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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Top 10 Organizational Roadblocks to Optimization

By Brendan Regan
December 30th, 2010

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!

#10: No one in the organization to “champion” or sponsor Conversion Rate Optimization

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.

#9: No one is dedicated as a day-to-day “manager” of CRO

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.

#8: The organization maintains a “project” mentality

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.

#7: The site architecture doesn’t support testing

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.

#6: The organization can’t afford to take a (temporary) hit to conversion rate

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.

#5: The organization can’t afford to take a hit to organic rankings

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.

#4: The organization is in “silos,” and marketers can’t execute across boundaries

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.

#3: The organization views test losses as “losses” instead of “learnings”

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.

#2: Every minuscule site change has to go through IT

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? ;)

#1: The organization’s CEO has to approve design changes

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!

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Comments (23)

  1. It’s defiantly hard to find funding i know that.

  2. I definitely agree with point #7 about the importance of site structure and the need to keep it simple. Not having a simple and flexible site with good scripting and coding can be a big roadblock to a high conversion rate and stifle business cold.Sadly I have actually seen a lot of big companies on the web with a poor site structure and still wonder how they keep profitable.

  3. I went out from joomla to give my website a better structure. And it works

  4. I experienced #2 just last week. It having to much control of changes can really mess up marketing strategies. Convincing the IT department that we need to move in to social medial was like pulling teeth.

  5. All strong points especialy 2 and 7.

  6. It seems to me that CRO holds just as well in a situation where sales persons are doing the job of the website and that SEO is what current CRM systems are trying to do i.e. get more stuff in the pipeline while CRO focuses on closing the sale.

    Am I missing the picture?

    And how best to translate this to my customer with a sales force?

  7. Your #1 reason is spot on. Too often we rush to get things done quickly only to wait a week or 2 just for the CEO to see it and come back with feedback.

  8. Very true on point #3. There are only a few who’re fearless to take on A/B testing through organic rankings and converting acquired traffic, and basing on what you can learn through these studies will definitely take your business to a higher level of profit making, which is mostly overlooked by big companies.

  9. #6 is good one as smaller companies cannot afford to have their conversion rate go down. This is one place where many companies lose opportunities to increase the CRO.

  10. I agree with The Padrino. Finding funding is one of the hardest step. Even because your first steps can be wrong and you have to check for another optimization strategy that converts.

  11. Funds can be hard to find, but doing SEO yourself is free (but time consuming)

  12. #8 (project mentality) is the killer.

    It’s hard to understand why so many companies follow this pattern:
    They do some CRO, see a big boost, then decide they’ve done enough CRO this year and it’s time for something else.

  13. Wonderful 10 points and really true. Atlest 50% I have experienced as well.
    Great stuff.

  14. This information seems geared toward organizations a bit bigger than mine but it’s really useful to have awareness so, as we grow, I can prevent some of the issues.

  15. Point 5 – is an exceptional one. Its a dialogue i often have with clients. That over reliance on organic traffic especially the whims of google can be dangerous. Its important to have a strategy whereby removing one element isn’t fatal.

  16. @Leather Hides…. the same goes for CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), which is what this post is about. Just want to make sure we are on the same page, as there is definitely a difference between SEO and CRO, and that tends to get lost faster than you can say the word optimization! :-) And while doing it yourself may seem free, there is still the opportunity cost of time and energy spent to do it well, and many companies overlook that when considering their strategy for both SEO and CRO.

  17. @Jim – great questions! No, you are not missing the picture… your assessment is right on! The approaches we outline for online conversion can actually be applied to offline conversion as well. Check out these materials to help with translating CRO to an offline salesforce…
    1) the first part of our Getting Started with Personas series (be sure to read the second part too)
    2) our signature white paper detailing our Persuasion Architecture process, which can be found on in our Resource Section under the title, “Persuasion Architecture: a Way to MAP the Selling Process to the Buying Process”
    3) our book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?, may also help

  18. I agree with one item,
    is totally ridiculous, unfortunately still exist with this mentality CEO.

  19. Small business often suffer from all of these failings. The clients that get the best results are often those that delegate and allow the professional to get on with the job of getting the results.

  20. It was really a tough job to find funds.First steps can be wrong and you have to check for another optimization strategy that converts.

  21. @Pretoria Web Design – sometimes that is the case, although with CRO, which is often an interdisciplinary effort, it can depend on how receptive the various professionals are to feedback, and how quickly they implement recommendations…. we’ve also seen it be a problem for clients from both of these perspectives.

  22. I think #5 is the killer in many cases.

    The way I see it, using a service like Google Website Optimiser requires to put valuable copy into a non crawlable js to be able to track which converts best. This in turn could cost the number 1 spot to the site, and some figures / studies show that you could get as much as 2x less traffic if you are number 2.

    I need to spend some time on our analytics to really figure out the CR on our site. Thanks for the kick in the backside :)

  23. Number 7 is incredibly true. Many of our clients have had poor work done for them in the past and when we take over the project, it becomes very cumbersome to try and make simple changes to test the effectiveness of minor UI tweaks. Easier said than done but doing it right the first time saves times and money in the long run.

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