With all the companies springing up (and some that have been around since ’98) to provide Conversion Rate Optimization services, I think it’s time to talk about what makes a good optimization recommendation. After all, if you’re going to spend hard-earned budget on CRO, shouldn’t you have some expectation of what you’ll be getting? And, shouldn’t you know how to avoid getting ripped off?
These are some of our thoughts on what makes for a good online marketing optimization recommendation. But before I even start, note my use of the word “recommendation,” because it’s crucial. The best way to optimize is to undertake a program of continuous improvement, and you can’t do that by completing an ‘optimization project.’ A project has a beginning, an end, and a finite duration. A recommendation is relatively small, track-able, accountable, and can be tackled one-by-one in an ongoing manner (unlike a project). Optimization isn’t a site redesign, in other words. It’s better to get 1 recommendation per week than 300 recommendations in a project document!
#1 – Good CRO recommendations are data driven: This should go without saying, but without analytics data to back up assertions, I’d question the validity of any recommendation. And without a foundation of data, how would you possibly measure the success (ROI) of the implementation? For example, I might not like how you’ve designed your call to action on a particular landing page, but that’s useless. I can, however, use baseline data to demonstrate how your call to action has room for improvement, and measure the impacts of any changes you make.
#2 – Good CRO recommendations aren’t “canned”: The world is full of best practices and common web design patterns, but there are plenty of exceptions. For years, online retailers copied whatever Amazon.com did in terms of design, but didn’t see any improvement. Each case was proof that “best practices” don’t work for everyone. Good recommendations are specific to the intended site, and don’t make any dangerous assumptions.
#3 – Good CRO recommendations isolate the ‘problem’ from the ‘solution’: Make sure any recommendations you get document a specific problem (a challenge that your visitor is encountering) before they suggest a solution. For example, I might tell you to test a few versions of a landing page headline. That covers the potential solution, but doesn’t adequately educate you on the problem. If I put that recommendation into context by telling you that the current headline likely doesn’t resonate with the buying stage of the prospect who’s landing on your page, your chances of implementing that recommendation and seeing a positive impact will be much higher.
#4 – Good CRO recommendations encourage testing, but don’t require it: A good CRO recommendation should encourage or allow formal testing (i.e. split or multivariate) but shouldn’t require it. Some tests just aren’t technically feasible, realistic, or efficient. Who wants to wait 3 months to get results? Not very many of our clients, I assure you. And, different company cultures are more ready for formal testing than others.
#5 – Good CRO recommendations estimate Return on Investment (ROI): Knowing an estimated ROI is the way to make prioritization of CRO easy. You do the “low-hanging fruit” work first, then work from there. We think about ROI in terms of the balancing act between the level of effort required to implement a change and the impact that change will likely have on conversion rate. To target your highest ROI items first, you start with the highest impact items that require the least amount of effort, and work your way toward the recommendations where the potential impact only slightly exceeds the level of effort.
#6 – Good CRO recommendations are tied to goals and KPIs: It gets repetitive sometimes, but it’s still useful to re-state the goal every time we make a recommendation. It ensures that we never get distracted from what our clients pay us for. If you’re paying someone for CRO, and your goal is to get more paid membership sign-ups, and the recommendation drives more “free” memberships, is that really a good use of your budget?
#7 – Good CRO recommendations are explicit, yet flexible: Despite the temptation to “solve” our clients’ online problems, we have to let the site owner solve their own problem, in their own style. I could tell you that the only way to overcome a challenge is to create an interactive flash application, but that would immediately limit everyone’s imaginations and problem-solving skills. Instead, I tell you the challenge, give you specific options, and guide you in your implementation as needed. You can follow our recommendations to the letter, or you can interpret and tweak as needed. Who knows: maybe the solution is actually just some really good copywriting And we’re not afraid to learn some things from our clients along the way.
#8 – Good CRO recommendations reference examples and tools: Just like any academic pursuit, or any job search, it’s good to have references. A good CRO recommendation should provide reference materials such as screenshots of sites who have overcome similar challenges, free/paid tools to aid the effort, and rough mockups or visual aids. Any reference material that helps the implementer do a better job makes the recommendation better, and increases the chances of success.
What do you think of my list? Did I forget anything? Have any of you worked with vendors that didn’t cover all of these points in their work?