With ever-increasing online customer acquisition costs and ever-decreasing returns, it is time for a sea-change in internet marketing. If organisations are to maximise the huge spend on pay-per-click and affiliate marketing campaigns, they need to make every customer visit count.
Gut feel and guesswork are no longer adequate tools to determine online content. Organisations need highly sophisticated, real time content optimisation to drive up conversion rates and support a far more sophisticated consumer experience. Trialling radical new content and promotions without risk, targeting content at specific consumer segments and in response to consumer behaviour, and achieving content led consumer insight to support multi-channel strategies will be key to transforming investment in customer acquisition into bottom line value.
For the past decade, organisations have been involved in sustained efforts to win online market share. This land grab has been highly lucrative, attracting consumers keen to explore and exploit access to new and unfamiliar brands. But times are changing, fast. With ever increasing competition and an inherently internet aware consumer base, costs are escalating. It is time to extend the focus from customer acquisition to maximising customer value.
Most organisations can pinpoint the location of website problems: which pages prompt significant drop off and the percentage of customers who fail to complete a purchase. But assessing that performance is tough. How, for example, does it compare to the market average? Should the organisation be worried about performance or are low conversion rates a fact of online life? In the rush to acquire online market share such issues have, to date, been sidelined. However, the need to assess and improve performance is growing among marketing teams increasingly measured not on leads or click-through but bottom line sales. But just how can these performance problems be addressed by using content to increase retention and drive greater conversion?
One of the main challenges to effective content optimisation is timing. From highly reactive user surveys to A/B testing, techniques are both slow and limited in potential. Whilst A/B testing provides a clear indication of consumer response to actual content, the process takes several weeks. Reverting to the top performing content at the end of the trial is no guarantee of a sustained conversion uplift: a range of factors from seasonality to competitive offers and offline influences can and will change consumer response in real time.
The only way to truly optimise online performance is to leverage real time customer behaviour to drive content. By serving up multiple different versions of a web page -- from call to action areas to pictures and strap lines -- content optimisation technology can continually compare consumer response in real time.
By continuously comparing the conversion rates, from sales to click-through or registration, the optimising technology will automatically present the most effective content to consumers, providing incremental increases in performance. With this approach, even the most basic content changes, such as changes to button colours, have proven to deliver significant conversion uplift. Addressing the check out process will typically deliver an improvement well in excess of 30 per cent, whilst changes to registration processes have delivered over 50 per cent improvement.
As a result, organisations can achieve in a matter of days a content led performance improvement that could not have been attained with weeks of standard A/B testing, delivering a massive, and immediate, return. This real time multi-variant testing can also be extended to support tailored messaging, with content presented based on the keyword search, traffic referrer or time of day. Add in behavioural targeting and organisations can present a landing page that reflects the consumer's previous online activity, tailoring the content in line with proven interests -- achieving considerable conversion uplift as a result.
Using this approach, organisations can test hundreds, even thousands, of versions in real time, and achieve significant uplift. However, leveraging existing content is just the start: organisations can now trial far more ideas, allowing content creators to become more innovative and experimental without incurring business risk.
Indeed, the biggest uplifts have been achieved by those organisations that have used real time consumer response to introduce innovation and challenging new ideas. Whilst subtle changes to existing content can and do deliver uplift in the tens of percent, radical change to the content can transform performance in the hundreds of per cent.
It is this ability to make significant changes to online content without incurring significant business risk that provides a fantastic platform to transform the creative process. Whilst in the past the creative team have had to choose maybe one or two ideas, they can now trial as many as is practicable. Instead of stifling quality, organisations can offer creatives free reign to experiment without risk: the ideas that don't work will not be presented to the consumer, those that do will deliver measurable conversion uplift.
Real time assessment of consumer behaviour also provides organisations with unprecedented insight into a range of key issues, from promotional content -- such as the use of BOGOF versus 2 for the price of 1 wording -- to product imagery. This information is relevant not only to the online sales strategy -- it has resonance across the business, feeding directly into the offline strategy.
Critically, consumer response can be ascertained intuitively without affecting the brand experience. This enables organisations to test bed offline offers creating opportunities for significant increase in revenue across the business. One company, for example, is comparing user response to different styles of product photography online. The results will not only influence online content but also offline advertising and in-store activity.
Delivering measurable success
Despite the increasing sophistication of search engine optimisation techniques, online marketing has reached a tipping point: brand managers cannot continue to allocate ever-increasing budgets to customer acquisition without considering the downstream implications. Why spend another £50,000 on pay-per-click or affiliate marketing campaigns when the same amount could deliver a 20 to 100 per cent increase in onsite conversion rates?
Indeed, having invested heavily in pulling customers online it is criminal to waste the opportunity. It is time to consider the actual user experience and work effectively to translate the investment in search activity to bottom line conversion. It is time to become far more sophisticated about web content optimisation.
Mark Simpson is managing director, Maxymiser.
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