One thing we’ve learned this year is that getting good at conversion rate optimization requires more than just the desire to increase your marketing ROI and revenue. It takes more than a slick behavioral targeting and multivariate testing platform. It even takes more than reading this blog
To reap the full rewards of continuous improvement, it actually takes a shift in the way you work on your website and your marketing. It requires you to change how you operate and execute day-to-day. And to keep optimizing on a continuous basis, it seems to require some companies to refresh aspects of their business culture. This is, of course, most difficult for older, larger companies where the “ways of doing things” are most entrenched.
I’ve come up with my top 10 reasons why certain companies can’t seem to work successfully in a continuous improvement framework, and how they miss out on all the fun. I’ll include ways to overcome these challenges if you want to bring optimization into your marketing organization. Maybe you’ll relate to a few of these roadblocks, but hopefully not too many of them. Let’s count ‘em down!
CRO is still a relatively new concept to executive marketers (VPs, CMOs, etc.), and without their sponsorship, most continuous improvement initiatives fizzle out before they really get going. If you’re a marketer who wants to kick-start continuous improvement, make sure you take an executive out to lunch and sell them on the amazing success stories and ROI improvements that are possible.
Many marketing organizations are now budgeted to invest in some sort of optimization initiative, but too often no one “owns” the process, the relationship with the vendor, etc. Without a day-to-day point of contact and someone to drive the process and keep all the balls in the air, the ‘continuous’ part of kaizen [definition] really suffers. If you’re planning on investing in CRO in 2011, make sure someone has the bandwidth and is empowered to own the process.
Many marketing organizations have gotten used to running big campaigns and site improvements as discreet projects with start and end dates. This, of course, is the opposite of continuous improvement, and the companies that only allocate resources to CRO on a temporary basis often fail to reap the rewards. If you’re working to bring optimization into your organization this coming year, make sure the whole crew understands that this isn’t a process whereby you invest, do work, get ROI, and stop–it’s a process whereby you make incremental changes ALL…THE…TIME, so your marketing ROI can compound like interest.
Oh, this one burns us! Some companies are incredibly invested in technology platforms that are cumbersome, intricate, and make testing difficult. Some sites are simply coded poorly, which again slows everything down. If you want to get testing on a regular basis, make sure your site architecture (especially lead forms and shopping carts) is flexible enough to make small changes rapidly and measure the results.
It should go without saying that some tests are going to win, and some are going to lose. Losing equates to lowering your conversion rate, which equates to lost revenue. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Some smaller companies literally cannot afford to have their conversion rate go down as part of the learning process of testing. Others simply perceive that they can’t afford to take a temporary hit to the bottom line. Either way, if you want to build a culture of continuous improvement, make sure everyone understands, and accepts, the risks and potential rewards inherent in improving via CRO.
Similar to #6, some business are overly-dependent on organic search traffic and hence become paranoid about losing ground in organic search rankings. Of course losing traffic is bad (so long as we’re talking about qualified traffic), but if you will literally go out of business if you slip from the #2 listing to the #4 listing on the SERP, you probably need to focus on your traffic acquisition model before you attempt to optimize for conversion.
The bigger the organization, the more likely there are “silos.” These silos are generally bad for business, but are especially bad for optimization because CRO often takes serious and efficient cooperation between different departments, skill sets, and practitioners. We’ve seen a few sad cases where Search Marketing is owned by so-and-so, eCommerce is owned by so-and-so, and they won’t cooperate on tests or share data… or if they will, it just take weeks to get thruough the red tape to implement a simple change. If you want to crank up your conversion rate in 2011, make sure you build the goodwill across various departments, overcome objections, and set expectations in advance to avoid this sort of roadblock.
This one is related to #6, but it’s more of a perception issue. Some organizations don’t give their marketers “permission to fail.” We agree with Avinash Kaushik that it’s perfectly acceptable to fail, so long as you get in the habit of failing quickly. Losing tests that happen quickly are often incredibly insightful, and lead to uber-successful follow-up tests. We’ve seen companies get all jazzed about CRO, run their first test, lose, and promptly settle back into their old ways. #FAIL. If your organization doesn’t realize that failing fast and improving is better than waiting around for ‘best practices,’ you may want to work on changing that perception before, or as, you’re kicking off your optimization initiatives.
If marketers aren’t empowered to make site changes rapidly on a regular basis, conversion rate optimization efforts will fail. I know it’s harsh, sorry. Continuous improvement is all about making small, incremental, efficient changes and then measuring and analyzing back into the loop. If marketers don’t have the access to code, don’t have resources in their camp, or don’t have organizational support from the site gatekeepers (often IT), all the good intentions, tools, and consultants won’t be able to move the needle. By the way, did you get the Director of IT a Holiday gift yet?
It sounds ridiculous, I know, but this actually happened to us with a client. We were told to avoid making recommendations on the homepage because “then the CEO would have to approve the test variations.” What?!? No. If your organization is so top-down managed that the CEO has to approve creative, I’d start looking for a better job! Just imagine what would happen to you as a marketer in this situation if you ran a test and the variation(s) lost to the Control? You’d probably be packing your desk-tchotchkes [definition] in a box while a beefy security guard taps his toe. Some patients aren’t worth resuscitating.
We hope this list helps you better understand the big picture of marketing optimization, remove roadblocks, and send that conversion rate “up and to the right” in 2011!