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Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 at 6:36 am

Yet Another Advantage of an Optimization Culture

By Brendan Regan
December 4th, 2008

Amazon's Buy Page

We at FutureNow are big proponents of setting up a business culture of testing, optimization, and continuous improvement.  There are lots of advantages like improved conversion rates, bigger bottom lines, surviving tough economic times, getting past draining internal debates, and so much more.

Another advantage that we haven’t talked about as much is that an optimization culture can get you past the dangers of “best practices.” Many of our clients have implemented the “best practices” of other sites (or even other industries) and then wonder why they aren’t seeing big gains.¬† The main reason is that they’ve merely copied other sites’ ideas, and not tested to validate that those practices will work for their own unique site and business model.

I saw an interesting deviation from an industry “best practice” the other day, and whether it’s true or not, I imagine that testing allowed the site designers to go their own way instead of following the herd.

See the screenshot from Amazon.com’s “submit order” page.¬† Take a look at how they’ve handled the common issue of getting the purchaser to agree to terms and conditions before purchasing.¬† Many sites and site designers struggle with their Legal departments on how to secure agreement to terms while not reducing the quality of user experience (and conversion rate).

If you’ve read Always Be Testing, you’ve seen how we reference Amazon.com’s many evolutions of their site designs over time which come out of a very disciplined testing and optimization culture.

The common “best practice” in this scenario is to either:
a) have a checkbox near the call to action button that says something like “You must check the box to agree to terms before you submit your order.”
b) have copy near the call to action button that says something like¬† “By clicking the button below, you agree to our terms and conditions.”
In either case, the common design pattern is to hyperlink to the terms and conditions (near the call to action) so concerned visitors can read them in full.

Now note the subtle deviation from “best practice” on Amazon.com’s current page:

  • They have no checkbox.¬† One less click between the visitor and Getting the Cash.
  • They have the standard legal language at the top of the page in a much less prominent position.¬† It’s outside of the ‘box’ that contains the order information.
  • The hyperlinks to the terms that the visitor is accepting are in the footer of the page; nowhere near the call to action.¬† You’d really have to be looking for them to find them.

So how did Amazon.com get the gumption to leave “best practice” design in the dust?¬† Again, I can’t be sure of this, but we wager that testing results and analytics data played a major part in the design.¬† I highly doubt that their Legal experts are playing fast and loose with legal and financial risk!

So there you have one of the less-thought-about benefits of a testing and optimization culture.¬† Only through testing can you gather the data you need to safely and comfortably make the decisions that work for your business, not your industry.¬† Best practices are pretty dangerous when you haven’t tested to validate and re-validate them.

As we’ve said many times, don’t copy Amazon.com’s design just because they’re an industry leader.¬† Do your own testing to gather insight, then make the design decisions that work for you.¬† And in the spirit of shameless plugs, we’re here to help if you need us.

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Comments (6)

  1. Good article. I agree, what works for 1 site does not always work for another.

    Thing is, many sites have such big holes in them (mine included) that they can use some of the best practices and still see some improvement.

    But test, test, test…

  2. Interesting article. Testing is definitely vital to optimization and the Amazon.com situation is a great example of that.

    There are a number of tests available for a specific situation. Check out this post by Knotice’s Dutch Hollis about the many ways to test:http://lunchpail.knotice.com/2008/09/10/testing-when-to-use-what/

    It’s also important to test process. A recent case study showed that a company was missing 25% of their sales after they tested a new product launch process through email and web channels. Check the study out here: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=30941

  3. I’d say when in doubt I’d follow the lead of Amazon, although they can probably get away with things that many sites can’t because of the inherent level of trust the brand carries. I’ve always been very impressed with their conversion rates as an affiliate, few sites seem to come close, and their ability to cross sell is amazing.

  4. I think Amazon is a model for what testing reveals. I don’t think much of what they do is happenstance. And when they have the traffic they do, their testing is that much more important. It almost goes without saying that can be done to reduce a click from research to purchase would be beneficial.

  5. but do always follow LNOC practices, they are very very helpful for conversion. LNOC = least number of clicks, btw. =)

  6. Great article and I Agree Just because amazon can get away with it and make the conversions doesn’t mean it will work the same for you. I think amzons affiliate program is great and really converts well. Thanks for the info

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