diverse range of B2B marketing projects. We’ve a detailed B2B case study example below.

But do you need to recruit a specialist panel?

Many forms of market research are difficult for B2B because of the need to work with specialist research participants – people who are expert in the subject matter under test. But for 5 second user testing the panel members don’t need to be experts in the subject matter.

We’re not concerned about how a person responds to the complex details of the content under test, just their first impressions – and these are usually much the same whether they have subject matter expertise or not.

There are often cultural elements to how people process visuals, so ideally we use a test panel that is broadly representative of the target audience in terms of geographic location, age and education level. But we don’t need to be more specific than that for most tests – which makes test setup and execution much faster and easier.

You mentioned an example?

Here goes!

We’re in the process of refreshing our branding at Sharp Ahead. We like our current branding but we don’t feel it quite represents the agency we are today, especially with our last couple of years of growth. So we’ve developed a refreshed brand concept which we all absolutely love, and we’re keen to roll it out.

But with any project like this it is easy to get too close to the work and too attached to a creative concept. We are not our own target audience! So we wanted to reduce the risk of our rebrand by testing the new branding against the old.

We chose to test one of our most important PPC landing pages – a page that allows a prospective new client to sign up for a free initial consultation with one of our directors.

Here’s the current version of the page with the original branding:

And here’s the new design – note that this is currently just a flat design, not a live web page. (One of the advantages of this test method is that we can test an early design like this.)

We tested the two versions with separate panels – this is important, we don’t want to “educate” a participant about the first version of a design and then have the same participant give a distorted impression of the second version.

The results gave us a lot of confidence in the new branding. For example the new branding scores 23% better on an index of “professionalism” – a big improvement that aligns with where we are looking to take the brand.

The change in the page design was also intended to simplify the visuals so that they were less distracting – allowing the reader to focus on the CTA and other key elements of the page. Our test gave us some confidence that we’ve achieved that. Here’s the word cloud showing what people recalled the most strongly about the original page:

Note how “funnel” and “book” and “image” stand out there, at the expense of “consultation”. This word cloud suggests that the visuals are distracting from the primary CTA, not enhancing it.

Here’s the corresponding word cloud for the new design:

This is a much better result! The panelists have seen and recalled the offer of a free consultation, and the fact that we’re a b2b marketing specialist. So we can have a lot of confidence that the new design has achieved its objectives.

So, there we have it, a perfect example to illustrate the benefits of running 5 second user testing to provide insight that can help your brand evolve positively. 

OK, I’m convinced! Can you help me put this technique to use?
We often use 5 second user tests as part of a larger project (e.g. website design or paid media campaign setup) in order to reduce risk and improve results. But we’re also happy to run standalone tests for clients. If you think 5 second user testing could help you, please get in touch.
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Image extensions on Google Ads – are they relevant for B2B?

By John Woods  |  November 3, 2022
Say hello to a new feature on the Google Ads platform: image extensions.

It won’t surprise you to learn that an image extension enables a search ad to contain an image.

This is the latest in a long line of features from Google that allow “extensions” (or as they are now called “assets”) to be used to expand a search ad beyond the basic headline and description. But it’s the first time Google has allowed graphics in search ads. So, it creates an exciting opportunity for search marketers to expand their creativity.

Here’s an example from Google’s own documentation:

The benefits of the image are clear in this case: the ad stands out more on the page, and the picture of attractive-looking food conveys a huge amount of information in a way that the ad copy itself cannot.

It’s obvious how an image is helpful when selling a tangible product to a consumer. But are image extensions relevant for the B2B marketer?

We’ve looked at a two examples of search ads for B2B services to illustrate how B2B advertisers are currently using image extensions. (Disclaimer: neither of these examples is connected with Sharp Ahead.)

First up some CRM ads:

 

Mixed results here with two results showing an image extension and two without. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the other advertisers are not using image extensions – Google makes a dynamic decision whether or not to show the extension based on predicted performance. But it shows that at least some of the main advertisers are using images.

The Pipedrive image is a winner for me here. It has visual simplicity that supports the idea of a simple, user-friendly system. And it also means the image doesn’t distract too much from the rest of the ad.

I’m less of a fan of the image that Salesforce uses. It’s cute, but for me it distracts more, and communicates less, than the Pipedrive one.

This example SERP shows one of the trade-offs about image extensions – they take up space which is no longer available for text. See how the Salesforce ad in particular has been cut right down to make space for the image. In contrast, the Hubspot and Arriga ads have a lot more copy. A sophisticated searcher might find the extra copy a lot more helpful than the images when deciding which product to choose.

Now some accountancy ads:

 

Again, a 50:50 split of ads with and without image extensions.

The Chapman Worth image extension is great – it conveys a lot about the team and their office environment. From the image alone I get the idea that this is an approachable, modern, professional firm. The ad copy ties in with the image. Nice job.

The Strata image is, for me, an example of what NOT to do with an image extension. Showing a single individual in an uncertain context doesn’t really communicate anything of value and distracts from the rest of the ad.

These examples show that B2B advertisers are certainly starting to make use of image extensions. And we can begin to see how some are better than others.

Here are a couple of examples from our own work at Sharp Ahead to illustrate some best practices:

The Catalyst is a large, impressive modern building in the heart of Newcastle. So, we’ve chosen an image extension with an exterior shot communicates that sense of scale, quality, and prestige. Prospective users of the building can use the image to make a better judgement about whether it is suitable for their needs.

We’ve followed a different route with the Witney BIC:

Here the image conveys the high quality of the interior of the building, the light and airy nature of the office space and gives a hint of the view over green fields in the background. A prospective user of the building can use the image to get a sense of what it would be like to work from one of these offices. Importantly, this is a professional-looking image but obviously NOT a stock photo, so it conveys a sense of authenticity.

If you do decide to trial image extensions, it’s vital to choose the right images. Ask yourself these questions before choosing images for image extensions in your B2B campaign:

  • Does the image really communicate something about your product or service? If the image isn’t relevant, then it is just visual clutter that will detract from the rest of the ad.
  • Is the image of a high quality and consistent with your brand?
  • Is the image authentic and distinctive? If your image screams “just another stock photo” you won’t add value to your message.

If you are lucky, you might have suitable image assets already available. But if not you may need to commission new photography or illustration work – a big cost compared to the normal day-to-day costs of keeping text ads up to date.

So, should you be using image extensions for your B2B campaigns on Google Ads?

I think that’s currently a nuanced decision. Image extensions certainly add value for some products and services, and in some very competitive search auctions they may become essential. But in other cases the benefits are still questionable.

Remember that your primary goal as a B2B search advertiser is to persuade the right target customers to click on your ads rather than the rival links on the SERP. A good image extension will improve your chances of that happening. A bad image extension risks drawing the wrong clicks, with the waste of budget that implies, while sending the right clicks to your competitors.

If you’d like to learn more about image extensions or get some help with any other aspect of your B2B digital marketing activity, then please head over to our services page on our website to find out how we can help you. 
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Leeds Digital Festival 2022

By Jennifer Esty  |  August 25, 2022

Discover How To Decarb Your Digital Marketing

Sharp Ahead are proud to be returning to Leeds Digital Festival and hosting an event at 9:30 on 29th September.

The Leeds Digital Festival, known as “The Tech Event for Everyone”, is an open & collaborative celebration of digital culture in all its forms. It’s perfect for those interested in coding, fintech, social media, AI, healthtech, data, start-ups, digital music, cyber security or AR/VR.

Now returning for its 7th year, the Leeds Digital Festival is hosting a jam-packed three days of cutting-edge tech events, including our very own session on decarbing your digital marketing.

In our 45 minute session, hosted at Avenue HQ and online, we’ll be discussing the carbon cost of your digital marketing activities and how you can work towards your ESG goals, whilst improving the performance of your digital marketing channels.

Interested in decarbing your digital footprint, whilst improving your marketing performance and overall ROI? Reserve your place now.

SharpSpring Platinum Certification Marketing Automation
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Sharp Ahead Receives Platinum Certification in SharpSpring Partner Certification Program

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 24, 2021

We’re super excited to announce that Sharp Ahead have achieved platinum-level certification in SharpSpring’s partner certification program!

Through this program, SharpSpring, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHSP), a global provider of cloud-based marketing and email software solutions, empowers its partners to become experts in marketing automation and rewards top performers with referrals, certification badges and additional resources.

Graphical Demonstration of Marketing Automation with SharpSpring Platinum Certification

Sharp Ahead met all of the requirements within the platinum tier of the certification program, demonstrating an exceptional level of expertise in marketing automation and the SharpSpring platform. With this certification, Sharp Ahead is more equipped to help clients drive qualified leads, convert more of those leads to sales, and optimize the ROI of their marketing campaigns.

“Agencies that are leaders in marketing automation are also far more likely to become leaders in the digital marketing industry,” said Rick Carlson, CEO of SharpSpring. “When a partner goes the extra mile to obtain this level of certification, we know they truly understand the value of marketing automation and that they’re committed to driving the highest results for their clients.”

“We’re very proud of the Sharp Ahead team for achieving such a significant designation. At Sharp Ahead, we aim to provide our clients with the highest level of service and expertise. Obtaining Platinum Certification from SharpSpring is a clear reflection of our approach”, says Jennifer Esty, Director of Sharp Ahead.

Find out more about our marketing automation services or get in touch to request a SharpSpring demo.

Automation Graphical Demonstration
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Constant Contact Acquires SharpSpring

What does this mean for your company?

By Dan Winter  |  June 28, 2021

Last week it was announced that SharpSpring has been acquired by Constant Contact – an established leader in online marketing technology.

As many of our valued clients are currently using, or in the process of implementing, SharpSpring, we wanted to give you a quick update on the latest news.  

In a session for agencies late last week, SharpSpring’s CEO Rick Carlson assured us that the fundamentals of the software will not change – Constant Contact and SharpSpring share the same values and vision. The acquisition provides the opportunity for further investment in the platform – meaning more great features for you and us!

What happens next?

Well, mainly, it’s business as usual. Constant Contact and SharpSpring will spend the next couple of months completing the legal necessities, and at Sharp Ahead we’ll continue to drive growth for our clients through the SharpSpring platform. 

We’ve been informed there will be no major changes for the foreseeable future. There are, however, a range of exciting new features already in the pipeline for this year, including: 

  • An SMS marketing tool
  • New integrations
  • New navigation
  • New opportunity manager
  • An updated mobile app
Automation Graphical Demonstration

Any questions?

We’ll keep you updated as and when we hear more about the acquisition and any exciting new features, but if you have any questions, or if you’re interested in becoming a SharpSpring user please do get in touch!