I was asked recently to look into my crystal ball and make some predictions for where the online marketing optimization space (including Conversion Rate Optimization) is headed in the next year.
Some of my predictions will be “wishful thinking,” but if I can sway the direction of an entire industry I’d be surprised, honored, and ask for a raise
One of my favorite magazine formats for this sort of thing is the “What’s In and What’s Out” or “What’s Hot and What’s Not” approach, so I’ll hijack it.
Now, let’s step through all five for a bit of explanation and commentary:
Over the past several years, all the buzz has been about “landing page optimization.” Books have been written, keynote addresses have been given, money has been made, etc. But, optimizing landing pages ‘in a vacuum’ free of any real-world persuasion context will only get you so far. So I predict 2010 will give us a shift in focus from only looking at and optimizing a landing page as a stand-alone entity, to optimizing for the scent of information. People don’t just magically land on landing pages. They are driven there by marketing efforts that you pay for, and they arrive with intent, questions, objections, fears, motivations, and needs. Optimizing for scent means understanding the context of online marketing efforts, prospect intent, and how to design conversion experiences (scent trails) that can carry a strong scent of information persuasively from online marketing touchpoint, to landing page, and all the way through to conversion.
Over the past several years, the Optimization industry has grown rapidly in the form of a “specialty.” Niche Optimization agencies have started to sell their optimization software and consulting services, traditional digital agencies are starting to add groups of resources dedicated to analytics and optimization, and corporations are starting to hire optimization practitioners in to help lead their B2C and B2B online marketing tactics. That is a natural growth process for a new niche, but it won’t last because there aren’t enough specialists to service all the clients who need optimization. I predict 2010 will be the year where Optimization becomes a very popular value-add with various vendors of SEO, SEM, analytics, ad platforms, content production, web design, and eCommerce technology. The reasoning is that more and more clients are going to be clamoring for professional Optimization because, ultimately, all ROI on online marketing investments revolves around conversion, and Optimization is clearly the best approach to raising conversion rates and getting better ROI on your marketing spend. Frankly, all of the above list of investments (traffic generation, content generation, technology) are money-losers if your business isn’t converting enough prospects into customers. This hopefully will cause the “ecosystem” of Optimizers, SEOers, SEMers, analytics folks, designers, etc. to get together and come up with better ways to service a growing need in a growing industry.
Those who in recent years have moved beyond pure “Landing Page Optimization” have naturally evolved towards optimizing the “conversion funnel,” which could include a landing page, content pages, and multiple steps along a conversion funnel like a shopping cart. While this has been a positive movement with demonstrable results, it’s time to take the next step in the evolution of Optimization. I predict 2010 will bring a more holistic approach I’ll call “Marketing System Optimization.” This means that practitioners looking to gain and retain clients will have to help optimize a company’s whole marketing system. A few things that this could include are: ad spend, keyword recommendations, ad copy, formal testing, messaging, marketing personas, and more. Optimizers who can succeed at this will have an economy of scale that would make their services very attractive to potential customers. And ultimately those Optimizers who have the holistic view will be better positioned to find low hanging fruit, prioritize optimization efforts, and add value to a marketer’s overall efforts.
Ok, maybe this one isn’t so much about Optimization, but social media is a popular marketing investment, so it must be a candidate for continuous improvement. While 2009 was the year where every marketer simply had to dive into social media, and every website simply had to have “follow me, friend me, digg me” icons on the homepage, it hasn’t proven to be the cure-all that it’s cracked up to be. Nothing ever is: Take The Internet, example A wise man recently said that you can’t fake social media, and he’s right. So, I predict that 2010 will be the year where social media (as a marketing investment) will undergo intense scrutiny. Some companies will bet more on it, some will throttle back their investments, and some will simply walk away. But they will all be taking an extremely close look at not only the ROI of their social media investments, but whether social media is even relevant to their prospects, or to their high-level marketing strategies. The same rule that applies to websites applies to social media: prospects are always asking What’s In It For Me? before (and while) they engage with you on Twitter or Facebook.
Last but not least, we saw in the past two years especially that when financial woes put the pinch on online marketers, email marketing has emerged as the “workhorse” channel that can bring in dollars on a reasonable and predictable budget. It continues to have a decent, steady conversion rate, and is less susceptible to the fluctuating (and often mysteriously increasing) investments needed for Search Engine Marketing and other channels. That’s OK with me, but the challenge I’ve seen as we’ve gone through a “rough patch” in the online marketing space is that the email workhorse has gotten very repetitive. I’ve not seen very many original, thoughtful email marketing campaigns that bring value to customers in unique ways. So, I predict 2010 will be a year in which marketers continue to rely on this channel, but must get more experimental and original in order to stay relevant, compete against social media and mobile, and bring value to prospects. Emails always have been relatively easy to test, track, and optimize, so there’s no reason not to be brainstorming and testing (to small test segments) off-the-wall ideas. You never know when you’ll strike it rich with some sort of ultra-persuasive, epidemically viral home run!
These five predictions are just one analyst’s hunches, not even sanctioned by FutureNow, so feel free to disagree in a constructive way. More importantly, to those investing in Optimization, or thinking about investing in Optimization, what do YOU want to see from our industry in 2010? Let us know!