The ROI Revolution Blog

Wins, Losses, & Actionable Insights from #WebOpt14

June 3, 2014

NY Times - Cropped.jpgTwo weeks ago MECLABS invited me to attend their 4th annual Web Optimization Summit in New York City. If you don’t know MECLABS you should. They’re a 20-year-old marketing research institute based in Jacksonville, Florida that focuses specifically on value proposition and “customer-first science.” (Perhaps you’ve read the MarketingExperiments Blog or subscribe to the MarketingSherpa Newsletter – they own those properties as well).

This was the first of their shows that I have had the pleasure of attending. The two days of content were jam-packed with a variety of speakers from an array of companies and industries, and they made it clear throughout the sessions that their goal was to inspire transformation in attendees’ businesses. In addition to free resources (live optimization labs, one-on-one website coaching, and expert-led roundtables), this was the inaugural year for an ecommerce-focused session track. Since ecommerce is ROI’s primary focus, today’s post will share the top 5 quotable moments for our ecommerce following.

Flint McGlaughlin“The whole notion of ecommerce is flawed… it’s just commerce.” – Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS

Flint’s primary point was that retailers are in a time of intense and dramatic change. It’s anticipated that by 2017 56% of all offline sales will be influenced by the web, which is excellent news for the online retailer and a harsh reality for brick-and-mortar-focused businesses.

With that change comes “an unprecedented opportunity to know [your] customers.” Data, brand, and marketing are the keys to the future: customer wisdom is the way to drive sustainable competitive advantage, good branding fosters an expectation, and good marketing fosters the conclusion that brings the customer to action.

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“Emails should inspire the click – not the final action.”
– Tim Kachuriak, Founder and Chief Innovation & Optimization Officer, Next After

Tim focused more specifically on causing action. With a background in non-profit fundraising, he offered a particularly refreshing look at how to get prospective customers to buy into the intangible products we offer online. Retailers attempt to sell at the start when they should be more focused on beginning a customer’s journey – if each step of your process focuses entirely on getting people to the next step of the process the visitor will ultimately become a customer.

Use your email promotions to make your list more interested in the offer – “Present your form [or buy button] at the end of the thought sequence after value has been clearly communicated,” Kachuriak said. Remember that the call-to-action is simply a critical moment in a sequence of customer thoughts.

“If it’s not adding value, it’s adding friction.”
– Kyle Foster, Senior Optimization Manager, MECLABS

Kyle said this most concisely during our one-on-one coaching session, but it was a sentiment shared by most of the speakers. (After all, this was an optimization summit.) American Express’s Senior Manager of Digital Acquisition, Sabrina Pasini, preached that you must transform the digital experience into a “customer journey.” McGlaughlin boiled this down to intentionally avoiding too much “unsupervised thinking” from happening on your website; you should be powering the visitor through your funnel – regardless of the product you sell.

So how does a retailer do that? Almost every speaker had developed his or her own process for testing, but to put it in perspective Kachuriak argued that it is about prioritizing your efforts: “Small changes to the right element have a big impact.”

What is your “right element”? VMware’s Senior Marketing Manager, Cindy Lu, broke it into a concrete 5-step process:
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  1. Optimize content for the customer
  2. Rapidly iterate and test
  3. Identify & capitalize on quick wins
  4. Increase engagement with product differentiation
  5. Tie optimization efforts to the bottom line.

“I almost never open my browser with the plan to order, but I always open it to get stuff.” – Michael Aagaard, Founder,

Michael was passionate that visitor (and customer) intent is the key to success. He offered his 4 optimization principles to attendees:

  1. It’s about optimizing decision-making – not webpages.
    If you’re solely focused on improving the aesthetics of your site, then you’re missing the bigger (more important) picture that ties to your bottom line.
  2. Even the smallest changes have big impact when they reduce critical friction in the buying process.
    This ties back to Kachuriak’s point: if it isn’t accelerating the process, then it’s slowing it down.
  3. Tackle your “mission critical” elements first.
    The majority of significant performance changes will be a result of testing to subject lines, headlines, buttons, and form design.
  4. Don’t forget your “data digging.”
    It comes down to who, why, what, and how – in that order. Find out the “who” so you can determine “why” them, “what” impacts those people, and “how” you’re going to optimize for it.

Almost more important than your testing, however, is your hypothesis. Aagaard stressed, “A solid hypothesis is an informed solution – not an arbitrary guess.”

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“Test, test, and test some more.” – Pretty Much Every Speaker

Admittedly, this “insight” should be the most obvious takeaway from an optimization event, but that’s why I saved it for last.

Sabrina Pasini - Square.jpgAagaard’s points are just the beginning. Once you implement tests, you also have to determine “winners” for ongoing optimizing. To effectively determine winners, you have to check your ego at the door and be brutally honest. Optimization has to be based on data – not gut feelings or committee compromises.

You also have to be willing to be wrong. If you never have negative results, it means you’re not asking the right questions. You’re also never learning. Pasini advised implementing a “test & learn” program; she warned that tests don’t always have big wins, but even marginal results can be an important lesson for the bigger picture – even if it simply redirects your testing priorities.

What drives your testing? What big results have you had?

It is always inspiring to hear retailers large and small sharing their stories and experiences – and that person-to-person networking is one of the core reasons people enjoy attending shows. I watched it happen at our Retail Traffic Summit a few weeks ago in Atlanta, and I participated right along with them at the MECLABS event in New York.

I have a laundry list of optimizations to begin on ROI’s landing pages and emails. When it comes to paid search, we always recommend that our ecommerce retailers continually test landing pages to improve conversion rates.

What was the last landing page you tested that led to significant gains (or surprising losses?)

Share your story in the comments below.

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