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How the Texas State Historical Association Increased Member Conversion by 146.5%

Published by Jeff Giddens

The Texas State Historical Association, organized in 1897, is the oldest learned society in Texas.

It exists to foster the appreciation, understanding, and teaching of the rich and unique history of Texas and encourage and promote research, preservation, and publication of historical material affecting the state of Texas. The TSHA publishes the Handbook of Texas, the Southwestern Quarterly, and the Texas Almanac, three must-reads for any Texas history enthusiast.

The Challenge

The TSHA came to us with a simple goal: “help us get more members.” Because of the wealth of digital content that they publish, TSHA web properties had lots of traffic, but membership conversion had plenty of room to grow. We worked with the TSHA team to devise a landing page optimization test on the donation page, where membership is explained and offered.

The Test

The control page (which you can see below) offers the donor a variety of options for membership through a shopping cart experience. The different levels of membership were explained on the next page, but it wasn’t easy to compare them or to know where to start. The shopping cart experience, while familiar to many users, didn’t accurately reflect the process of giving a donation. It also added multiple steps of friction, which we determined would decrease conversion.

We hypothesized that the biggest opportunity to positively affect conversion would be to increase the force of the value proposition. While the donation page had value proposition language on it (which is more than many organizations have), it didn’t reflect the true value of being a member of the TSHA, as well as the “insider access” gained through membership. We knew from trusted research that members of the TSHA are extremely passionate about Texas, and we wanted the page to reflect that both in copy and creative. While anyone can join the TSHA, members have a shared enthusiasm and love for Texas, and we wanted to target that audience by making membership “exclusive” to Texas history fanatics. Crafting a value proposition forces you to accept trade-offs, and we were willing to accept that we might turn away casual Texas history fans by targeting the most devoted enthusiasts.

We set up a page that took a different approach to membership by highlighting appeal and exclusivity. The TSHA had long existed to offer membership to all — but only those who truly care about the legacy and preservation of Texas History actually join. We sought to highlight this exclusivity — while anyone can join, it’s not for everyone — just for those that care the most. This causes the prospect to consider whether they fit that group — guiding the mental conversation they have as they read down the page. We used the headline “Get Insider Access” to show that there was a lot on the other side of membership. Then, we set the current members up as heroes (which they are). All of the elements in this initial paragraph are designed to appeal to the target audience — people who love Texas history and are proud of their heritage.

Next, we sought to increase credibility (as if 100+ years of history wasn’t enough) by showing the vast amount of scholarly work that the TSHA has put out and publishes each year. We used lots of numbers here (which help increase credibility): 27,000 posts in the Handbook of Texas, 115 years of the Quarterly, 1.02 million students reached every year, and more.

These first two paragraphs put the TSHA members as an elite group — which is precisely the moment that we want to extend the offer of membership. We first highlight the impact that members have in preserving history, and then outline the special content they will be able to access. We wait until right before the donation form to list the treasure trove of benefits that they will receive, and then clearly lay out the membership levels, preselecting the most popular option. In addition, we included a form that allowed them to join right on the page, decreasing friction by several clicks and creating a one-step giving experience.

Control page
Control page

Treatment page
Treatment page

The results

After a few weeks of testing, we achieved statistical validity on the test. The treatment delivered a conversion lift of 146.5%!  Our hypotheses about the prospective members were validated. Because the TSHA has a great amount of traffic, this conversion lift delivered a significant lift in overall revenue, especially as traffic and inbound leads continue to grow.

One key insight here is that while the page length increased (much like another test for Senator John Cornyn), page length was not the factor that increased conversion. In fact, page length is often a deterrent to donor conversion. The factors that increased conversion were reducing friction and anxiety while simultaneously increasing the force of the value proposition.

We wouldn’t have been able to start this test without proper conversion tracking. Once we had conversion tracking set up in Google Analytics, we were able to review the three key metrics that contribute to online revenue: traffic, conversion rate, and average gift. If you know these statistics for your site and want a customized report to see how your site stacks up to similar organizations, grab your free report here.

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.