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Twelve months on from writing “Will 2013 be the year of conversion rate optimization?” I’d like to follow up and share some answers and stories from what we saw in 2013.

One thing is clear, last year was absolutely the most progressive we have experienced, with a continued trend towards brands embracing a data driven, on-going optimization strategy.

What were the key challenges in 2013?

We are privileged to work with a range of major worldwide brands, many of which operate a multichannel operation.

The reality for many brands is that with legacy systems in place, a truly packed development schedule, and a company philosophy which has historically focused on traffic acquisition rather than on-site conversion, changing to a culture of on-going on-site optimization is no easy task.

Another key challenge we saw in 2013 is the reality that change isn’t everyone’s best friend – although there could well be people within a business who have really bought in to the benefits of developing a testing culture, until you have buy-in from senior management and in some cases the CEO, the changes needed to really make on-going optimisation work are hard to introduce.

Having robust visitor behaviour data from a well configured web analytics set-up to help inform and support on-going testing and optimization efforts is of course a key requirement.

During 2013 the main challenge we saw here is that organisations aren’t always investing the right level of resource for both implanting advanced configurations of their analytics solution and then not being able to allocate sufficient resource continually for improvement and data analysis.

The good news from 2013

Strides are being taken in each of these areas and I’m confident that by the end of 2014 they’ll no longer be seen as key challenges for CRO – although I predict all three will still very much be in place across many organisations.

One major trend we saw amongst retailers in 2013

Early on in 2013 I wrote an article looking at how Nixon had delivered its new responsive ecommerce website. Around this same time we were delivering in-depth moderated user testing for a major multi-channel retailer, with a particular focus on gaining user insight on a range of multi-channel retailer websites, including many of the so-called leaders and best in class experiences.

As this research was to inform the user-centered redesign of our clients new responsive website, we were particularly interested in user testing responsive ecommerce sites, yet our challenge was there were very few really good examples to work with.

In particular there were very few retailers who had delivered a usable, multi-faceted navigation solution with responsive design.

Fast forward to early 2014 and what we now see is a wide range of retailers who during 2013 delivered a responsive experience for their visitors.

One of the major drivers for responsive redesign projects that we were involved in was having the opportunity to address key user interface and conversion issues which significantly affected site performance on their old website – these were changes which would have required significant technical investment and back-end changes across devices on the old non-responsive experience.

In addition these type of page and process improvements weren’t ever going to be easy to simply A/B test.

In summary 2013 saw many retailers developing a new responsive experience with the plan to then start moving in to continuous on-site optimization.

Opportunities in 2014

Based on our experiences from what have been our most progressive and successful client collaborations over the last 12 months, I’d like to share with you a few key opportunities we see for brands in 2014, whether in retail, financial services, education, travel or any other sector that uses online as part of their revenue generating process.

Don’t get too carried away with testing

Testing can be a game changer for businesses, but you have to continue gaining customer insights to help deliver higher impact testing which really addresses user needs.

Ensure you allocate budget and resource to continually use your analytics solution to provide data insights as part of your on-going testing efforts – once your configuration is fit for purpose.

Long live the HIPPO

Involving the most senior person in the business along with people on the ground from the very start of introducing a testing programme can yield surprisingly positive results on a number of levels – I share a couple of insights on this in the stories below.

Whether internal or external through an agency, getting the developers bought in to the concept of becoming a data driven, continuous optimization operation is crucial in our experience.

Yes you can do some tests without technical involvement, but when you really want to start delivering experiences which will affect use behaviour, you need to have your developers on board to support the optimization process.

Collaborative sketching

One of the many ways in which we engage a wide range of people within an organisation to feel a part of an optimization programme is having collaborative sketching sessions – allowing people who are close to both the business' USPs and their customers to relay how they feel a key page within the user journey could be reworked to provide a more persuasive experience for visitors.

Collaborative sketching also breaks down barriers within a business and gets people thinking about friction points for users and potential solutions – putting themselves in the minds of their visitors.

Gain competitor advantage 

Insights from some of the industry's most experienced practitioners and businesses doing CRO are a big help. For the last two years I have had the honour of both speaking at and being on the advisory board of Conversion Conference UK.

This is an annual event which runs across the world throughout the year, and I genuinely can’t recommend highly enough attendance at this two day conference.

Look it up and make sure you put a date in your diary when the 2014 conference date is announced – you will not be disappointed, and you can bet many of your competitors aren’t attending (this year at least!)

So what will 2014 be for you and your business?

How is your business introducing or developing a culture of on-going testing? Do you have any more words of wisdom that other brands (hopefully not your competitors!) can harness in helping to develop a new culture? 

Thanks for reading my thoughts on conversion optimization in 2013 and 2014, and I look forward to reading some of your comments.

Paul Rouke

Published 22 January, 2014 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

33 more posts from this author

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David Weightman

I may say, 2013 really had made a great advancement in the era of Internet Marketing. Of course I think all of us can relate in the idea of trends that constantly changes from time to time especially to search engine analytics. And as we look forward for 2014, the thought of still having those changes will still be there. But on the lighter side, windows of opportunities for new discoveries and approaches to web marketing are something that are worth anticipating. And the idea of being prepared of how and when will it happen is something that we all need to foresee.
Who knows? twenty-fourteen may be a year of twenty-fortune in the industry of Internet Marketing. Thanks for the post Paul! More power.

over 2 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

As usual Paul, a great post. Thank you.

I remember reading your 2013 piece with a sense of optimism. I too hoped that last year would be a tipping point for CRO.

Unfortunately, I don't think it was.

Most of the brands and organisations I work with still don't have testing and optimisation at the core of what they do. Whilst they may 'talk the talk' of digital - of it being the most flexible and iterative form of marketing - they still operate on the 'build it and it will work' model rather than the 'test it, build it, tweak it' approach!

Which, when you think of all the money organisations put into digital marketing these days, is simply amazing.

Sigh.

Never mind. We'll just have to keep plugging the good news of CRO. Maybe we should A/B Test our approach too ;)

Here's to 2014!

over 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Andrew - thanks very much for sharing your experiences & insights.

Your comment "Most of the brands and organisations I work with still don't have testing and optimisation at the core of what they do" really does say it like it is from our experiences too.

What this does mean of course is that there are still huge opportunities for brands to grab the bull by the horns and steal a march on their competitors. At least there are now businesses that are walking the walk on this - one business we have been working with since the start of 2013 have transformed from having an almost zero testing culture within their business to now having a Director of Optimisation driving their new data driven approach through their whole business. Not a bad transformation in 12 months.

Do you have any real success stories you can share, minus the brand name of course? I'm always keen to hear stories on this.

over 2 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Hi Paul

Thanks for coming back to me.

CRO, user testing, customer journey analysis etc is very much how I approach working with a client. For me, this mindset is the ultimate expression of 'being digital'.

My favourite example of how powerful this can be, is the literal doubling of sales of a particular (dental) product through the addition of more and clearer Calls to Actions on a page.

As you can imagine, my client was delighted!

The problem is/was, that making further and more substantial changes to the site requires input from other stakeholders. As well as one or more HIPPOs! This has proved to be more of a challenge :(

Of course, one way to promote CRO would be to publish these examples as successful case studies. Understandably, clients don't want to because they're worried that competitors will copy them.

over 2 years ago

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Chris Goward

Since 2007, I've been saying, "Next year will be the year for conversion optimization!" and I do think 2013 was it. Econsultancy's own study showed CRO to be the top priority for digital marketers (tied with content marketing.)

While it's true many marketers still haven't jumped on the bandwagon and most don't have the best testing system in place, it's hit mainstream attention.

Next, I believe the industry will evolve beyond "CRO" and think more holistically about using the continuous test-and-learn process more strategically. CRO as a term is sullied with a very tactical perspective--button testing, headline testing, ux tweaks, etc.--when there's more important value proposition insights to gain.

In 2014 and beyond, I believe we'll talk more about Strategic Marketing Optimization, Revenue Optimization, Profit Optimization and/or Growth Optimization.

over 2 years ago

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michael aagaard

I do think that 2013 to a large extent was the year of CRO. I did speeches on CRO in 9 different countries at about 15 different events, so I’ve experienced upfront how much interest and demand there is for CRO. But there’s a long way from interest and demand to action and results. It seems to me that most companies are a long way away from a constructive CRO plan.

Moreover, it’s plain that more and more SEO and general digital marketing agencies are clamoring to get a foothold on the CRO market.

It’s kind of like when SEO exploded 6 yeats ago; all of the sudden it was the big thing that all businesses had to have, but few actually knew how to do it properly. Most businesses are probably going to learn the hard way by burning tons of money on failed CRO projects (and suppliers who simply don’t understand what it’s all about). As a natural progression they are going to become more critical and start spending their budgets more wisely – and that’s going to be the time when CRO really comes into it own ;-)

- Michael

about 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Andrew - thanks for these additional insights. There is a lot to be said for the importance of clarity & focus around key conversion goals, and it sounds like just by making these bigger and more prominent you really helped to focus visitors on what your client was aiming for. I'm a big advocate for breathing space and the idea of embracing white space. I'm actually planning my next blog post on here which provides a beautiful example of this. Watch this space!

Where you mention about more progressive testing requiring more buy-in from key stakeholders, this really does demonstrate the importance that we place on getting this buy-in right at the start of introducing a data driven test and learn culture. As I was also saying change isn't everyone's best friend and this continues to be a challenge with some businesses.

@Chris - thanks so much for sharing your thoughts from across the pond, and congrats on 2013 finally feeling like your prediction from 2007 finally coming to fruition!!

I get the sense that the maturity of our industry is perhaps a bit more progressed over in the US than in the UK - and I'm expecting 2014 to be the year of conversion optimization here even though big strides were made in 2013.

I think you've summed things up well when you say "While it's true many marketers still haven't jumped on the bandwagon and most don't have the best testing system in place, it's hit mainstream attention."

In addition, I really like your focus also on what will come next and how we are able to use the approach of having a test and learn culture to uncover not just front end conversion opportunities but top level strategic insights which can help businesses evolve their persuasive proposition.

Finally I wonder which of the potential optimization terms you shared will become the industry norm in the next few years....!?

about 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Michael - thanks for sharing your experiences from 2013, you conference speaking champion you!

You make a great point about the distance between having interest in CRO and actually getting results from introducing this approach within a business. Thanks also for sharing your wisdom around the state of the industry and the continued shift of traditionally non-CRO based agencies to jump on the bangwagon.

One thing is 100% certain for 2014 and beyond, Googling 'conversion rate optimization agency' is going to provide businesses with an ever growing list of search results for specialists in this field - then the focus will be on separating out the wheat from the chaff, as you mentioned.

about 2 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

I unfortunately agree with everyone.

It HAS been the year of CRO from the awareness and attention perspective - both mainstream news and marketing sources I regularly plumb - featured CRO, Growth Hacking, Lean, Iterative, Analytics driven 'just do it' and a raft of practical case studies - way more than any year since I started doing this (arguably 2004).

it has NOT been the year of CRO from the practice point of view (yet) because as Chris alludes to - some C level and Senior Managers are still seeing this as a tactical, short term, one page, clickthrough, tinkering, tweaking type of thing. The companies I know doing this properly are blending it wider, deeper and more holistically across their work - and that's the big difference.

One of the largest companies in the world (a client I worked with last year) had one of the weakest, bias driven product design processes I've come across in 5 years. Some of my small clients, non profits and tiny operations have more action, desire and hunger for improvement than this global brand, on considerably tighter budgets.

I visited a client yesterday (that Paul and I work with) and the team we've done skills transfer to (the teach a man to fish approach) is now pumping 15 tests a month through their in-house designed and run service. That's impressive compared to most of the big organisations I know.

You can see that measure, test and learn are now baked across the company - it isn't one person tweaking Call-to-action buttons in a backwater of the website. This is total thinking around optimising acquisition streams, web conversion, lifetime value and profit - as well as optimising the reduction of churn. Even at this level, it goes beyond those metrics to the product design - once you know the flows, you can work the product to reinforce or amplify behaviours, money flows, delight and satisfaction.

When you're looking at the ability to see marketing down to the atomic level (e.g. keyword) and be able to weigh up the total cost, revenue, lifetime value, churn and profit you make?. That's what CRO has grown up to be in 2014 - the ability to see the true business flow (not the website visual layer).

So yes, for some people, they've moved very far on from testing buttons and pages - they're doing funnels, faking new websites, cross domain split tests, trying machine learning, split testing retention methods and sorting out their multi-channel tracking.

And with numbers in the mix, you can prioritise. No clients can fix everything they (and their customers) might want on their development schedule - the skill in grown up CRO is in finding, quantifying, prioritising and executing against stuff that really matters or makes a difference.

Clients are at many different stages of maturity and many of us practitioners have been trying to move them onto (or along) that path. I've seen a lot of people get burned by testing or pay for expensive software that they use little or never, but these folks are trying again (as evidence builds from other companies).

However, the epiphany for me has been in teaching clients to mesh their own thinking and business understanding with the techniques we give them. Naturally, you'd think that this would mean you'd lose your clients in time but in practice, their needs simply become even more strategic and focused on wider areas of the company or money flow. By trying to engineer yourself completely out of a job, you actually end up achieving something far greater for yourself, and your client.

Lastly, I'd like to call this bigger thing 'Holistic Optimisation'* as it's focused at the layer beyond the page - embedded firmly in the culture, the business and the deep connection with customers.

2014 for me is the year that some companies start to pull away from their competitors that aren't embracing optimisation (in any useful way). When an innovation and experimentation culture develops from this work, these companies will start to kick serious ass in their markets.

And the one factor not mentioned - all these tools and testing efforts used to require complex software, teams and big price tags. The raft of tools available now to the optimisation and marketing professional is cheaper and better than it ever has been.

This democratisation of experimentation, like all human nature, yields a lot of rubbish and some really good stuff. That access to simpler and cheaper tools simply amps up the volume here so I don't expect everyone to get smart here.

Optimisation is a form of Digital Darwinism so those companies who are on a level 'paying field' in a Google ad dominated world, will want this as part of their DNA.

The dial simply won't turn anymore on acquisition due to SEO and PPC evolution, so CRO will be more critical and a key competitiv differentiator from this year onwards.

Craig.

* We could just be trendy and call it 'Lean Optimisation' but that would be cheating.

about 2 years ago

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Maeve Kneafsey

What I would be really interested in learning from evereyone's experience, is which sectors and/or company profiles are focused on CRO? Any views?

about 2 years ago

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