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How to Avoid Duplicate Conversions and Recreating the Conversion Funnel for GA4

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20 Google Analytics Alternatives - Moz

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

As you’re probably all too aware at this point, GA4 is coming. Old versions of Google Analytics will be switched off for pretty much everyone come June 2023.

While GA4 is improving all the time, there are quite a few things that people are used to seeing in old versions of Analytics which, at the very least, take a bit of creativity in the new world.

One example is how conversions are handled. In the old versions of Google Analytics, a conversion could only fire once per session. In GA4 conversions are just another kind of event, so it’s possible for a conversion to fire multiple times in one session.

Problem is, you might be very interested if someone signs up via your contact-us form once. But that person might reload the thank-you page, or sign up for something else via a different form on the site. That doesn’t mean you necessarily want to track two conversions.

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Speaking of signing up via different forms, on some websites, users may wind up on the same thank-you page having taken very different routes to get there. If we don’t have that much control, and we’re having to rely on thank-you page views to track conversions, it can be hard for us to separate out different kinds of conversions.

In old versions of GA you could use funnels with a “required” step. You might have one goal with a funnel requiring your event page, another goal with a funnel requiring a different page, and rely on them to give you different conversions. There also isn’t an obvious way to do this in GA4.

In this post, I’m going to take you through how to:

  • Avoid double counting in GA4.

  • Automatically ignore suspicious conversions (like people landing direct on the conversion page).

  • Recreate the kind of funnels we expected in Universal Analytics (in fact we’ll make them better).

I’ll take you through a few bits in GA4 and others using Google Tag Manager. The GA4 approach is more straightforward, but the Tag Manager is more robust and can help you make sure that all of your conversion pixels are showing roughly the same information (because we’re long past the point where GA is the only place we’re recording conversions).

Managing conversions in GA4

This section is about changes we can make purely through the GA4 interface. As long as you’re sending your page views conversion events to GA4 you should be able to use these tactics without any code changes.

However: There are some limitations of doing things through GA4, for example it can mean that your GA data doesn’t line up with conversions recorded via other platforms.

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Avoiding double-counting

Julius Fedorovicius (of Analytics Mania fame) has produced a fantastic guide to making sure that conversions are only recorded once per session.

You should have a read but broadly:

  • You create a custom audience based on a sequence that begins with “session_start”

  • You fire an event when someone enters that audience

  • You use that event as your conversion.

No surprise that Julius has come up with a really smart way to handle the problem of double-counting:

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If you’ve created Segments in Universal Analytics Audience sequences in GA4 look very like the sequences we used to create for Segments. However, the old Segments were just a way of visualizing data, whereas Audiences in GA4 are a way of grouping data. We can use Audiences to create something new.

That distinction is important because we can do cool things like fire custom events when someone enters an audience (which Julius makes use of in this solution).

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Universal Analytics Segment sequence creator

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GA4 Audience sequence creator

The limitations of using Google Analytics audiences

This isn’t really a limitation as far as GA goes but it’s a consideration nonetheless. Julius’ solution is great for making sure we’re not double-counting conversions in GA, but GA probably isn’t the only way we’re recording conversions.

The average site probably has a bunch of separate conversion tracking pixels and those could end up double-counting conversions.

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For example: Facebook and Google both describe how they avoid double-counting conversions, but their solutions largely rely on exactly matching transaction IDs, and even if they’re handling it okay, there’s a bunch of smaller fish out there that are also offering conversion tracking and can need a bit more hand-holding.

If we want to make sure that we’re only recording one conversion per session, it’s useful to make sure all of our conversion tracking is working in a similar way. Tag Manager is a great solution for that (I describe a solution in the Tag Manager section below).

You can also run into problems if, for example, your confirmation page is somehow indexed or bookmarked by users — people landing directly on it can lead to weird unexpected conversions. We can also use Tag Manager to guard against that a little bit.

Recreating the conversion funnel

Sticking with the GA4 interface for now, we can also adapt the AnalyticsMania approach to create our funnel-based conversions too by adding additional steps to the sequence.

For what it’s worth, conversion funnels are not the ideal way to categorize conversions. If you can use anything more direct (like the id of the form they’ve filled out, a separate thank-you page) then that’s a much more reliable way to categorize conversions. That said, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes there isn’t the option to completely rebuild your conversion process.

In Fedorovicius’ example we just have two steps in our audience sequence:

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  1. Session_start
    Indirectly followed by

  2. Conversion

Which basically means “someone lands on the site and then at any point during their session, they convert”.

To recreate the goal funnels you might be using in Universal Analytics – we can just add another step to the sequence. For instance:

  1. Session_start
    Indirectly followed by

  2. Visiting our event_page
    Indirectly followed by

  3. Landing on our thank you page/converting

That should mean we can create one conversion which is: Users who went through our event page and then converted.

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And another conversion which is: Users who went through our sponsorship page and then converted.

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There are some limitations here though, for example, what if someone:

  1. Landed on the site

  2. Visited our event page

  3. Then visited our sponsorship page

  4. Converted using the form on either.

They would fulfill the criteria for our event conversion and the criteria for our sponsorship conversion. We’d record a conversion for each and we’d end up double-counting after all.

This is also a limitation of the old Universal Analytics funnels: Just because a step in the funnel was required doesn’t mean the user can’t wander off around the site between that step and their final conversion. So, if it’s any consolation, this isn’t any worse than old Universal Analytics funnels (but we can still do better).

The problem with using “directly followed by”

You might say “well that’s easily solved — at the moment the sequence says is indirectly followed by and we can just change that to is directly followed by”.

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Surely that would mean that someone is on the sponsorship page and goes directly from the sponsorship page to the thank you page, right?

Unfortunately that’s usually not what “directly followed by” means because there’s all kinds of things that can get recorded in analytics which aren’t page views.

For example if someone lands on the sponsorship page, and then scrolls down and lands on the thank you page, the thank you page view doesn’t directly follow the sponsorship page view. It goes:

  • Page view: sponsorship

  • Scroll

  • Page view: thank you

So “directly followed by” isn’t an easy solution.

How about “within x minutes”?

GA4 has a really cool feature in the sequence builder where we can set a timer in-between steps. Even outside of tracking conversions within a session we can use it to keep track of cool things like people who came to our site, didn’t convert that time, but came back and converted within the next couple days.

Jill Quick has been talking a bunch about how powerful these options are.

We could use this to say something like: person landed on our event page and then landed on our thank you page within 10 minutes.

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But as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that ends up being a kind of arbitrary cut off, maybe someone spends some time thinking about how to fill out our form, or maybe someone really quickly goes to one of our other pages and converts there. This could be better than the basic funnel, but we could also end up ignoring completely legitimate conversions.

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So what do we do?

Using GA4 sequences for this is kind of fine, as I say above it’s certainly not worse than Universal Analytics, but we could do better with Google Tag Manager.

Managing conversions in Google Tag Manager

These approaches require you to run all your tracking via Tag Manager. Though even aside

from this, if you’re not already using Tag Manager, I’d advise you to look into it!

Since we need to keep track of what’s happened to a user across multiple pages, these solutions are also going to make use of cookies. In case that fills you with dread, don’t worry:

  • I’m going to walk you through how to create and delete these cookies (it takes a little Javascript but it’s copy-paste and easier than you think!)

  • These aren’t the kinds of cookies designed to give away people’s information to other services.

To reiterate what I say above: While this approach takes a bit more effort than just doing things through Google Analytics it allows us to do two things:

  1. Make sure all of our various tracking tags are firing in the same way

  2. Have more fine grained control, particularly if we’re trying to categorise different paths to conversion.

Avoiding double-counting

To recap what we want to do here, we want to make sure that if someone visits our site and converts we fire a conversion. However, if they revisit a thank you page, or go through a different conversion, we don’t fire a second conversion that session.

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To do that, we’re going to:

  • Set a cookie when a user converts.

  • Make sure that the cookie automatically disappears after 30 minutes of inactivity (this is the default timeout for GA4 sessions but if you think that’s too short you can set it to whatever you want).

  • Every time we go to fire a conversion, check if that cookie is present and, if it is, don’t fire the conversion.

That should mean that if someone comes to our site and converts, we’ll set the cookie, and that will stop us from firing any more conversions (GA4 or otherwise) until the user has taken a little time away from the site.

Setting a cookie in JavaScript

The first thing you need to know is that we can use Tag Manager to run any JavaScript we want. The second thing to know is that we can use JavaScript to set cookies.

So first: Go to Google Tag Manager, create a new Tag and select the Custom HTML type

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Give the tag the name “[Tag] setCookieConverted” and in the html content paste:

<script>

// Get time 30 minutes from now (this is because the default GA session time out

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// is half an hour and we want our cookie timeout to match)

var minutesToAdd = 30

var currentTime = new Date(); // Get current time

var newDateObj = new Date(currentTime.getTime() + minutesToAdd*60000); // Add our minutes on

// Set the domain your’re working on, this is because we want our cookies to be

// accessible in subdomains (like test.example.com) if needed

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var yourDomain = “example.com”

// Set a cookie called ‘converted’ with the value being ‘true’ which expires in 30 minutes

document.cookie = “converted=true; path=/; domain=”+yourDomain+”; expires=”+newDateObj+”;”

</script>

It should look like this:

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The custom HTML tag will add the content there to the page, and as soon as the page detects a new script (the one we’ve written) it’ll run that script.

What our script does is:

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  • It finds the current time, and what time it’ll be in half an hour.

  • It uses that, and your domain, to set a cookie called “converted” which can be read by any page on your website.

When you go to save your tag it’ll probably say “No Triggers Selected”.

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For now we’re going to click “Add trigger” and choose the “All Pages” trigger.

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This is purely so that while we’re putting this together we can easily test it..

Reading our cookie value

Tag Manager has a built-in way to read cookie values using variables. So go to the variables section, create a new variable called “convertedCookie” and set the Cookie Name as “converted”.

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Now, if you click the “Preview” button and open up your site we can start to look at what value the convertedCookie variable pulls through for you.

Click into the “Variables” tab and you should see convertedCookie somewhere in the list. Here’s an example with other cookies blocked out so you know what to look for.

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So now we can use the value of that variable in Tag Manager as part of our logic.

Using conversion cookie in our conversion logic

Everyone’s conversion setup will be the different so this might not match what you’re doing exactly but if you’re considering using GTM I’m assuming you are firing conversions something like this:

  1. You have a trigger based on some condition (probably either a custom event or a pageview)

  2. You have a tag (or multiple tags) that send your conversion information whenever that trigger is activated.

What we’re going to do is tweak your trigger to add another condition.

Imagine that your trigger was previously firing on every thank-you page visit:

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What we’re going to do is add a second condition to the trigger:

convertedCookie does not contain true

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While this example uses the thank you page path, it doesn’t have to, it can be anything.

Once you make this change, you can go and test your conversion. Because you have another tag adding the converted cookie on each page view, your conversion shouldn’t fire when it normally would.

Now we just need to change our converted cookie so that it only appears after someone has converted.

At the moment we’re setting the “converted” cookie on every page view, so we’ll never get any conversions.

We need to update that so:

  • We set a cookie when someone converts.

  • Every time we load a page, if the person is marked as “converted” we reset the cookie (I‘ll explain).

Setting a cookie only when someone has converted

First: we need to remove the trigger from [Tag] setCookieConverted so it doesn’t fire at all.

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Then we go to whatever tag we’re using to send our conversion, open up “Advanced Settings”, click “Tag Sequencing” and select “Fire a tag after”.

Then we select our setCookieConverted tag and check “Don’t fire if conversion tag fails”.

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This should mean that whenever we send our conversion, we’ll automatically then activate our cookie tag and mark the user as converted.

So now our logic is:

  • If someone converts, we check if there is a cookie saying they recently converted already.

  • If they don’t have that cookie we send a conversion.

  • Then we automatically set that cookie.

To test this, you can either clear the cookie or wait for it to expire. Here are instructions for how to clear cookies in Google Chrome (which you’re probably using if you’re working with tag manager).

Now, if you got into GTM preview and click around you should be able to look at your variables and see that convertedCookie is back to being ‘undefined’.

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If you convert, you should see that both tags fire — your conversion tag and your setCookieConverted tag.

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But if you convert again (reload the page, re-fill the form, whatever you’ve got to do) you should see that neither tag fires.

Congratulations! You’re filtering your conversions to avoid recording a conversion more than once for someone in a 30 minute window.

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We just want to make one last tweak now.

Refreshing the cookie if it has been set

Our cookie has a 30 minute expiration. That means it’ll stick around for 30 minutes and then automatically be deleted from the browser. But what if someone hangs around on our website for more than half an hour, reading a blog post or something, and converts again?

To help deal with that, we’re going to add another trigger which checks if the user has recently converted, and if they have, refreshes the cookie with each new page load.

Head back to [Tag] setCookieConverted

At this point it should have no firing triggers. We’re going to add one back in.

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Click the blue plus sign in this screen, and again in the next screen that comes up, we’re going to create a new trigger.

In the new trigger, we set it to fire only on page views where convertedCookie contains true.

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So this gets a little bit circular, but basically:

  • When someone converts we set a “converted” cookie for the next half hour.

  • Every time someone loads a page, if they have a “converted” cookie we reset that cookie for another 30 minutes.

  • If at any point the user doesn’t load a new page for 30 minutes, the cookie will expire, which means our refresh won’t be triggered.

You can test this by clicking around your site with the GTM preview. Once you’ve converted, the [Tag] setCookieConverted should fire on every new page load.

Wrapping up

All you need to do now is make sure that all of your conversion tags use that same trigger (the one that has the condition that convertedCookie isn’t “true”). Once that’s set up, they should all behave the same — only recording one conversion per session unless someone clears their cookies or just hangs around on one page for a very long time.

What if we find we’re getting weird conversions where users haven’t visited any other pages on the site?

I have worked with sites in the past where:

  • There’s useful information on the thank-you page and users have been keeping it open/coming back to it.

  • Confirmation pages have been indexed in Google or people are finding their way to the conversion page some other way.

That can lead to weird tracked conversions that don’t correspond to actual conversions. While these problems should be solved at source, we can also clear up our analytics using the steps in “Creating a conversion funnel” below.

Creating a conversion funnel

This builds on the cookie meddling we’ve done in the last section, so if you haven’t read that bit, it’s worth taking a look!

If you’re here not because you want a specific funnel but because you want to deal with weird conversions where users just land straight on the conversion page – don’t worry you follow these instructions exactly the same, you just set the trigger for every page except your conversion page (I’ll take you through that).

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Setting a “path” cookie

Just like the “converted” cookie before, we’re going to create a new cookie that records the location of the current page.

Create a new Tag called [Tag] setCookiePath, choose “Custom HTML” and add the following JavaScript

<script>

// Get time 30 minutes from now (this is because the default GA session time out

// is half an hour and we want our cookie timeout to match)

var minutesToAdd = 30

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var currentTime = new Date(); // Get current time

var newDateObj = new Date(currentTime.getTime() + minutesToAdd*60000); // Add our minutes on

// Set the domain your’re working on, this is because we want our cookies to be

// accessible in subdomains (like test.example.com) if needed

var yourDomain = “therobinlord.com”

var pagePathName = window.location.pathname // Get location of current page

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// Set a cookie called ‘converted’ with the value being ‘true’ which expires in 30 minutes

document.cookie = “conversionPath=”+location+”; path=/; domain=”+yourDomain+”; expires=”+newDateObj+”;”

</script>

It should look like this:

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This will save a cookie that records the location of the page. The first time it’s loaded it will create a new cookie with that information, every time after it’ll replace the value.

We’ll use this to make sure that whichever funnel page our user interacted with last is the one we record.

Triggering on your funnel pages

In creating our “funnel” we’re assuming that there are certain pages a user passes through in order to convert. So we’re going to set this to trigger only when one of those funnel pages is involved.

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In your [Tag] setCookiePath tag – click to add a new trigger and create a new trigger.

We’re going to configure our tag to activate on every user click. This means that if a user is hopping between different funnel pages, each one will overwrite the cookie as they click around but only the one they interacted with last will be the one that sticks around in the cookie value.

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Getting our funnelCookie

As in the double-counting instructions, create a new variable. But this time, call it funnelCookie and set the “Cookie Name” to conversionPath.

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Once you’ve done that you should be able to test by using preview, going to any old page of your site (as long as it’s not one of your funnel pages) and checking funnelCookie in the Variables (it should be undefined).

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Then go to one of your funnel pages, you should be able to see the cookie change.

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As you visit other pages on the site, funnelCookie should stay the same, unless you visit another funnel page.

Changing our conversions based on the funnelCookie

Now, there are smart things you could do here with extracting the value of funnelCookie and putting that into a variable in your conversion tag but the setup for every tag will be different and I want to give you an option for if you’re not able to do that.

This will create a little bit more mess in your Tag Manager account because you’ll be duplicating some of your trigger and conversion tags.

First, let’s go back to the conversion trigger we were working on before. It looked like this when we left it:

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We’re going to add in another condition:

funnelCookie contains event-page

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This means now that this conversion will only fire if the last funnel page our user passed through was the event-page.

After this we can duplicate this trigger, our conversion tags, and, for our other set of conversions, change the funnelCookie value for the trigger.

Maybe instead we make it:

funnelCookiecontains form-page

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Now you have two sets of conversions, each of which will fire based on which funnel page the user passed through. From there you can edit the values sent.

A couple caveats

Instead of duplicating our conversion tags it would be much better to pull in the value of the funnelCookie variable and use that to just dynamically change some of the values we’re sending as part of the conversion.

With this approach, you also run the risk of not recording any conversions at all if a user hasn’t passed through one of your funnel pages. That might be what you want, but it’s worth bearing that risk in mind in case you think people might take legitimate-but-unusual routes to conversion.

While I can’t take you through the process of updating all of your conversion tags, one option to make this information more ready for filling out conversion tags (and to optionally set a fallback in case you want to avoid losing conversions) is to use a lookup table like this, where you take the funnelCookie value and categorise the values.

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Then instead of adding the funnelCookie value in your trigger, you keep the trigger the same and pull in the lookup table value.

Triggering on any page except your conversion page

If you’re not concerned about constructing page funnels but you want to make sure that users have visited at least one page before converting. There are a couple changes:

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  • You don’t bother creating different conversion flows, you just have one flow, but you still add a funnelCookie requirement which says that your funnelCookie has to be some page rather than undefined

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Conclusion

Hopefully this has helped you get an idea of how to get more control of the conversions being recorded on your site, whether that’s entirely through GA4 or using the power of Tag Manager.

Happy tracking!

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MARKETING

5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

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5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

Welcome to Creator Columns, where we bring expert HubSpot Creator voices to the Blogs that inspire and help you grow better.

I’ve tested 100s of psychological tactics on my email subscribers. In this blog, I reveal the five tactics that actually work.

You’ll learn about the email tactic that got one marketer a job at the White House.

You’ll learn how I doubled my 5 star reviews with one email, and why one strange email from Barack Obama broke all records for donations.

→ Download Now: The Beginner's Guide to Email Marketing [Free Ebook]

5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

Imagine writing an email that’s so effective it lands you a job at the White House.

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Well, that’s what happened to Maya Shankar, a PhD cognitive neuroscientist. In 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs asked her to help increase signups in their veteran benefit scheme.

Maya had a plan. She was well aware of a cognitive bias that affects us all—the endowment effect. This bias suggests that people value items higher if they own them. So, she changed the subject line in the Veterans’ enrollment email.

Previously it read:

  • Veterans, you’re eligible for the benefit program. Sign up today.

She tweaked one word, changing it to:

  • Veterans, you’ve earned the benefits program. Sign up today.

This tiny tweak had a big impact. The amount of veterans enrolling in the program went up by 9%. And Maya landed a job working at the White House

Boost participation email graphic

Inspired by these psychological tweaks to emails, I started to run my own tests.

Alongside my podcast Nudge, I’ve run 100s of email tests on my 1,000s of newsletter subscribers.

Here are the five best tactics I’ve uncovered.

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1. Show readers what they’re missing.

Nobel prize winning behavioral scientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky uncovered a principle called loss aversion.

Loss aversion means that losses feel more painful than equivalent gains. In real-world terms, losing $10 feels worse than how gaining $10 feels good. And I wondered if this simple nudge could help increase the number of my podcast listeners.

For my test, I tweaked the subject line of the email announcing an episode. The control read:

“Listen to this one”

In the loss aversion variant it read:

“Don’t miss this one”

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It is very subtle loss aversion. Rather than asking someone to listen, I’m saying they shouldn’t miss out. And it worked. It increased the open rate by 13.3% and the click rate by 12.5%. Plus, it was a small change that cost me nothing at all.

Growth mindset email analytics

2. People follow the crowd.

In general, humans like to follow the masses. When picking a dish, we’ll often opt for the most popular. When choosing a movie to watch, we tend to pick the box office hit. It’s a well-known psychological bias called social proof.

I’ve always wondered if it works for emails. So, I set up an A/B experiment with two subject lines. Both promoted my show, but one contained social proof.

The control read: New Nudge: Why Brands Should Flaunt Their Flaws

The social proof variant read: New Nudge: Why Brands Should Flaunt Their Flaws (100,000 Downloads)

I hoped that by highlighting the episode’s high number of downloads, I’d encourage more people to listen. Fortunately, it worked.

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The open rate went from 22% to 28% for the social proof version, and the click rate, (the number of people actually listening to the episode), doubled.

3. Praise loyal subscribers.

The consistency principle suggests that people are likely to stick to behaviours they’ve previously taken. A retired taxi driver won’t swap his car for a bike. A hairdresser won’t change to a cheap shampoo. We like to stay consistent with our past behaviors.

I decided to test this in an email.

For my test, I attempted to encourage my subscribers to leave a review for my podcast. I sent emails to 400 subscribers who had been following the show for a year.

The control read: “Could you leave a review for Nudge?”

The consistency variant read: “You’ve been following Nudge for 12 months, could you leave a review?”

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My hypothesis was simple. If I remind people that they’ve consistently supported the show they’ll be more likely to leave a review.

It worked.

The open rate on the consistency version of the email was 7% higher.

But more importantly, the click rate, (the number of people who actually left a review), was almost 2x higher for the consistency version. Merely telling people they’d been a fan for a while doubled my reviews.

4. Showcase scarcity.

We prefer scarce resources. Taylor Swift gigs sell out in seconds not just because she’s popular, but because her tickets are hard to come by.

Swifties aren’t the first to experience this. Back in 1975, three researchers proved how powerful scarcity is. For the study, the researchers occupied a cafe. On alternating weeks they’d make one small change in the cafe.

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On some weeks they’d ensure the cookie jar was full.

On other weeks they’d ensure the cookie jar only contained two cookies (never more or less).

In other words, sometimes the cookies looked abundantly available. Sometimes they looked like they were almost out.

This changed behaviour. Customers who saw the two cookie jar bought 43% more cookies than those who saw the full jar.

It sounds too good to be true, so I tested it for myself.

I sent an email to 260 subscribers offering free access to my Science of Marketing course for one day only.

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In the control, the subject line read: “Free access to the Science of Marketing course”

For the scarcity variant it read: “Only Today: Get free access to the Science of Marketing Course | Only one enrol per person.”

130 people received the first email, 130 received the second. And the result was almost as good as the cookie finding. The scarcity version had a 15.1% higher open rate.

Email A/B test results

5. Spark curiosity.

All of the email tips I’ve shared have only been tested on my relatively small audience. So, I thought I’d end with a tip that was tested on the masses.

Back in 2012, Barack Obama and his campaign team sent hundreds of emails to raise funds for his campaign.

Of the $690 million he raised, most came from direct email appeals. But there was one email, according to ABC news, that was far more effective than the rest. And it was an odd one.

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The email that drew in the most cash, had a strange subject line. It simply said “Hey.”

The actual email asked the reader to donate, sharing all the expected reasons, but the subject line was different.

It sparked curiosity, it got people wondering, is Obama saying Hey just to me?

Readers were curious and couldn’t help but open the email. According to ABC it was “the most effective pitch of all.”

Because more people opened, it raised more money than any other email. The bias Obama used here is the curiosity gap. We’re more likely to act on something when our curiosity is piqued.

Email example

Loss aversion, social proof, consistency, scarcity and curiosity—all these nudges have helped me improve my emails. And I reckon they’ll work for you.

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It’s not guaranteed of course. Many might fail. But running some simple a/b tests for your emails is cost free, so why not try it out?

This blog is part of Phill Agnew’s Marketing Cheat Sheet series where he reveals the scientifically proven tips to help you improve your marketing. To learn more, listen to his podcast Nudge, a proud member of the Hubspot Podcast Network.

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MARKETING

The power of program management in martech

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The power of program management in martech

As a supporter of the program perspective for initiatives, I recognize the value of managing related projects, products and activities as a unified entity. 

While one-off projects have their place, they often involve numerous moving parts and in my experience, using a project-based approach can lead to crucial elements being overlooked. This is particularly true when building a martech stack or developing content, for example, where a program-based approach can ensure that all aspects are considered and properly integrated. 

For many CMOs and marketing organizations, programs are becoming powerful tools for aligning diverse initiatives and driving strategic objectives. Let’s explore the essential role of programs in product management, project management and marketing operations, bridging technical details with business priorities. 

Programs in product management

Product management is a fascinating domain where programs operate as a strategic framework, coordinating related products or product lines to meet specific business objectives.

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Product managers are responsible for defining a product or product line’s strategy, roadmap and features. They work closely with program managers, who ensure alignment with market demands, customer needs and the company’s overall vision by managing offerings at a program level. 

Program managers optimize the product portfolio, make strategic decisions about resource allocation and ensure that each product contributes to the program’s goals. One key aspect of program management in product management is identifying synergies between products. 

Program managers can drive innovation and efficiency across the portfolio by leveraging shared technologies, customer insights, or market trends. This approach enables organizations to respond quickly to changing market conditions, seize emerging opportunities and maintain a competitive advantage. Product managers, in turn, use these insights to shape the direction of individual products.

Moreover, programs in product management facilitate cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing. Program managers foster a holistic understanding of customer needs and market dynamics by bringing together teams from various departments, such as engineering, marketing and sales.

Product managers also play a crucial role in this collaborative approach, ensuring that all stakeholders work towards common goals, ultimately leading to more successful product launches and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Dig deeper: Understanding different product roles in marketing technology acquisition

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Programs in project management

In project management, programs provide a structured approach for managing related projects as a unified entity, supporting broader strategic objectives. Project managers are responsible for planning, executing and closing individual projects within a program. They focus on specific deliverables, timelines and budgets. 

On the other hand, program managers oversee these projects’ coordination, dependencies and outcomes, ensuring they collectively deliver the desired benefits and align with the organization’s strategic goals.

A typical example of a program in project management is a martech stack optimization initiative. Such a program may involve integrating marketing technology tools and platforms, implementing customer data management systems and training employees on the updated technologies. Project managers would be responsible for the day-to-day management of each project. 

In contrast, the program manager ensures a cohesive approach, minimizes disruptions and realizes the full potential of the martech investments to improve marketing efficiency, personalization and ROI.

The benefits of program management in project management are numerous. Program managers help organizations prioritize initiatives that deliver the greatest value by aligning projects with strategic objectives. They also identify and mitigate risks that span multiple projects, ensuring that issues in one area don’t derail the entire program. Project managers, in turn, benefit from this oversight and guidance, as they can focus on successfully executing their projects.

Additionally, program management enables efficient resource allocation, as skills and expertise can be shared across projects, reducing duplication of effort and maximizing value. Project managers can leverage these resources and collaborate with other project teams to achieve their objectives more effectively.

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Dig deeper: Combining martech projects: 5 questions to ask

Programs in marketing operations

In marketing operations, programs play a vital role in integrating and managing various marketing activities to achieve overarching goals. Marketing programs encompass multiple initiatives, such as advertising, content marketing, social media and event planning. Organizations ensure consistent messaging, strategic alignment, and measurable results by managing these activities as a cohesive program.

In marketing operations, various roles, such as MOps managers, campaign managers, content managers, digital marketing managers and analytics managers, collaborate to develop and execute comprehensive marketing plans that support the organization’s business objectives. 

These professionals work closely with cross-functional teams, including creative, analytics and sales, to ensure that all marketing efforts are coordinated and optimized for maximum impact. This involves setting clear goals, defining key performance indicators (KPIs) and continuously monitoring and adjusting strategies based on data-driven insights.

One of the primary benefits of a programmatic approach in marketing operations is maintaining a consistent brand voice and message across all channels. By establishing guidelines and standards for content creation, visual design and customer interactions, marketing teams ensure that the brand’s identity remains cohesive and recognizable. This consistency builds customer trust, reinforces brand loyalty and drives business growth.

Programs in marketing operations enable organizations to take a holistic approach to customer engagement. By analyzing customer data and feedback across various touchpoints, marketing professionals can identify opportunities for improvement and develop targeted strategies to enhance the customer experience. This customer-centric approach leads to increased satisfaction, higher retention rates and more effective marketing investments.

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Dig deeper: Mastering the art of goal setting in marketing operations

Embracing the power of programs for long-term success

We’ve explored how programs enable marketing organizations to drive strategic success and create lasting impact by aligning diverse initiatives across product management, project management and marketing operations. 

  • Product management programs facilitate cross-functional collaboration and ensure alignment with market demands. 
  • In project management, they provide a structured approach for managing related projects and mitigating risks. 
  • In marketing operations, programs enable consistent messaging and a customer-centric approach to engagement.

Program managers play a vital role in maintaining strategic alignment, continuously assessing progress and adapting to changes in the business environment. Keeping programs aligned with long-term objectives maximizes ROI and drives sustainable growth.

Organizations that invest in developing strong program management capabilities will be better positioned to optimize resources, foster innovation and achieve their long-term goals.



As a CMO or marketing leader, it is important to recognize the strategic value of programs and champion their adoption across your organization. By aligning efforts across various domains, you can unlock the full potential of your initiatives and drive meaningful results. Try it, you’ll like it.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business: Part 2

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2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business: Part 2

2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business

Before we dive into the second way to assume power in your business, let’s revisit Part 1. 

Who informs your marketing strategy? 

YOU, with your carefully curated strategy informed by data and deep knowledge of your brand and audience? Or any of the 3 Cs below? 

  • Competitors: Their advertising and digital presence and seemingly never-ending budgets consume the landscape.
  • Colleagues: Their tried-and-true proven tactics or lessons learned.
  • Customers: Their calls, requests, and ideas. 

Considering any of the above is not bad, in fact, it can be very wise! However, listening quickly becomes devastating if it lends to their running our business or marketing department. 

It’s time we move from defense to offense, sitting in the driver’s seat rather than allowing any of the 3 Cs to control. 

It is one thing to learn from and entirely another to be controlled by. 

In Part 1, we explored how knowing what we want is critical to regaining power.

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1) Knowing what you want protects the bottom line.

2) Knowing what you want protects you from the 3 Cs. 

3) Knowing what you want protects you from running on auto-pilot.

You can read Part 1 here; in the meantime, let’s dive in! 

How to Regain Control of Your Business: Knowing Who You Are

Vertical alignment is a favorite concept of mine, coined over the last two years throughout my personal journey of knowing self. 

Consider the diagram below.

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Vertical alignment is the state of internal being centered with who you are at your core. 

Horizontal alignment is the state of external doing engaged with the world around you.

In a state of vertical alignment, your business operates from its core center, predicated on its mission, values, and brand. It is authentic and confident and cuts through the noise because it is entirely unique from every competitor in the market. 

From this vertical alignment, your business is positioned for horizontal alignment to fulfill the integrity of its intended services, instituted processes, and promised results. 

A strong brand is not only differentiated in the market by its vertical alignment but delivers consistently and reliably in terms of its products, offerings, and services and also in terms of the customer experience by its horizontal alignment. 

Let’s examine what knowing who you are looks like in application, as well as some habits to implement with your team to strengthen vertical alignment. 

1) Knowing who You are Protects You from Horizontal Voices. 

The strength of “Who We Are” predicates the ability to maintain vertical alignment when something threatens your stability. When a colleague proposes a tactic that is not aligned with your values. When the customer comes calling with ideas that will knock you off course as bandwidth is limited or the budget is tight. 

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I was on a call with a gal from my Mastermind when I mentioned a retreat I am excited to launch in the coming months. 

I shared that I was considering its positioning, given its curriculum is rooted in emotional intelligence (EQ) to inform personal brand development. The retreat serves C-Suite, but as EQ is not a common conversation among this audience, I was considering the best positioning. 

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She advised, “Sell them solely on the business aspects, and then sneak attack with the EQ when they’re at the retreat!” 

At first blush, it sounds reasonable. After all, there’s a reason why the phrase, “Sell the people what they want, give them what they need,” is popular.

Horizontal advice and counsel can produce a wealth of knowledge. However, we must always approach the horizontal landscape – the external – powered by vertical alignment – centered internally with the core of who we are. 

Upon considering my values of who I am and the vision of what I want for this event, I realized the lack of transparency is not in alignment with my values nor setting the right expectations for the experience.

Sure, maybe I would get more sales; however, my bottom line — what I want — is not just sales. I want transformation on an emotional level. I want C-Suite execs to leave powered from a place of emotional intelligence to decrease decisions made out of alignment with who they are or executing tactics rooted in guilt, not vision. 

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Ultimately, one of my core values is authenticity, and I must make business decisions accordingly. 

2) Knowing who You are Protects You from Reactivity.

Operating from vertical alignment maintains focus on the bottom line and the strategy to achieve it. From this position, you are protected from reacting to the horizontal pressures of the 3 Cs: Competitors, Colleagues, and Customers. 

This does not mean you do not adjust tactics or learn. 

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However, your approach to adjustments is proactive direction, not reactive deviations. To do this, consider the following questions:

First: How does their (any one of the 3 Cs) tactic measure against my proven track record of success?

If your colleague promotes adding newsletters to your strategy, lean in and ask, “Why?” 

  • What are their outcomes? 
  • What metrics are they tracking for success? 
  • What is their bottom line against yours? 
  • How do newsletters fit into their strategy and stage(s) of the customer journey? 

Always consider your historical track record of success first and foremost. 

Have you tried newsletters in the past? Is their audience different from yours? Why are newsletters good for them when they did not prove profitable for you? 

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Operate with your head up and your eyes open. 

Maintain focus on your bottom line and ask questions. Revisit your data, and don’t just take their word for it. 

2. Am I allocating time in my schedule?

I had coffee with the former CEO of Jiffy Lube, who built the empire that it is today. 

He could not emphasize more how critical it is to allocate time for thinking. Just being — not doing — and thinking about your business or department. 

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Especially for senior leaders or business owners, but even still for junior staff. 

The time and space to be fosters creative thinking, new ideas, and energy. Some of my best campaigns are conjured on a walk or in the shower. 

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Kasim Aslam, founder of the world’s #1 Google Ads agency and a dear friend of mine, is a machine when it comes to hacks and habits. He encouraged me to take an audit of my calendar over the last 30 days to assess how I spend time. 

“Create three buckets,” he said. “Organize them by the following:

  • Tasks that Generate Revenue
  • Tasks that Cost Me Money
  • Tasks that Didn’t Earn Anything”

He and I chatted after I completed this exercise, and I added one to the list: Tasks that are Life-Giving. 

Friends — if we are running empty, exhausted, or emotionally depleted, our creative and strategic wherewithal will be significantly diminished. We are holistic creatures and, therefore, must nurture our mind, body, soul, and spirit to maintain optimum capacity for impact. 

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I shared this hack with a friend of mine. Not only did she identify meetings that were costing her money and thus needed to be eliminated, but she also identified that particular meetings could actually turn revenue-generating! She spent a good amount of time each month facilitating introductions; now, she is adding Strategic Partnerships to her suite of services. 


ACTION: Analyze your calendar’s last 30-60 days against the list above. 

Include what is life-giving! 

How are you spending your time? What is the data showing you? Are you on the path to achieving what you want and living in alignment with who you want to be?

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Share with your team or business partner for the purpose of accountability, and implement practical changes accordingly. 


Finally, remember: If you will not protect your time, no one else will. 

3) Knowing who You are Protects You from Lack. 

“What are you proud of?” someone asked me last year. 

“Nothing!” I reply too quickly. “I know I’m not living up to my potential or operating in the full capacity I could be.” 

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They looked at me in shock. “You need to read The Gap And The Gain.”

I silently rolled my eyes.

I already knew the premise of the book, or I thought I did. I mused: My vision is so big, and I have so much to accomplish. The thought of solely focusing on “my wins” sounded like an excuse to abdicate personal responsibility. 

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But I acquiesced. 

The premise of this book is to measure one’s self from where they started and the success from that place to where they are today — the gains — rather than from where they hope to get and the seemingly never-ending distance — the gap.

Ultimately, Dr. Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan encourage changing perspectives to assign success, considering the starting point rather than the destination.

The book opens with the following story:

Dan Jensen was an Olympic speed skater, notably the fastest in the world. But in each game spanning a decade, Jansen could not catch a break. “Flukes” — even tragedy with the death of his sister in the early morning of the 1988 Olympics — continued to disrupt the prediction of him being favored as the winner. 

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The 1994 Olympics were the last of his career. He had one more shot.

Preceding his last Olympics in 1994, Jansen adjusted his mindset. He focused on every single person who invested in him, leading to this moment. He considered just how very lucky he was to even participate in the first place. He thought about his love for the sport itself, all of which led to an overwhelming realization of just how much he had gained throughout his life.

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He raced the 1994 Olympic games differently, as his mindset powering every stride was one of confidence and gratitude — predicated on the gains rather than the gap in his life. 

This race secured him his first and only gold medal and broke a world record, simultaneously proving one of the most emotional wins in Olympic history. 

Friends, knowing who we are on the personal and professional level, can protect us from those voices of shame or guilt that creep in. 


PERSONAL ACTION: Create two columns. On one side, create a list of where you were when you started your business or your position at your company. Include skills and networks and even feelings about where you were in life. On the other side, outline where you are today. 

Look at how far you’ve come. 

COMPANY ACTION: Implement a quarterly meeting to review the past three months. Where did you start? Where are you now? 

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Celebrate the gain!

Only from this place of gain mindset, can you create goals for the next quarter predicated on where you are today.


Ultimately, my hope for you is that you deliver exceptional and memorable experiences laced with empathy toward the customer (horizontally aligned) yet powered by the authenticity of the brand (vertically aligned). 

Aligning vertically maintains our focus on the bottom line and powers horizontal fulfillment. 

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Granted, there will be strategic times and seasons for adjustment; however, these changes are to be made on the heels of consulting who we are as a brand — not in reaction to the horizontal landscape of what is the latest and greatest in the industry. 

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In Conclusion…

Taking back control of your business and marketing strategies requires a conscious effort to resist external pressures and realign with what you want and who you are.

Final thoughts as we wrap up: 

First, identify the root issue(s).

Consider which of the 3 Cs holds the most power: be it competition, colleagues, or customers.

Second, align vertically.

Vertical alignment facilitates individuality in the market and ensures you — and I — stand out and shine while serving our customers well. 

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Third, keep the bottom line in view.

Implement a routine that keeps you and your team focused on what matters most, and then create the cascading strategy necessary to accomplish it. 

Fourth, maintain your mindsets.

Who You Are includes values for the internal culture. Guide your team in acknowledging the progress made along the way and embracing the gains to operate from a position of strength and confidence.

Fifth, maintain humility.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of humility and being open to what others are doing. However, horizontal alignment must come after vertical alignment. Otherwise, we will be at the mercy of the whims and fads of everyone around us. Humility allows us to be open to external inputs and vertically aligned at the same time.

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Buckle up, friends! It’s time to take back the wheel and drive our businesses forward. 

The power lies with you and me.


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