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Monday, Mar. 29, 2010 at 10:20 am

4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them

By Brendan Regan
March 29th, 2010

We work with lots of companies that are interested in optimizing their conversion rate, and reaping the financial rewards that come with higher conversion and increased marketing efficiency.  But, some clients don’t increase their conversion rate after subscribing to our conversion rate optimization (CRO) service.

Why am I talking about our ‘non-success stories’? (My boss may wring my neck for this).  Because the roadblocks that keep them from succeeding may keep you from succeeding, so call it a friendly warning :)

Optimizing your conversion rate boils down to only 1 thing
: making thoughtful changes to your website and/or online marketing touch points.  To do this, you need data, you need to know how to test, and you need to be able to implement change on a regular basis.  Despite boiling the concept down to its simplest language, online marketing optimization isn’t easy.

Here are four of the most common roadblocks we see on the road to optimization, and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

#1 Not Having the Necessary Skill Sets

Online marketing optimization requires a wide variety of skill sets: marketing, eCommerce, copy writing, visual design, web development, and more.  Many marketers try to do CRO without lining up the proper human resources, and this is a quick way to failure.  If you don’t have a decent copywriter at your disposal, optimization will be very hard for you.  If you only have one “web guy” (sorry for the sexist language) to handle your eCommerce, your development, and your SEO, optimization will be very hard for you.  If you try to get your Java programmer to improve your PPC ad groups, optimization might run you out of business! ;)

Unfortunately, there aren’t any real tricks or secrets for how to overcome this type of challenge.  You simply need to hire, beg, borrow, or steal the right human resources with the proper, qualified skill sets.  They don’t need to be permanent employees, but they need to be available at least a couple of hours per week ‘until further notice.’  Remember that optimization isn’t a project, so it should be more like having the resources on retainer and at your disposal.  Of those skill sets, a web developer, a copywriter, and a web designer are crucial (assuming you are The Marketer).

#2 Not Having a Flexible Architecture

Some people try to save money when building or maintaining their website by using off-the-shelf shopping carts, content management systems, or even entire websites.  Making these kinds of choices will definitely cut costs up front, but they make continuous improvement pretty difficult.  We’ve had clients try this route for a few months only to give up and scrap their entire platform to start from scratch.  Others switch from off-the-shelf solutions to custom solutions in order to gain flexibility to test and optimize their conversion funnels on an ongoing basis.

The solution is two-part. First, if you are using an off-the-shelf system, and want to do optimization, you need to really know the ins and outs of the system you are using.  You need to have full understanding of what you can and cannot change.  For example, maybe you can change background colors, but not fonts.  Also, you need to understand whether or not you can test within your system using a tool like Google Website Optimizer.  Second, if your present system is really inflexible, and is limiting your optimization efforts, you need to think about upgrading to something custom, or at least more flexible.  Sorry, remember earlier when I said “online marketing optimization isn’t easy”?

#3 Not Being Willing to Accept the Risks of Testing

This one can be deadly.  Many marketers are getting excited about CRO and testing, but culturally, they and their organizations aren’t really ready to test their way to success.  These are the clients who panic when a test doesn’t “win,” switch back to the original, and never want to run another test.  [Note: tests don't "win" or "lose," they only prove or disprove a hypothesis and give you deeper insight into your customers' behavior.  Gains or losses are only a byproduct.]  I equate online testing to taking “calculated” risks; that you’ll lose some money on the way to making potentially lots more money.  However, if you’re in a financial position where a few days of a losing test result will put you out of business, you’re really not in a position to be optimizing conversion rate.

There are a few solutions to reducing the risks (or perceived risks) of testing.  The simplest way is to NOT look at your tests too often while they’re running. This will reduce the chances that you’ll freak out over statistically invalid data. Another way is to only expose small amounts of traffic to your tests. They will take longer to run, but it may make you feel more comfortable about the risk factor.  A third thing that may help is to educate yourself about the opportunity costs associated with NOT testing, and not testing aggressively.  This may help convince you that taking the risks is actually cheaper than doing nothing.

#4 Decentralization of Marketing Teams

Point #1 focused on the importance of having the proper human resources.   But don’t get smug just yet simply because you have all those bases covered!  How you structure your resources is a key factor in success too. We’ve seen clients with plenty of financial and staff resources struggling to implement their first set of recommendations 3-6 months into a subscription.  Often,the cause is that each resource area is housed in its own department (copywriting, newsletter, website design, PPC, direct marketing, email, development), each one led by a different manager, and incentivized by different goals.  If there is no one leader charged with overseeing the priorities of all these marketing groups, optimization efforts often stall when a particular recommendation requires unified action across groups. In the absence of a single leader, several problems often surface: a failure to prioritize optimization in one or more areas; lack of belief in the process; conflicting ideas regarding implementation.  Believe it or not, this sort of thing also can be a problem when a company outsources all of their marketing work to a variety of different vendors.  A failure to prioritize your optimization by one of more of your marketing groups is a death sentence to the optimization process.

The key to success is to have strong leadership, capable of incentivizing all of the key players toward the same goal, and capable of fostering a culture of optimization within the organization and as part of any relationships with outside vendors.  Being a leader in this respect isn’t always easy, but as Bryan Eisenberg pointed out in a previous Grok post, being armed with the right tools for getting buy-in from other team leaders and members can help.

Good luck!

We hope these solution ideas help you overcome whatever roadblocks you may be hitting on the road to conversion rate optimization.

Add Your Comments

Comments (45)

  1. These are all great tips and techniques that can be devastating to your internet marketing campaigns. #4 is so important. Make sure you keep your marketing efforts together in one place!

  2. [...] L’article original : 4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them (EN) [...]

  3. Nice article. One issue I have is with copywriters in general. You pay one person for some great copy, then later on you hire someone else and the new writer says that the copy that you paid from a highly recommend copywriter is garbage.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Particularly, copywriting seems to be more subjective…..

  4. [...] 4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them Published: March 29, 2010 Source: Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc We work with lots of companies that are interested in optimizing their conversion rate, and reaping the financial rewards that come with higher conversion and increased marketing efficiency. But, some clients… [...]

  5. I agree. I own an online games communtiy and a few related sites. I started with an off the shelf game CMS just to save money but in the end I determined it cripled my ability to compete with my competitor’s custom solutions so I scrapped it and built my own. Haven’t looked back since.

  6. I think it is good to use a more expensive platform going forward. However, I know that it can cost a lot up front to start any business, especially when you don’t know a lot about SEO and online web design. I asked around for quote to build my first web site, and the cheapest quote was 2,000 for just a basic 10 page site. I wouldn’t have had that kind of money for years, I’m only 24 years old. But using a cheaper more inflexible platform, at least allows me to be indexed and share my thoughts, experiment with layouts conversions, etc…

  7. Number 2 really rings home, you need a very flexible architecture, nothing helps the process more than a properly SEO friendly coded backend

  8. Not everyone would be willing to publish non-success stories simply because they may depict failure. So, I admire your honesty and straightforwardness. i prefer people like you who reveal everything, there’s load of insights to learn from people like you rather than those who are not humble and honest enough to admit their own weaknesses.

  9. Very insightful, Brendan. So agree with your statement — “A failure to prioritize your optimization by one of more of your marketing groups is a death sentence to the optimization process.” Unfortunately, optimization is often not on any group’s priority list and requires buy-in from management first.

  10. [...] 4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them Published: March 29, 2010 Source: Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc We work with lots of companies that are interested in optimizing their conversion rate, and reaping the financial rewards that come with higher conversion and increased marketing efficiency. But, some clients… [...]

  11. I can agree with the not being able to take the risk of testing. It’s hard to suck it up sometimes.

  12. Good article, thanks . I reckon their should be some’off the shelf’, cost effective AND flexible website architectures right? Do you have good experiences with WordPress for example which is a great platform for SEO purposes?

  13. I liked the #3 Not Being Willing to Accept the Risks of Testing

    Testing is a must do thing in the SEO. Test your site on different browsers and systems for any errors. Let your friends test your site for any error. Ask them to find the service you offer. All these type of testing will help you improve ranking and also will help in improve conversion.

  14. @Ben: We like WordPress for blogging (GrokDotCom is powered by it), but I can’t imagine using it as a platform for eCommerce. Maybe other readers have other insights/opinions?

  15. Problem #5: HiPPOs

    Highly Paid People’s Opinions – these “experts” think their 30 years in “marketing” is worth more than the results of this week’s test.

  16. Really Sweet Article. I have a few sites that I would like to do conversion testing but I feel like my solution is not flexible enough!

  17. Wow, thanks a lot. Made me see many things I need to work on in our case. Blessings:)

  18. If you don’t have all the resources internally, you could also consider outsourcing your testing efforts to get all of those capabilities for a more affordable price.

    And a flexible platform is worth it’s weight in gold (though deploying Google Website Optimizer is doable in most systems)

  19. I’ve got to say that I worked at a big BIG e-commerce company – I don’t want to give their name away but they have really overpriced domains – that should help tell who they are. Anyway, they didn’t have any flexibility in their process which was strict and they had really poor results for clients.

    Not only that but they took people that weren’t web savvy and tried to have them doing SEO work. Think about how that turned out! Try having a conversation with someone who can follow directions but doesn’t really understand HTML or CSS! Then being the go to guy who has to fix everything that is broken by employees.

  20. I can certainly identify with the 4th option, I’m responsible for online marketing in my organisation, we had one central marketing team which was split to serve each division of the business, this really doesn’t work for online marketing with websites going off in different direction making it a nightmare top optimise properly, and because of lack of resources it is hard for me to convince my boss of the benefits of testing instead of working on the next big project

  21. In my experience, your #3 reason regarding the risks associated with testing is the major drawback. Testing involves a lot of work but it is possible to minimise the risks.

  22. I have been using a lot of different techniques and #3 is by far the hardest part for me.

  23. Cool article, i emailed it to some of my clients. I’m a web programmer who is always being asked to do SEO tasks so I realy understand points 1 and 4. My skills do lend themselves for some of the onsite optimization things (especially speed) but often clients don’t understand why I won’t or can’t do copy.

    Thanks for the post.

  24. Amazing post! There are many bloggers and SEO people who are just too scared to take the risk!

  25. Testing and trial and error is the best way to check to see what your visitors like and don’t like. you need to work on your own visitors likes instead of listening to what other people say worked for them. everyone is different.

  26. Testing is great in theory. However, often enough, we’re too busy running day to day tasks and don’t have the necessary time for experimenting.

  27. #3 is what I just talked about. You have to realize that with great reward comes great risk!

  28. I will agree with most of the people here about #3. Risk is necessary at times.

  29. Is it good to test or can it hurt you in the long run?

  30. Nice Article,I am working with lots of companies and almost every company interested in optimizing their conversion rate.I agree that testing is one of the best way to check out visitors like and dislikes.

  31. ell written article…I agree human resources is a primary factor for success

  32. @LoanMod: Testing can hurt in the short run (one variation under performs), but I can’t imagine a scenario where testing hurts in the long run. NOT testing will hurt in the long run. Welcome to the blog!

  33. In the past i’ve had several companies recommend a split test but like Brenden says not willing to accept the risks is difinitely an issue.

  34. I don’t know that #4 really belongs on the list honestly. The first three are absolutely paramount, you have to be knowledgable, flexible, and willing to take risks above all else.

  35. Nice to read someone highlighting the benefits of customised development. Too often people become unstuck with off-the-shelf scripts when they realise late in the day they are not flexible enough to meet their longer term needs.
    Good article – keep them coming!

  36. i hope everybody reads this article. there are way too many companies and websites out there that should take this article and make it their policy. i hope people start thinking what they need and where they might be before they pay somebody else to do the work.

  37. [...] 4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them | Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Bl… [...]

  38. Yep, that illustrates it perfectly. I have experienced other sledge hammer methods which are counterproductive.

  39. The flexibility of platform architecture also have been a problem for us due to bad maintenance relation with the company that handled platform programming for us.

  40. Great article Brendan. #3 really hit home for me…. I am guilty of just running some very “short” test on my webpage when I should stick to it for a longer period of time to gather more data. For sure I’ll remember your advice for my next testing.

    Keep the great article coming.

  41. I don’t know that #4 really belongs on the list honestly. The first three are absolutely paramount, you have to be knowledgable, flexible, and willing to take risks above all else.
    I agree with you.

  42. Good article. A lot of my clients have no idea that such thigns as optimization even exist. They just want to sell “stuff” online and make money. There’s got to be a “selling online for dummies” book.

  43. In optimization, make sure that you have the right data to tell you an accurate picture of what it needs for a conversion. What is the click thru rate, drop out rate, bounce rate, etc are all important analytics.

  44. [...] Source:4 Optimization Roadblocks & How to Remove Them Share and Enjoy: [...]

  45. I agree. I own an online games communtiy and a few related sites. I started with an off the shelf game CMS just to save money but in the end I determined it cripled my ability to compete with my competitor’s custom solutions so I scrapped it and built my own. Haven’t looked back since.
    .

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