Here is the big revelation for 2006: Optimize your website for increased conversions to lower your cost of acquisition. And why would all you media people care about this? Because lowering your cost of acquisition will make once unprofitable advertising channels (a la, display advertising) profitable. It will also allow you to spend more on paid search -- getting you those elusive top spots when buying keywords.
Let's say you have a conversion rate of 20 percent, meaning you convert 20 percent of your web traffic into customers. The other 80 percent leaves your site for some unknown reason: could be a poor shopping cart, inadequate navigation or any other ailment. If you can increase your conversion to 30 percent by optimizing your website, you stand to increase your online revenue by 50 percent! All this without increasing your media spend. If you tried to get these same results by optimizing your online marketing you would have to increase your clickthrough across all online channels by half. No small feat.
So your client says they are optimizing their site. Really? Ask them if the same people who work on the site day after day are the same people who are asked to provide new and insightful ways to optimize the site for better conversion. Let's get real. It's just not fair to ask internal teams to do this. They are overworked and admittedly too "close" to the site. If they could do it, they already would have.
So what is the right approach? Who can do this correctly? Only a well-equipped agency with in-house market research capabilities and strong design and strategy teams. The key is knowing how and when to insert the right kind of market research into design and strategy.
Here is a simplified version of our optimization process we call "Interface Engineering:"
Know your stats. Know exactly when someone drops off. Know what question they last answered. Know where they came from. Ultimately this will enable you to focus on the really important pages and set measurements of success.
Run exit-pops. These are little windows that pop-up when the user abandons the site. They ask the user why he or she is leaving. You only need run one exit-pop for one to two percent of the site users for a short period of time. The overall "user experience" will not be affected. In fact, many respondents are happy to provide feedback as to why they are leaving your site. It empowers them.
Conduct informal usability tests in the agency to see first hand where problems arise. It sounds simple but don't cut it short or skip it. Usually it takes multiple people going through a site to understand most of the problems. But please bring in people from outside the agency. Agency people are too well versed in site usability to be an effective source of information.
Call the call center. Ask them if the same problems you are encountering online are common to a lot of callers. Ask them what other reasons people give for calling. This may be one of the most insightful conversations you will have about how to optimize a site.
Get all interested parties involved as early as possible. CRM, back-end, marketing and others all have requirements. No project should be initiated without them. Create a requirements doc and get it approved by all parties.
Create multiple designs to test your hypotheses. Clearly there are many user-flows that will solve a particular problem. Create a few for each goal/problem and don't let your client or agency decide which one is right. Ask your audience in usability testing.
Conduct usability testing on your designs. Walk your respondents through your user-flows. Let them decide which ones are worth pursuing.
Refine your designs from the research process and take them live.
The more you put into this process the more you will get out. I have spent as long as eight months optimizing an application process for a major financial institution that yielded over a 100 percent increase in conversion. This ultimately earned them millions of dollars in additional revenue from the exact same media spend as the previous year.
The bottom line is this: Funnel some of your media spend into optimizing your website and watch your online advertising dollars give you the results you want.
Jordan Berg is chief creative officer for Questus. He has experience in both interactive advertising and traditional design, having worked on projects for world-class brands such as Suzuki, Wells Fargo, GE and ESPN. One of Berg's key strengths is synthesizing research and strategy with award winning design. This unique approach has landed him in both Communication Arts and InStyle magazine.