How can I help you with conversation optimization?

I just realized it’s been almost six months since I last posted on this blog. While I have plenty of ideas for posts, I figured it might be best to ask you – my readers (all three of you) how I can help you. Specifically there are two major ideas I’ve had in my head for a while and I’m debating between which one to write about next.

The first idea is a technical overview of how the web works, going into detail on web analytics and split testing. Everything someone who is not a techie needs to know in order to gain a better understanding of what the data really means from a technical perspective as well the implications on how technical decisions impact business decisions.

The second idea is making conversion rate optimization more of a science and less of an art. I’ve read just about every book out there that deals with site and page optimization. I’ve also conducted countless split tests and have analyzed more sites than I can remember. What I’ve found is that there seems to be a major gap in the process where what to do next and how to do it becomes more of an art and less of a science.

Plenty of smart marketers can see a web page and know intuitively that it won’t convert well. Often it’s even easy to identify specific elements which are “broken” and need to be fixed, but more often than not (at least for me), it’s usually not so simple to explain the internal thought process of converting an OK page into a great one. This is something I’d like to address.

So, my loyal readers, please let me know what I should write about. Even if it’s something other than the two topics I’m thinking about let me know.

Thanks,
Ophir

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The 3 Levels of Conversion Rate Optimization Maturity

If you’re reading this article, I hope you realize that split testing is no longer optional if you want to increase the performance of your web site. So, what is split testing? It’s simply presenting different versions of content to different visitors and measuring which version of your content gets the most desired results. Here are what I consider to be the three levels of conversion rate optimization maturity with an emphasis on split testing.

1 – Lowest Common Denominator

The first level of conversion rate optimization maturity is what I like to call “Lowest Common Denominator Split Testing”. This means treating all of your visitors the same. You simply split test all of your traffic together and see what performs best.

Not so long ago, if you were doing any split testing, you were ahead of the game since most of your competitors weren’t. That’s not the case anymore. I’m willing to bet the vast majority of the top 100 eCommerce sites are already doing some form of split testing.

The problem with lowest common denominator split testing is that your visitors are not all the same. While you’ve found what works best for the group as a whole, you are not taking advantage of obvious differences in terms of why they came to your site and what will get them to take action.This brings us to the second level of maturity.

2 – Segmentation

The second level of conversion rate optimization maturity takes advantage of “standard” information you know about your visitors. For example, where they came from – was it search (organic or paid), direct traffic (they typed in your url directly), a referral (a link from another site) or maybe an internal email. Have they come to your site before (new or returning users). Where are they located? What Browser are they using? etc.

This is the type of information you’ll usually find in a web analytics tool. Most of it is what’s available to you at the time of the visit itself.

This type of targeting is also known as segmentation. Basically, instead of putting everyone in a single bucket, you can now segment your visitors into several buckets. Instead of split testing all of your site traffic together you can measure the difference in behavior for each segment and more importantly serve up different tests to different segments.

The analogy I like to use is that of a sales person at a store who greets someone who just walked into the store. A good salesperson will try to put that visitor into a “segment” such as male, female, age, income, etc and propose products that person will most likely be interested in. If you’re not segmenting, it’s like having a blind and deaf salesperson.

Using segments together with split testing is way better than just split testing on it’s own, but you’re still treating everyone in each segment the same. What if you could actually treat every visitor as an individual? This brings us to the next level.

3 – Profiling

The final level of conversion rate optimization looks at each visitor as an individual. While segmenting on it’s own takes advantage of what you know about a visitor at the time of the visit, profiling also takes advantage of everything a visitor previously did as well as everything all of your other visitors have done.

Profiling gives each visitor a history that you can fully take advantage of. If a visitor bought shoes on their last visit, show them a banner for socks. You can even track what type of shoes they purchased in order to know what type of socks to offer.

Going back to the salesperson analogy, using segmentation on it’s own is like never having the same salesperson at your store. Every visit for every visitor has a different salesperson. Profiling is like having one single super-salesperson that remembers everything every visitor ever did.

Profiling can also be automated. If most people who purchased products A & B also bought product C, then automatically show product C to anyone who purchases products A & B. While profiling on it’s own is very powerful, but the ultimate in optimization is profiling together with split testing.

Netflix and Amazon are two examples of companies that are already doing profiling (and split testing). Wouldn’t you like to be like them?

As always, please leave questions and comments in the comments section.

Thank you
Ophir

Conversion Tips from a Crying Toddler

I can’t help but think about conversion rate optimization in my day to day life outside of work.

A friend of mine who studied film (making movies) in college once told me that he can no longer watch a movie without dissecting it in his head.

Every know and then I have a similar experience (usually as part of an “a-ha” moment) in my life where I realize something about human behavior – specifically how to get someone to do something.

I have quite a few of these in my head which I’ll start sharing on my blog.

Today it’s a lesson I learned from a crying toddler.

 

David is a 3 year old boy. He has a cat called Muffins. David and Muffins get along very well, but if Muffins bothers him at night while he’s sleeping, it scares him and we wakes up.

Last night when David started to cry, I saw Muffins run out of his room and immediately understood what happened. I went into his room and tried to calm him down.

David: Crying
Me: It’s OK David, Muffins won’t hurt you
David: Crying
Me: I’ll close the door so Muffins won’t come back. Daddy’s here.
David: Crying
Me: Did Muffins scare you?
David: Yes (and stops crying)

David calmed down at that point and quickly fell back to sleep.

As you can see, I was only able to get through to David once I acknowledged his feelings. This is parenting 101 but the point here is:

Acknowledging someone’s feelings is a very powerful way to get through to them.

Some examples off of the top of my head:

  • Do you suffer from high blood pressure?
  • Are you frustrated by your child’s behavior?
  • Worried about your debt?

Personally, I’m not crazy about using “informercial” type headlines, but the reason they are so widely used is that they usually work. Of course like any good marketer you are testing your copy so ultimately you know what works best for your audience.

The Future of Split Testing and Conversion Rate Optimization

I’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience first hand the evolution of the Internet, from even before the web till today.

I’ll spare you a lengthy history lesson explaining how we’ve gone from brochureware sites to where we are today, but I do want to share some thoughts and perspective on where I think things are going.

When marketers started to understand the potential of dynamic web sites, there were two terms everyone was throwing around:

Personalization & Customization.

Fast forward to today (2011). The user experience is still exactly the same for all visitors (other than on a handfull of sites such as Amazon.com).

For the most part, web site Personalization has failed. Sure it sounds good in theory, but trying to tailor the web site experience at the individual level is extremely difficult. It is difficult both from a technological perspective but mostly by trying to create an optimal user experience based on data from a single individual.

There is no doubt in my mind that in the future (and to some extent today) the user experience when visiting a web site will be created dynamically based on what gets the best results, but based on “anonymous” information which is common to large groups of visitors, and not based on a single person.

This reminds me of the concept of Psychohistory from the science fiction series “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov.
Wikipedia explains it better than I can:

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large. The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

I also like to think of this in terms of what usually happens at (successful) brick and mortar stores.

When you walk into a store, the salesperson probably doesn’t know you personally, but will probably try to help you based on certain public traits such as gender, age, if you’re by yourself or with someone else, etc.

Which brings me back to what actually prompted me to write this article in the first place :)

While I’ve been split testing since 2005 in order to improve conversion rates, the majority of the time, it’s still about what works best for the site as a whole, opposed to split testing together with segmentation (which is what we really want).

Until recently, there haven’t been many options out there to achieve this level of targeting and testing (at least not priced for small to mid sized businesses) but over the past few months, I’ve been starting to see more and more startups trying to bring this level of sophistication to the masses.

While I haven’t had a chance to use any of these services first hand, there is no doubt in my mind that business that truly embrace this level of targeting and split testing will eventually lead the pack and leave most one-size-fits all web sites in the dust.

Split Testing and Return Visitors

Just a quick post about a phenomenon I’ve personally seen happen but don’t recall ever seeing mentioned in split testing articles.

I’ll start by saying that ideally you should always look at the results from any split test by segmenting your visitors.

It’s not enough to know that overall version X did better than version Y. Ideally you should check how the different versions performed for various visitor segments. For example, users from organic search might behave differently than visitors from a referring site or direct traffic.

There is one segment though where merely the fact that you’re doing a split test can have an impact on the results:

New vs. Return visitors

Even if you weren’t doing a split test, you would probably see a difference between the two segments based purely on the fact that return visitors already know something about your product, service or site.

I’m talking about a different phenomenon though. The “something has changed” effect.

For new visitors, your site will be new regardless of which version of a test page they see.

For return visitors who have some level of familiarity with your site, if they see something new or changed on the site, they’ll probably pay more attention to it – merely because it’s different.

For example, if you’re homepage does not currently have any video on it and you test a new version with some video on it, return visitors who get the version with the video might watch the video simply because it’s something new.

Conclusion: Always segment visitors by new and return visitors.

If both groups show the same preference, it’s safe to say that you have a winner. If you’re seeing a large variance between new and return visitors, it might be worth it to let the test run for a while to see if the variance changes over time as more of the return visitors first visited the site after the split test started.

[UPDATE]
I was just thinking that this would be a feature that split testing tools can / should support. Segmenting not only new vs return users, but return users who’s first visit was before the split test started vs return users who’s first visit was after the split test started.

Heck – you should be able to only include visitors who’s first visit was after the test started if you want to. Are you listening optimizely, visual website optimizer, and the rest of the gang?

Adwords Search Funnel Update

I just noticed a tweet from analyticspros:

Jeff gillis from @googleanalytics announces new updates to adwords search funnels: up to 90 days back, actual query, unique paths #emetrics

This is GREAT news!

Previously search funnels only showed data back 30 days, which is adequate for many sites, but if your conversion event often happens after 30 days (which is often the case with large item purchases and B2B) you weren’t getting the full picture.

I have not see this mentioned anywhere else, so it’s probably hot off the “press” at eMetrics.

Update [Oct 6]: I just noticed that the official adwords blog has this update

– Ophir

Call to action fail

I’m looking to move AnalyticsImpact.com from wordpress.com to a different managed solution. WordPress.com is very limited in terms of plug-ins or themes.

So I come across a page with a big red button to sign-up:


Screenshot from http://pressceo.com/wordpress-hosting/

 

 

Overall it looks fine, but clicking on the button simply leads to a larger version of the image! Clicking on the button literally leads to http://pressceo.com/wp-content/uploads/signup.jpg

 

I laughed and thought I’d share :)

In all fairness, the rest of the site does seem a very professional and I’m guessing (hoping) they fix this soon.

– Ophir