Heuristic Cheat Sheet: 10 methods for improving your marketing


We were recently asked, “Is there a heuristic cheat sheet published that shows all of them at a glance?”

MarketingExperiments and its parent research organization, MECLABS Institute, have become well known for our heuristics.

If you’re already familiar with what a heuristic is, feel free to scroll down to see the cheat sheet.

If heuristics are new to you, first a quick explanation.

A heuristic isn’t an equation to solve, it’s more of a thought tool to help understand a process or method.

While other areas of the business have well-defined methodologies, techniques and tools to help organizations work toward process improvement (e.g., Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing, TQM, ISO 9001), marketing has lacked a systematic method, tending to rely on individual high performers with a “golden gut” who just “get it.”

Since not every person in a marketing department or advertising agency just preternaturally “gets it,” performance can be lumpy, and it’s hard to field a marketing team that performs well across the board.

MECLABS Institute has developed a series of patented methodologies (Pat. No. 8,155,995) to help marketing, advertising and business leaders bring rigor to the way their teams think about executing marketing tactics as well as serving a customer with their marketing.

These heuristics were developed from patterning the results of our research library. The goal of these heuristics is to systematically diagnose the inefficiencies in your sales, marketing and conversion process. They are tools to help identify where to focus your energies when moving through a conversion opportunity.

Here is a quick glance at these heuristics, with links to more in-depth information.

The MECLABS Conversion Index Optimization Heuristic

This is our most well-known heuristic, so you’ve probably seen it around before. Since it is the most fundamental heuristic — after all, the main goal of marketing is to inform potential customers to get them to act — I will go into this heuristic in the most detail.

The MECLABS Conversion Index sequence seeks to identify the factors you can influence to help increase the probability of conversion (C in the above heuristic). It can help you step out of your marketing department and get in the shoes of the customer.


Motivation (m) has the highest coefficient (4) because it is the most important deciding factor in the sales process. It consists of two components:

  • The nature of the customer’s demand for the product (why)
  • The magnitude of the customer’s demand for the product (want)

An effective strategy is to target customers or channels that have a higher motivation to buy your product.

To understand a user’s motivation and design relevant webpages to their needs, you must analyze the behavior of both online and offline traffic channels.

Value Proposition

Value Proposition (v) is the primary reason why your prospect should buy from you rather than any of your competitors. There are four elements to a powerful value proposition.

  • Appeal (“I want it”) — Three factors contribute directly to a prospect’s degree of “want”: relevance, importance and
  • Exclusivity (I can’t get it anywhere else”) — Exclusivity is related to the number of competing options. The lower the number, the better.
  • Credibility (“I believe in it/you”) — How to intensify credibility: specificity, quantification and
  • Clarity (“I understand it/you”) — Is the message clearly articulated, and can the prospect easily find the message?


Friction (f) is the psychological resistance to a given element in the sales process. There is a minus sign before friction because friction is an element that hinders conversion. It is composed of two components:

  • Length — This might be the number of fields or the number of steps from Point A (desire to buy) to Point B (purchase).
  • Difficulty — This might be the nature of the fields, a disruptive eye path or page elements that cause visitor annoyance.

The objective is to minimize not eliminate friction. If you eliminate all friction, you eliminate “the sale” (for example, you cannot remove a credit card field).


Anxiety is psychological concern stimulated by a given element in the sales or “buy” process.

You must seek to relieve and/or correct for anxiety at three different levels:

  • Specificity — Corrective measures address the precise source of anxiety.
  • Proximity — Visitor experiences corrective measures at the same time and place as anxiety is experienced.
  • Intensity — Corrective measures are amplified to overcome irrational fears.


Incentive is an appealing element such as a discount, a bonus or special offer introduced to stimulate a desired action.

Incentive is used to “tip the balance” of emotional forces from negative (exerted by friction elements) to positive.


An effective test plan tests the other elements in the Conversion Index first, then seeks to test the impact of an incentive for additional improvement.

To learn how to apply the Conversion Index Heuristic in your marketing, you can take the MECLABS Landing Page Optimization online certification course.

The MECLABS Perceived Value Differential Heuristic

As mentioned in the previous heuristic, the proper use of incentive can help increase the probability of conversion. This heuristic helps you identify the most effective incentive to use.

  • PVD: Perceived value differentials
  • Vp: Perceived value of incentive
  • C$n: Net delivered cost of incentive

You can learn more about the Perceived Value Differential Heuristic in the article Finding The Ideal Incentive: How We Increased Email Capture by 319%.

The MECLABS Return on Incentive Heuristic

Since incentives often have a monetary cost, the Return on Incentive Heuristic helps call out the need for determining which incentive is actually most effective. The danger with incentives is that you could use them to increase an intermediate metric but hurt your overall results. For example, you could offer free shipping and gain more sales. However, if you don’t keep an eye on the return on incentive, you might overlook the fact that you’re losing money on each sale because the shipping is so expensive.

  • ROIc: Total return on incentive
  • P$n: Net profit impact from incentive
  • C$n: Net delivered cost of incentive

To learn how to apply the Return on Incentive Heuristic to your business, you can take the MECLABS Landing Page Optimization online certification course.

The MECLABS Friction Heuristic

The Friction Heuristic takes a closer look at another element of the Conversion Index Heuristic.

  • fsc: Friction
  • lt: Length
  • dt: Difficulty

To learn how to use the Friction Heuristic on your marketing, you can take the MECLABS Landing Page Optimization online certification course.

The MECLABS Net Value Force Heuristic

The Net Value Force Heuristic helps you understand which elements to adjust to increase the force of a value proposition.

  • Nf: Net force of the value proposition
  • Vf: Gross force of the value
  • Cf: Gross force of the cost
    • Mt: Material (I have to pay this much)
    • Mn: Mental (I have to do this much)
  • Ac: Acceptance (aka reception)

Learn more about using this heuristic with your business in the Value Proposition Development online certification course.

The MECLABS Optimization Sequence Heuristic

The MECLABS Optimization Sequence guides the order in which you should optimize your sales and marketing funnel. Namely, make sure you have a high-quality, valuable product before you craft a landing page for it. And make sure you have a good product and an optimized landing page before you start driving traffic to it.

Learn more about the Optimization Sequence Heuristic in the video How to approach a Minimum Viable Product.

The MECLABS Email Conversion Heuristic

The previous heuristic shows the proper priority of channel optimization. The MECLABS Email Conversion Heuristic helps you optimize your messaging specifically for an email channel to increase your effectiveness.

  • eme: Email messaging effectiveness
  • rv: Relevance to the consumer
  • of: Offer value (why)
  • i: Incentive to take action
  • f: Friction elements of the process
  • a: Anxiety elements of the process

You can learn more about the Email Conversion Heuristic in the article Email Marketing: 91% of marketers find target audience testing effective.

Email Messaging Optimization Index Heuristic

The Email Messaging Optimization Index helps you improve email effectiveness by prioritizing your email marketing optimization efforts.

  • ec: Email capture
  • op: Open rate
  • ct: Clickthrough
  • lp: Landing page

Learn more about the Email Messaging Optimization Index Heuristic in Internet Marketing for Beginners: Email marketing optimization 101.

The MECLABS Ad Messaging Index Heuristic

The Ad Messaging Index Heuristic provides a framework for optimizing a significant channel for most marketers — advertising — to create an effective ad.

  • ea: Effective ad
  • at: Ability to capture attention
  • I: Ability to turn attention into interest
  • as: Force of the “ask”

Learn more about the Ad Messaging Index in the article Banner Ad Design: The 3 key banner objectives that drove a 285% lift.

The MECLABS Online Testing Heuristic

All the heuristics help identify changes marketers can make to improve conversion. But ultimately, these changes should inform research questions and hypotheses that you then test with potential customers to discover what works best. The Online Testing Heuristic helps you understand the factors necessary for effective tests.

To learn how to apply the Conversion Index Heuristic in your marketing, you can take the MECLABS Online Testing certification course.

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  1. Noah says

    Thanks for the cheat sheet. By the way, from reading a different article “Optimizing your landing pages part 2” it seems that comparison symbols in the Optimization Index have all been reversed on this page; the other article shows all “greater than” > symbols while this shows all “less than” < ones.

    1. Noah says

      Optimization Sequence*, not Index

    2. Linda Johnson says

      Wow, Noah! You’ve got a good eye. Thanks for the heads up on this one. We’ve replaced the image with the correct version.

      Appreciate it.

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