In a recent comment I received on one of my older blog posts, a reader pointed out that much of the advice I had provided was for people who were just beginning optimization efforts and they (the commenter) wanted something more meaty for themselves to sink their teeth into. This is not the first time I’ve seen this type of comment on a blog post, and I know that many of the Grok’s readers are DIY-ers who get frustrated when they read article after article that only provides them with basic or heuristic recommendations. So, I want to put this out there into the blogosphere: I can’t give you recommendations that’ll revolutionize your conversion rate without looking at your data. (And, be wary of those who will, because they’ll be basing their recommendations off of “best practice” or instinct, which may lead you to doing more damage than good). However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t information out there that can help you if you want to optimize your site yourself. You just may be searching for that information with the wrong idea about what it will do for you.
Our recommendations aren’t pulled out of a list of best practices. Our analysis and recommendations follow a process, linking everything back to a piece of data. This is why data from your analytics is so important in optimization. If you can’t draw a direct line between why you’re changing something on your site, and a piece of data, make sure you recognize this as a risky move, and track it very carefully. Learning how to properly track information in an analytic program like Google Analytics, and crunching numbers to isolate potential problems are both blogged about often. Searching for these types of articles (hint: His last name is Kaushik) will help more experienced DIYers find some of the more sophisticated tips that they’re looking for. It won’t be as easy as “make your button stand out” or “make sure your security assurances are click-able,” but it’s useful information that’s out there to be consumed.
What I mean is that once you get beyond the basics, optimization is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution, just like there is no average conversion rate that you should measure yourself against. So, when you look at examples of problems and solutions that are more complicated, the direction you get from those endeavors is much more likely to be about how to approach a particular kind of problem than it is to be a specific “change X to Y” kind of learning. Why is that? Well, let’s revisit my lead-in statement: I can’t give you recommendations that’ll revolutionize your conversion rate without looking at your data. The operative words in that statement are “you” and “your.”
Contrary to popular belief, optimization is not over after you’ve eliminated basic problems that every site needs to account for (e.g. load time, font size and legibility, visible calls to action, security assurances, etc). But, beyond that point is where the real fun begins, and where the deeper opportunities lie. That’s when conversion optimization transitions from sheer mimicry into a complex dance where the particulars of a situation drive how you apply overarching principles and practices. We can talk to you about what those principles and practices are; show you some examples of those principles and practices being applied. But you can’t just do what we do and expect it to work for you, because you’re already beyond the point where you’re just like everybody else.
That’s right: you ARE special. You’ve been waiting for someone to say it, and now it’s finally out there. Now we can commence with our love affair. In fact, it’s because your business is unique that optimization sometimes can be so difficult: what worked for Sally’s website might not work for yours, because you are not Sally. That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from Sally’s struggles. You can learn the techniques that Sally used to resolve them. You can read about how Sally struggled, and the progress she made all by herself. And you can also investigate the experts that Sally used to help her learn how to look at her site and data to break through the barriers that held her back.
If you want to use Sally’s deeper learning to try to shed light on your own optimization efforts, you have to use your instinct. You have to ask yourself, “Am I just like Sally?” or, “Am I similar enough to Sally?”, and, “How might I be different from Sally and what does that mean for how I attack this problem?”
Instinct can be a very powerful thing for those who have some confidence in optimization, but make sure you have a back-up plan as well. A great security measure for instinct is testing. Testing can save you from making a wrong move when trying to optimize your site. However, it’s also one of the easiest things to mess up if you don’t know how to do it properly. Thankfully, there is a ton of information out there on how to run tests! Creating a scientifically valid test is the key to creating a ‘successful’ test. (Successful in this case = results that can be trusted, not necessarily results that generate you money.) Numerous blog posts give pointers about testing calculators that determine how long a test must to run to achieve significance, creating tests that will give you the clarity you seek, and testing when you have lower traffic.
So, to you experienced DIY optimizers: don’t lose faith when you read yet another article on best practices; just understand that the “beyond-the-basics” direction you’re looking for is hard to come by because it has to be tailored to you. It doesn’t mean you can’t try those kinds of things on your own. You certainly can. But please recognize that if you find yourself wishing this blog post went into more detail about someone “just like” you, with a problem “just like” yours, then that’s probably a signal that you need some expert guidance. There is no shame in admitting that. And believe me: you’re worth it!