Commitment and Site Optimization

Reading a recent blog post from Jeffery Eisenberg (Realistic Expectations For Conversion Rate Optimization) made me once again think about how a lot of companies fail to really commit to testing and site optimization once they purchase a tool (Test&Target, SiteSpect, Optimpost, Goolgle Web Site Optimizer, etc.). Right now, I see site optimization where I saw Web analytics about 5 years ago in terms of tools and commitment.

A few years ago, businesses were ready to go out and buy the biggest and best Web analytics solution out there, without having any kind of dedicated resources to leverage the information or to ensure that any kind of best practices were being followed or developed. Now, many companies have dedicated Web analysts that can implement analytics solutions and help their businesses leverage the information contained within. Site optimization is, as I see it, about to explode (more than it already has) because companies appear ready to commit resources to the effort as opposed to just buying a solution and running with it.

Most companies do not dedicate any resources to actually making their existing Web sites better.

Most design and development efforts are concerned with developing new features or content. Instead, companies need to remember that they have a ton of content out there that could probably be performing better than it already is. After all, how often do any of us get something perfect on the first try (or the second for that matter)?

There are several things that a company can do to ensure that they are committed to optimizing their Web site:

  • Dedicated some of the time of your design and development teams to optimization.
  • Commit to designing at least 2 versions of everything that goes out. Make optimization a part of the design process (within reason of course). This is often a big challenge as designers see testing as just doubling their work.
  • Find a way to get everyone invested/interested. A lot of companies make the testing process an internal contest of sorts where everyone watches results in real time.
  • Pay your employees for coming up with ideas that improve conversion rates. After all, shouldn’t you be paying your employees to impact the bottom line anyway? Here, it’s measurable!
  • Realize that optimization and testing is just as important as your paid search and e-mail marketing efforts. All require an ongoing commitment in resources and effort.
Do you have any other thoughts on what companies can do to ensure that they are committed to site optimization and testing?

12 thoughts on “Commitment and Site Optimization

  1. I think this is a larger issue than just web analytics in some companies. People are often looking for a product that they can install and it will instantly fix their problems–so you’ll run across people who have the attitude that “if we only used X, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

    The reality is that you always need a commitment to support any sort of new activity in business–especially in IT. No matter how good a product is, if its place/purpose in a business isn’t properly defined, if it’s not implemented correctly, if you’re not ensuring that you’re collecting valid data and organizing it correctly, and if you’re not actually using that data, it’s useless.

  2. Dylan,

    That’s right. Without the people, the tool isn’t going to be nearly as useful. How about the idea that you pay a person at least what you are paying for a tool? The only reason that this is laughable, is because we all know that most businesses are willing to pay six figures for a tool that does nothing without the right people.

    Without a person to use it, a hammer is just a heavy stick.

  3. Great post! I completely agree that companies need to display a greater commitment to testing beyond simply purchasing a product that sits on the shelf. As somebody on the vendor (Omniture Test&Target) side, I always emphasize that a testing platform is just an enabling technology for marketers. There have to be marketers on the other side who are ready and enthusiastic to take advantage of the platform in order to ultimately be successful.

    I also agree that paying your employees for successful test ideas is a great way to kickstart a testing program. Some of our most successful customers are those with champions who directly benefit from tests that generate lift. The key take-away is that the more you test, the more chances you give yourself to be successful.

    I’d also stress the importance of trying to do things right the first time. I’ll often talk to companies who want to execute a limited implementation at the beginning (not implementing conversion tags, etc) or run the hardest type of test first, but that almost always ends up backfiring because it makes testing look more difficult or complex than it has to be. I’d advocate trying to instead first tackle the low-hanging fruit that can be implemented easily both technically and politically. To underestimate the political impact of introducing testing to an organization would be a huge mistake!

    Again, great post. Looking forward to hearing more about your experiences with testing!

    – Lily Chiu

  4. Here is how Obama used Conversion Rate Optimization to maximize online donations.

    In an amazing bit of sleuthing, Chris Goward blogs on how the Obama campaign successfully used a Conversion Rate Optimization strategy to maximize online donations.

    Read all about it here: http://www.widerfunnel.com/case-study/obama-used-conversion-rate-optimization-to-win#more-267 a and here is an update: http://www.widerfunnel.com/case-study/obamas-home-page-image-test#more-284

  5. Lily,

    I completely agree on attacking the low-hanging fruit first. In a lot of cases it’s not even the best idea to make your first test a multivariate one.

    If you are having trouble getting your team to buy into the idea of testing, they may not see the payoff all that well if they are having to create multiple versions of different content right off the bat. A/B testing is very underrated. All of the well known tools out there can do all kinds of advanced multivariate testing and behavioral targeting. However, A/B testing is where you should start so that you can move towards a culture where testing is just a normal part of the design and development process.

  6. Raquel,

    This is a great piece of information that you’ve shared here! I do hope that you can get an interview with Obama’s campaign manager or whom ever was responsible for the online marketing associated with his campaign. It would be great to have a story from the Obama presidential campaign that shows how site optimization aided in increased donations.

  7. I get excited every time I read a post like this because it shows the maturity level of testing and optimization users is rising.

    It is extremely important to have a coherent team of marketing, creative and web development that all understand and contribute to the testing process. Most everyone sees the value in testing immediately, but often people who have to do the work involved with testing are left out of those conversations and see it as a burden.

    Your post hits the nail on the head by emphasizing the need for everyone to see multivariate and a/b split testing tools as part of the office culture.

  8. Hi, Jason,

    This is a great post, and I agree with many, if not all of your points. First off, you do not need a revenue stream of $10 million to make successful optimization changes. Google Web Site Optimizer is a great product at a great price. It is hard to beat free ninety-nine. If you eliminate the cost barrier, which Google has done, there is still one last (large) hurdle. Everyone one must buy into the philosophy of building a better Web site. I know this sounds silly, but most developers feel if a Web site works, why improve it?

    My biggest challenge was getting everyone to buy into optimization. I solved this problem by requiring everyone from development, design, customer support, and management to read Andrew King’s book, “Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets” (http://shrvl.com/1BZz4). My advice is read Chapter 10 first. I think everyone will have the same response: the excitement of possibilities! Chapter 10 explains why optimization is not hocus-pocus created by the marketing team. You will face an uphill battle if everyone is not on board.

    Before starting to optimize your Web site and committing to a minimum of two versions of everything that goes out or paying your employees to come up with new ideas (brilliant ideas), start with the obvious: if your site is slow, the focus should be speeding up the site. Make sure you have exhausted all obvious changes before tweaking with minor, albeit successful changes. Ensure browser compatibility, maximum speed, and a simple layout.

    Use 4q to ensure that you have a simple layout and that clients are reaching their goals (http://shrvl.com/U6s34) and completing the sales funnel. It is much better to ask your clients what is wrong with the design of your Web site than to use fancy analytics. After all, you are designing for human beings, and once you get a client energized, he or she will give you new ideas to further test and develop.

    Lastly, you made a great point about optimizing your current site. The last thing you want to do is focus on the next redesign. You should make a minimum of two retrofits for each version of a Web site. Any test is better than no test, but I think entrepreneurs and small businesses should focus on nailing down best practices before moving on to Google Web Site Optimizer or similar products.

    -Darren

  9. Billy:
    I know exactly what you mean about the designers and developers not being able to see the end results of testing. In order to get their buy in as well, they need to be made aware of the impact that their work is having on improving conversion and incremental revenue. In this economy, I have heard here that everyone should be focusing on the things that are going to make money NOW. Even in times like these, designers and developers can know that optimization can make money now, but only if we the analysts keep them in the loop with the rest of the business owners.

    Darren:
    Buy-in is a problem with just about any kind of change that results in a cultural or significant process change. In a common sense kind of way, it almost sounds to crazy to say “if a Web site works, why improve it?” If you were to rephrase it as, “why would we want our site to convert better?” it sounds even more rediculous (and obvious that you should be testing).

    I’ll have to be sure to check out that book you mentioned as well, especially if it aids in the process if gaining acceptance for site optimization. A great book that I myself can recommend, after you bringing up simplicity in design, is one called “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug (http://tinyurl.com/5d7pfz).

  10. Hello, Jason,

    I agree; it does sound ludicrous to say, “If a Web site works, why improve it?” Allow me to explain that statement. When we look to improve our site, we do not necessarily start with optimization, but we do follow our clients’ requests and suggestions. All optimization efforts should start with the client base. The improvements made to our site are new services suggested by our client base.

    For example, our clients wanted the option of having the original editor review their submitted essays after they have accepted the changes and implemented the feedback to improve flow and continuity. We listened, and offered the Second Look essay editing service — http://www.papercheck.com/second_look_editing_press_release.html. We have made several improvements to our Web site over the past year, all of which have improved client loyalty. Our end goal is to deliver high quality editing services and improve client retention.

    Developers tend to be stuck in their ways and feel that their end goal is to deploy a functioning, albeit, bulletproof application. Rarely does it fall in line with SEM/SEO/Optimization objectives. Chapter 10 of Andrew King’s book explains why you should include these changes in your original design the first time, which then allows for the marketing team to start using Google’s Web site Optimizer to test new ideas and theories. Either way, I am excited for Papercheck. Our team is starting to understand the power of simple design and the need to place higher importance on building more than just a functional Web site. After all, the typewriter did a pretty decent job of publishing thoughts, but Microsoft Word is much more flexible and convenient.

    Thank you for the book recommendation; I will place my order today!

    -Darren

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