The web is one of the most powerful and commanding sales channels today. For many retail businesses, online revenue has overtaken the brick-and-mortar dollars as ecommerce sales continue to climb. A recent comScore report found that Q2 2010 online retails sales reached $32.9 billion -- up 9 percent from 2009. Online marketing professionals often look to the overall design and structure of their websites in a first attempt to improve revenue and nudge out the competition. While design improvements over time are a necessity, it's crucial that marketers have a true understanding of what drives successful design decisions, while limiting the risk of confusing or deterring site visitors.
Looks aren't everything
Companies will often invest big money to redesign their entire website all at once, a tactic that can turn off loyal visitors who are accustomed to the navigation and user interface. A large online discount beauty and perfume retailer recently relaunched its website with a fresh new look, including changes to navigation and color palette, with zero data obtained from testing or customer input. Consequently, conversion rates drop by nearly 30 percent as its customers' frustrations increased substantially.
Investing a fortune on interactive agencies or site overhauls is no guarantee of success if your approach to site development is based on assumptions. Pooling expertise and best practices, as well as canvassing feedback from small customer focus groups, has proven to be an unreliable means of predicting customer behavior online. The subtleties of how users intuitively navigate websites are too discrete and subliminal to be captured using a dated research methodology.
Nix the subjective
Making website content changes to reduce bounce rates or increase conversion rates tends to be a guessing game for most marketers. However, in a recent survey of 500 marketers from around the globe, Maxymiser found that only 5 percent could guess which copy and design combination would garner the highest conversion rate -- making it even more clear that subjectivity has no place in content decisions.
Marketers must understand the right formula for producing the best ROI results in order to confidently determine the correct enhancements to their ecommerce sites. Relying on preconceptions often leads to ill-advised decisions about compelling content and optimal page layouts.
So what does work? The secret of the online retail giants such as eBay and Amazon is that they test as they go, monitoring visitor behavior in response to tweaks that are so slight that the average consumer would not be aware of the differences. By continuously testing, these powerful brands are able to hone their websites on an ongoing basis, without disturbing consumers or risking revenues. A few keys to this approach include:
Don't stop 'til you get enough
Bring objectivity to your design decisions by identifying the most powerful combination of content, layout, and interface to realize greater conversion increases. Well-designed multivariate testing replaces guesswork with a continuous iterative approach capable of qualifying which changes to make based on insight from your live traffic. This level of intelligence provides a strategic decision-making process that transforms the way you evolve your website. A website that does dozens of multivariate tests a year can improve conversion rates by 25-30 percent.
The customer is always right
Ultimately, the visitors themselves should design your website based on the choices they make on your pages. Using multivariate test results to continually redesign your website ensures that the site remains fresh and relevant without risking a big-bang redesign approach. And, your customers won't be left feeling robbed of a familiar experience and learned shortcuts, while you retain the ability to innovate with the proper controls in place -- all in a protected environment.
Savor the surprises
It is important to focus on high-traffic areas such as landing pages, search results, and checkouts. However, you will also need to optimize merchandising elements that remain constant, as these are a source of sustainable sales increases. We saw a leading retailer simply remove the "add-to-cart" icon below each product image and realize a 63 percent increase in conversion.
Count on conversion
Nobody has the divine intuition to know 100 percent of the time which website changes and redesigns will further engage visitors, or better yet, turn them into valuable and loyal customers. By removing the subjectivity from website content and design decisions, marketers can eliminate redesign risk and transform their websites into high-performance conversion engines.
Protecting existing online revenue streams is crucial, but failing to move forward is not an option competitively. Iterative website redesign based on accurate, objective test results enables marketers to confidently make vital online changes and continually improve online performance, while better serving the needs of their customers.
For added insight into how to find the best match for your online testing and website optimization, take a look at Forrester's inaugural evaluation of the online testing market, "The Forrester Wave: Online Testing, Q3 2010."
Mark Simpson is founder and president of Maxymiser.
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