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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stemming the Leaks Online

Amazon’s web site didn’t achieve success through guesswork and a two-year re-launch cycle. Live testing and iterative tweaking is the key to high conversion rates.

There’s nothing like a recession to focus marketing spending, as the cost of pay-per-click traffic has soared, other vehicles such as social networking have been exploited to ensure a constant stream of new visitors. Almost every avenue has been exhausted now, making it difficult for marketers to achieve sustainable business growth through traffic acquisition alone.

In one end, out the other

At the same time, businesses have begun to wake up to the appalling leakage that is taking place as visitors move through their web pages. In retail conversion rates average just 3-5%; in the travel industry it’s lower still at 1-3%. This means that, in spite of the investment in acquiring them, a staggering 97% of visitors are still not spending or registering.

With the slowdown threatening budgets, the logical next priority must surely be to maximise the conversion and retention of hard-won visitors to reduce cost of acquisition and increase profitability.

The devil is in the detail

When National Express experimented with its heading, strap-line and call-to-action buttons in the checkout process using multivariate testing, it saw a double-digit uplift in conversion rates at the checkout. And when Jobsite split its single-page registration form into two pages, effectively introducing an extra stage to the registration process, it saw completions soar by 48%.

The need for such subtle modifications and the bottom line measures of their success are unlikely to have been unearthed in the traditional approach to web site redesign, involving closed-door meetings of a company’s key strategists and web designers. They came to light following live multivariate testing with real web site visitors.

Removing the guesswork

In conversion management, the real, live responses of visitors are crucial. Even if visitors are polled for their opinions, this may not reflect the way they actually pass through a site. The only way to know for sure that they will respond as expected is to test different versions of a site in a live environment, so that real customer responses can be measured and capitalised on.

Amazon has known this from the start, and has practised live, iterative site development from the beginning, continually a/b and multivariate testing and refining offers, layout and calls to action. At Amazon, conversion rate improvement is embedded in the company culture.

Most other online businesses, by contrast, continue to rely on blind faith in their web development – following gut-feel, best practice or, at best, reactive feedback from small research samples in lab environments. Alternatively, they may spend large sums of money on retrospective site activity analysis, which is then fed into a protracted and expensive complete redesign.

Chasing 10% more high quality traffic to your site will cost over 10% in additional spending - only for 97% of that traffic to drop out without purchasing. By redirecting the same level of investment into improving conversion performance, organisations stand to see far greater returns from the existing traffic base.

The average uplift in metrics our clients have seen so far in 2009 is 43% which is having a huge impact on the bottom line.

Keep what you’ve sown

These are frugal times when cost-justification reigns. Now is no time to leave the tap running when there are leaks in your bucket. Take care of the leaks, and the bucket will runneth over...

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