A few years ago I was working for a UK commercial bank and the Marketing department had been called to meet the new Head of Marketing. As our new colleague was introduced to each area of marketing she acknowledged the value that they offer to the organisation. However, when she was introduced to the Market Research Team we heard the fatal words “Oh, yes, Market Research, the first area to be cut when there is a downturn.”
Ironically within a matter of months we were hit by the financial crisis of 2008 and almost immediately my budget was drastically cut back. So, why is there a perception that the market research budget is fair game when times are difficult? There are of course a number of inter-related reasons. From my experience here are the main factors behind this attitude to the market research budget.
Return on investment:
Senior managers understand numbers as they deal with them every day. To speak their language and gain trust it is important to provide figures on the value of research. Key here is stakeholder management to uncover all the potential benefits of decisions informed by research. But also follow-up on research by owning the action planning process, and agreeing how to calculate the value of research in monetary terms. This will put you in a stronger position to defend the market research budget.
This will also help in trying to prioritise research budget from a ROI perspective. But more importantly if we are seen to estimate the benefit of research in monetary terms the budget is less likely to be perceived as a cost centre. Instead it may be a source of revenue and cost savings.
As managers are just as loss averse as the rest of us they don’t like to have to justify expenditure unless there is a benefit. Building trust by talking their language allows us to re-frame research in a more commercial sense. It opens up opportunities to discuss more strategic projects to address longer-term business goals.
Loss aversion can also be used to our benefit as research can help protect a brand by uncovering poor sales practices and training needs of customer facing staff though covert observational techniques. For digital communications research use A/B testing to measure any uplift in conversion. Then calculate the loss of revenue if the old content has been retained.
When other companies are reducing costs by cutting back on research and development. It is easy for a senior manager to use this as evidence to support their own plans to save money. This copycat or herd instinct is difficult to prevent as in times of uncertainty we like to follow what other people are doing.
This of course is not always wise and when people copy behaviour blindly without assessing the risks it can end in disaster. The important strategy here is to identify and highlight those successful organisations that are not following the herd. Investigate their approach to research and their successes in the field of insights to demonstrate the value in having a longer time horizon. The market research budget should be an investment not a drain on resources.
Managers often suffer from confirmation bias as they look for information that will confirm their attitudes and opinions. The danger here is that managers often try to use insights from research to justify a decision they have already made. Rory Sutherland suggests that over 50% of market research may be commissioned as a kind of insurance against a decision going wrong. The manager can then blame the research if it proves a disaster. I suspect this is probably not far off.
If the research is for “arse covering” as Rory puts it I try to steer the research towards a more useful area of insight. Review the problem from a wider frame of reference and identify other questions that might be more valuable. Make a subtle suggestion to the manager by asking them if they had thought about asking this question instead. Explain how this new question would help their problem, but also how it might be more beneficial.
Also make sure you ask the commissioning manager what they think the research will discover to counter hindsight bias. You can add this to the brief and create a research hypothesis. The market research budget will be easier to defend if you can show you deliver findings that were not predictable.
As human beings we are emotional rather than rational creatures. Our decisions are heavily influenced by implicit or psychological goals, such as power and autonomy. We respond most positively to people who take a genuine interest in our lives and make us feel important.
Make an effort to get to know your senior managers, find out what motivates them, from both a personal and business perspective. This will also help you identify their achievements so that you can give sincere complements to build a stronger relationship.
This should also allow you to find out about their perception of research so that you can consider how to counter common misconceptions about market research. But the important behaviour is to listen and get them to tell you what their priorities are. You can then go back later with plans to target these needs. As is often the case it’s not what we know, but who we know that matters. Having a senior stakeholder as a champion of the market research budget will help protect your funding.
Targets & Short-Termism:
Understandingly there is a tendency among public companies to focus on hitting the next quarterly targets. This tends to result in an obsession with setting goals to help meet these targets. However, research from the Harvard Business School – “Goals gone wild” indicates that goals imposed on people by others (e.g. sales, quarterly returns, customer satisfaction scores etc), narrow our focus and limit our thinking. This reduces our ability to come up with innovative solutions.
There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that goal setting can result in unethical behaviour. Tesco and Halifax (now part of Lloyds Banking Group) in the UK and Enron in the US are prime examples of where lofty revenue and growth targets encouraged a race to meet them at any cost.
Short-term thinking almost inevitably leads to less research and development. Research can help counteract the negative side-effects of goal setting and inform decision making. You can employ loss aversion here to focus attention on the dangers of missing out on new emerging trends or disruptive technology.
You can also ensure that your focus reflects the needs of the business to achieve efficiency’s and cost savings by proposing projects that assist this process. Behavioural economics for instance can be used to used in many areas, from call centres to production lines, to create new habits and improve customer decision making.
Social media marketing tools have become more valuable as the use of online social networks have exploded over the last decade. For many people social networks are one of their main sources of information and news. Millions of people share photos, messages and content every day on social media.
Are social networks anything new?
Humans have always been super social animals and we thrive best when connecting with other people. New ideas, products and behaviour spread through our social networks. Consequentially social media is just a visible extension of existing off-line social networks. However, social media can heavily influence both online and offline behaviour and social media signals are an important factor in SEO. Shares on social media can also create back links which help improve domain authority.
How important is social media marketing?
Research by PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PWC) of over 20,000 consumers worldwide found that almost half (45%) of digital buyers indicated reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their digital shopping behaviour. The influence of social media is probably much greater than this for because many of our interactions happen offline via word of mouth and may be so subtle that they are very difficult to identify and measure.
Indeed, research suggests that we often copy other people without being consciously aware of our behaviour. This is because we have developed an almost automatic ability to replicate the behaviour of those who we admire or aspire to be like. As a result the potential power of social networks should not be underestimated. The forecasts suggests that online social networks will continue to grow rapidly.
To help you in this important area of marketing I have summarised below over 40 social media marketing tools that help improve your success in this area. A number of the social media marketing tools are free or have free trials available, so check them out if you think they could assist your social media planning and implementation.
One of the most useful social media marketing tools which allows you to integrate analytics with your marketing efforts. 33Across offers traffic building and monetization tools for content publishers. SiteCTRL provides real-time insights on how people consumer and share your content. This includes Copy&Paste which monitors on-site copy and paste activity and auto-inserts the page URL to create organic back-links which improve search rankings.
SpeedShare enables and tracks sharing of your content across multiple social networks. The analytics tool helps you to understand how your users share your content in the public domain and privately.
RevCTRL generates insights into the best places where you should focus your marketing efforts and allows for better placement and more relevant ads for users. Select customized ad signals including social, search, contextual and more. As a result RevCTRL aims to provide higher CPMs and more revenue with fewer ads on your site.
Supports 27 languages and is an ideal tool for international organisations that require a multi-language solution. It is able to monitor conversations across the vast majority of social networks and offers highly targeted searches with industry leading queries powered by 22 Boolean operators. Using an advanced algorithm it offers spam-free data from millions of online sources.
For Facebook growth this tool allows you to keep up-to-date with Facebook stats. LikeAlyzer weekly provides information on your Facebook page such as the number of posts per day, Likes, comments and shares per post, timing and length of posts.
One of the most highly rated social media marketing tools on the market. This provides you with a single dashboard to browse your social media performance and other marketing efforts. As Moz is an SEO tool as well it will show you how your social media activity is affecting your SEO standing.
The company has developed an Intent Quality Decision Engine to measure a person’s propensity to purchase. The engine identifies intent across screens and digital journeys by collecting and analysing signals of intent and selects your ideal consumers to deliver highly targeted ads.
This is a Chrome extension that allows you to track real-time social engagement of any website to understand how popular a page or post is on various social networks. This helps you understand how content on a site is shared and where you might focus social engagement.
Employs an optimisation algorithm that analyses your Twitter and Facebook data to ensure your content is sent at the optimum time. The tool uses three key criteria to determine when to post content. Message relevance, which of your messages in most likely to connect, your audience (who is currently online), and timing (when is the best moment to post this content).
A popular Free monitoring and listening tool. This covers over 100 social media networks and measures metrics such as sentiment, strength, passion and reach. Combined with an easy to use interface and the ability to export the data into an Excel sheet if required this is a highly useful tool that does not have any subscription to pay.
A suite of social monitoring tools that help you collect and analyse relevant data within a framework that you can define to identify insights on what matters to you. It incorporates a workflow system that enables you to process large volumes of mentions to allow you to make data-driven decisions.
2. Content Discovery Social Media Marketing Tools:
This tool analyses the emotional appeal of your content and evaluates whether your articles are written appropriately for the kind of people that read your content. The app uses advanced data analytics to uncover how writing patterns impact your audience and machine learning to identify when they are interacting with your content.
One of the most popular social media marketing tools for content discovery and curation. This is a content curation tool that allows you to store articles, videos or other content for when you need it. It allows you to tag posts for easy sorting and filter by video, image or article.
A social networking aggregation tool that allows you to use flexible, dynamic rules to auto-publish content from social platforms and gather content from RSS feeds and APIs. It also offers a CMS and mobile app platform which allows you to choose from a variety customisable designs.
3. Content Management Social Media Marketing Tools:
Buffer has become one the most iconic of the social media marketing tools available. They offer a Free account manager for one Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn account with up to 10 updates in each of your buffers (account schedule). You can also have a 7 day trial to include Pinterest in your account.
This a great tool to optimise and automate the times when you post on social media. Further, it provides detailed analytics of the number of clicks, favourites, shares, comments and the potential reach of individual posts. The browser plugin for the tool means that you don’t need to access the Buffer website to schedule or share content.
You can go Awesome for $10 a month to manager 12 social profiles, with unlimited posts in your buffer, and have two users to manage the account. This allows you to decide on whether to send posts out of one account or multiple accounts across different social networks
A Wordpress plugin that allows you to plan, schedule and promote your blog content across multiple social media channels. CoSchedule integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Buffer. You can also track post links though Bit.ly or Google tracking tags. You can manage all your content creation calendar and social media sharing schedule from the
backend of your WordPress website or blog.
The tool will also monitor social media engagement from your posts and produce an activity report which ranks posts based upon the level of engagement.
A comprehensive paid for social media management and publishing solution that starts from $15 a month. This includes automating publishing, engagement (live social fields), curating new content, post automation, social inbox, social monitoring, influencers, generate leads and social analytics.
A paid for solution that automatically adds your new posts to a library which allows you to recycle all your social media posts so that you end up with a never-ending queue of content. You can determine what to post and when it goes out.
This is one of the most well-known and popular social media marketing tools that helps you manage multiple social media accounts by monitoring, posting and delegating tasks within your team. This includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, Foursquare, Instagram and many more.
This app allows you to connect many of your favourite apps to create automatic actions from one app to another when you complete a set task. These automated actions are called recipes and there are many to choose from.
Recipes include Tweeting your Facebook updates, share your Instagrams to Facebook, forward emails to save attachments to Dropbox, posting Vimeo videos you like to Tumblr, saving new texts you receive in Google Spreadsheet, copying any Instagram pictures you take to Google Drive, adding your latest iPhone screenshots to a Dropbox folder and saving articles saved for later in Feedly in Pocket too.
This tool allows you to schedule tweets in advance and auto-follow your new followers. The dashboard enables you to combine Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plurk and your blog into one place to schedule posts and monitor social media activity.
A management and engagement platform for social business. You can manage, post, monitor, and analyse multiple social media accounts from the tool. It allows you to post updates simultaneously across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Monitor your messages across social networks through on streaming inbox and their ViralPost algorithm analyses your followers’ engagement patterns to identify the best time to
publish content. Their analytics reporting allows you to customize social media reporting across networks and profiles. Offers a 30 day Free trail.
This is a social search and display platform which allows you to get a snap shot of sentiment surrounding your hashtag. This allows you to identify where most engagement was generated so that you prioritise effort in the right social networks. In addition Tagboard allows you to reply to people from the snapshot page, which works well for conferences and generating conversations in real-time.
An app for saving you time with managing your Pinterest account. It allows you to schedule pins in advance, schedule re-pins, easily pin any visual content from any website using the Tailwind hover button, obtain easy to understand analytics and get reminders about boards that you need to optimize.
The app also allows you to organise your Instagram photos based on likes, comments or most recent photos. Further, it allows you to post Instagram photos on Pinterest and connect with Pinterest users on
A free web-based design tool that has some of the best elements of Photoshop and a range of designer templates. A very easy to use tool which offers an excellent range of design templates, fonts and layouts.
There are also free tutorials that show you how to produce better graphics. A great tool if you wish to customize images to post on social media.
A web-based and iPad app for creating awesome looking presentations and with the additional benefit of integrating with SlideShare. A great tool for reinventing content as you can choose from a range of stylish fonts, layouts and image filters to create a really polished looking presentation.
Offers you the ability to create landing pages to encourage desired conversations from your social media activity. It provides a powerful (WYSIWYG) visual editor to design and launch landing pages within minutes.
This is a Free Chrome extension that shows you the social networks that your email connections use and you can even cross-reference other social networks as you browse on individual social sites. This allows you to identify if you have the potential to connect with individual people across multiple social networks or how you might connect with someone new through a mutual connection.
This is platform for tracking website visitors that enables you to connect and engage with your users in real-time. It includes a language translator, integration with Zoho CRM and advanced triggers to segment visitors by how long they’ve been on your website, pages visited, type of visitor and many more classifications and responses.
A free process and work flow management solution that also provides downloadable, step-by-step checklists for your articles to make your content more engaging. The tool also allows you to add images, videos and other files to your checklist.
A useful tool to manage your daily task list. It also allows you capture ideas via mobile device, browser, email or desktop. You can then prioritise, schedule and add actions against each item on your list. It keeps individual project separate by using folders and labels and everyday it notifies you the day’s actions.
Is an iOS and Android app that allows you to connect with someone you want to interview remotely and record the entire conversation over the phone. They simply have to install the app,
enter an invite code and begin the recording.
This is one of the most well known social media marketing tools. Snip.ly is an awesome URL link shortener that when clicked shows a customised call-to-action snippet at the bottom of the page. It is a fantastic way of driving traffic back to your own website by sharing great content from others.
This offers a suite of 11 free tools to help you grow the traffic to your site.
The Scroll Box allows you to ask visitors to submit their email addresses as they finish reading your latest post or learning about your product. Smart Bar is positioned at the top of your website to remind your visitors to join your email list, read your latest blog post, or whatever else you want them to do.
A dedicated Twitter account management and analytics tool that will give you insights on the people you follow and those that follow you. It allows you to see who you follow, but do not follow you back, and those that follow you, but you don’t follow.
The biggest mistake people make with conversion rate optimisation is not having a well-defined process to ensure a systematic approach to improving success metrics such as revenues or sales.
Without such a process you are almost certainly going to fail to fully benefit from A/B testing and achieve consistent and sustainable gains in your conversion rate. Conversion rate optimisation is far more than running experiments, it requires a systematic and evidence based approach to improving your digital customer experience. Follow this nine step approach below and you are much more likely to see measurable and significant benefits from conversion rate optimisation.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. It’s critical that you have web analytics on your site to monitor unique visitor numbers on all your pages and begin measuring conversion goals such as downloads, registrations, add to basket and other relevant transactions.
Once you have your web analytics integrated and goals set up you can start to see what visitor numbers you have on different pages and how your conversion rate varies from one page to another. This will guide your attention in setting up a conversion rate optimisation programme. You can focus on the pages that matter and identify if you have sufficient traffic to conduct A/B tests to compare the performance of different designs.
Ok, so your site is slow to load, you have a few bugs on your website and intermittent downtime. Poor page load speed has a direct impact on conversion rate optimisation and can be resolved using well defined strategies. Bugs and outage time create anxiety and frustrations which will destroy trust and credibility in your site. Unless you fix these problems first you will not fully benefit from improvements to your site. It is imperative that you give priority to resolving these issues before trying to optimise your site via A/B testing and improvements in functionality.
There are some great tools like BugMuncher that allow customers to inform you of problems with your customer experience, but don’t rely on visitors to tell you about problems as the vast majority won’t and will just go to one of your competitors’ sites instead.
Load speed is important because we all have limited patience and many visitors will exit your site if it takes more than a second or two to load. Google rankings also take into account site speed and so your SEO will also suffer if you have a slow loading site.
Go into your Google Analytics account and select Behaviour > Site speed > Page timings. Choose the Document interactive time as your key metric as this measures the time it takes for the site to be usable. This is more relevant than the content load time as that measures the number of seconds until every element on the page has been loaded.
As a rule of thumb if your site loads within 3 seconds that is pretty good performance. More normal is between 4 to 7 seconds, but don’t be satisfied with that, look to reduce it. Anything more than 7 seconds and you definitely should be looking to take action to reduce the time your visitors have to wait to interact with your website. Begin by looking at those pages with the highest amount of visitors so that you focus on where you can have most impact.
Use Google Developers PageSpeed Insights or alternative tools to investigate how to improve page load times. Put your score into context create a league table by getting your competitors’ speeds for a comparative page. This will also identify which competitors have the fastest load speed and so you can explore how they achieve such quick interaction times.
Cross-Browser and Device Testing:
Despite our best intentions it is unlikely that your website user experience and functionality will work perfectly for all browsers and devices. Use your web analytics to see how your conversion rate varies for each type of device by all browsers you support. This will help identify where your customer experience and functionality is not what it needs to be for each device. Running reports across device is not sufficient as averages will hide the real performance of your site.
Use one of the many cross-browser testing tools on the market to evaluate how your site behaves in each of the browsers you support. These tools will save you a lot of time and money be allowing you to quickly see images of your website across multiple devices and browsers.
The Lift Model is a a great tool for conversion rate optimisation. Use it to help undertake an experience-based heuristic evaluation of the potential shortfalls of your customer experience. This is best carried out in a group of 3 or more people to benefit from the different experience and skills in your organisation. Involve people from key areas of the business that assist you in the process of making changes or developing new designs.
Bringing in people from other areas will help get their buy-in to the changes proposed and they are also likely pass on their enthusiasm for optimization to some of their colleagues. This may make the whole testing process run more smoothly as people generally respond positively to a collaborative approach.
Beginning with pages that have most visitors and potential for improving conversion go through a heuristic analysis as follows:
1. Value proposition
What is your value proposition communicating to visitors, both in terms of points of difference from your competitors and from a psychological perspective to motivate them.
How relevant is the content to the user, does it meet their expectations, how does it relate to the source of traffic?
How clear are your messages, what the next steps are, the visual hierarchy and CTAs?
What about the page could create anxiety, doubts or concerns among visitors
What content is not assisting conversion and may be distracting visitors?
Does the page create a sense of urgency to take action now rather than later?
Step 4: Web Analytics:
Getting the most out of you web analytics is crucial for conversion rate optimisation. Don’t assume your web analytics are measuring everything perfectly and where possible use multiple analytics tools to validate your findings. You are bound to find some issues with how your analytics are set up, and get your developers to investigate and rectify these problems when you can.
Averages lie so always segment your reports using appropriate metrics such as user type, source of traffic, demographics etc. One you have set up goals, segments and events in your web analytics you should also establish conversion funnels to identify drop-off points.
Always have a clear question or hypothesis to challenge before you start generating reports using your web analytics. This will help avoid you producing interesting but not actionable data.
With your web analytics you should be seeking to answer questions like:
Where do most visitors arrive on my site?
What are the most popular user flows on my site?
What are the conversion rates for the most frequently
visited pages by new and returning visitors?
Where are the biggest drop-off points in user journeys?
What is the impact and performance of every widget and feature on a page?
What are the demographics of your visitors and how do their conversion rates compare for your pages with the highest amount of traffic?
For more details about using web analytics for conversion rate optimisation see my post; 18 free and paid for web analytics solutions. This includes an explanation of how to get the most out of your web analytics and has a summary of each of the top solutions.
Step 5: Visual Analytics.
It is essential to get a visual perspective of how visitors interact with your site as numbers don’t tell you everything. Get access to click heatmaps, session recordings and form analytics for your site. I use Hotjar which is a highly cost effective conversion rate optimisation tool as it also features user feedback polls and surveys. For a summary of how to use these tools and entries for the top providers check out my post on visual analytics solutions.
Many offer free plans that allow you to check out their service without any obligation. These tools can provide invaluable insights into user behaviour and engagement on your website. The main services that are worth getting access to are:
Mouse movement and click heatmaps:
These heatmaps provide an indication of where specifically on a page users focus their attention, what they hover over and what they click on. You can usually include the average fold height and scroll reach on the heatmap to see how this impacts upon user behaviour. If visitors are not clicking on a CTA or widget on the page this will show you what they are engaging with. Use these heatmaps to challenge or support your heuristic evaluation of a page. But make sure you have a sufficiently robust sample size, usually around 2,000, but ideally more like 5,000 visitors, to provide a reliable measure of user behaviour.
Scroll and attention heatmaps:
Scroll heatmaps show a visual representation of the proportion and time visitors spend scrolling down the page before they navigate away. They confirm if your page is encouraging users to go below the fold and what proportion of visitors see each section of the page.
Attention heatmaps are similar except they are configured to show a visual representation of how long visitors spend on each part of the page. Knowing the drop-off rate of visitors as they go down the page helps you understand how much visibility different elements of your page are receiving and whether you need to move or change content on the page.
Session replays are probably the most underutilised feature for conversion rate optimisation. They allow you to watch video recordings of individual user sessions to gain a better understanding of how visitors interact, scroll, click and navigate on your site. Examine real visitor behaviour that is not inhibited by test conditions and will allow you to identify areas where sign-posting, information architecture and navigation are sub-optimal.
However, as it’s very time consuming to watch one video after another this feature is not used as much as it should be. So, make sure you schedule time into your diary to regularly view some session recordings and give access to as many people as you can. You will be surprised what you can learn about user behaviour with this feature.
Most tools offer advanced search filtering to allow you to find videos of customers who complete or drop out of pre-defined or post-defined business process, scenario or funnel. This can include registration form or check-out abandonment.
This is a must for any website that has any type of registration or information collection process. Form analytics provides metrics of how effective and easy to complete your form is and gives you a breakdown of each field within it.
Typically form analytics allow you to measure the overall completion rate of your form, abandonment rate, engagement rate, time from start to form completion, time spent in each field, which fields are most often abandoned, which fields are most frequently left blank when the form is submitted and what order are fields filled out. You should also be able view session recordings of visitors completing or abandoning your form.
Step 6: Voice Of The Customer Feedback.
Your most important source of feedback on the performance of your site is your visitors. Your site is designed for them and so their expectations and understanding of your site are paramount to conversion rate optimisation. Whatever you do though, don’t use focus groups as this is an online experience and it is important that you retain that context.
The best time to ask people questions about your website is when they are navigating their way around it and can provide an immediate and accurate view of what they think about it. The human brain is notoriously poor at recalling details after an event, so concentrate on people who are browsing to understand the issues they face when trying to complete a task.
People come to a website with a task in mind and so you should aim to use these tools to discover more about what they are trying to achieve, whether they completed their objective in full and what barriers they hit during their user journey. This should help you generate ideas for conversion rate optimisation and may support your earlier heuristic analysis.
Exit and abandonment surveys:
Carrying on with the theme of capturing feedback in the moment of the experience, exit and abandonment surveys are also powerful ways of gathering insights about a specific event. Whether they are about close their browser or have abandoned their basket invaluable insights may be gleaned from engaging them with a feedback form at this critical moment in the user journey.
The great thing about a live chat facility is that it can allow you to respond to visitors in real-time and so can have an immediate impact on the success of your conversion rate optimisation programme. You can also use it to gather voice of the customer feedback. This could be as simple as asking your chat hosts about what visitors have most problems with or use it to specifically engage in qualitative research.
Give your chat hosts a few simple open ended questions to ask visitors on certain pages or processes and see what they come back with. You will be surprised how keen visitors can be to give feedback to someone who is keen to listen.
For recent customers where you have their email address you have the advantage of being able to send them links to a survey. As they are relatively new customers focus on understanding their perception of your value proposition. What attracted them to your website, what do they see as its strengths, and which competitor’s sites do they also visit or buy from? This can improve your understanding of what areas of your value proposition may attract new customers to your site.
The key thing to remember about surveys though is to ensure you get a larger enough sample size to provide reliable data. Unless you get at least a minimum of 100 responses you may be in danger of putting too much weight on the views of a small section of your customer base. Try and collect some demographic data in your questionnaire so that you can compare the profile of respondents with your overall target audience. This will help you understand how representative your respondents are of your overall visitor base.
Step 7: Usability Testing:
As Steve Krug mentions in his classic book about usability Don’t make me think, one user testing your site is better than no users. However, for any successful conversion rate optimisation programme it is important you don’t rely on a single user to test your site. Don’t rely on people in the office to test your site as there are likely to be too close to your website and probably won’t be representative of your average user.
If you decide to recruit people to do usability testing in a lab or meeting room make sure you observe and listen to what people say, rather than asking too many direct questions. People naturally post-rationalise decisions they make, but this won’t necessarily reflect how they behave in reality.
There are many online usability testing tools that allow you to recruit people remotely, whether to evaluate a new design or your existing website. It’s important here to give respondents a suitable task to complete so that you have a clear understanding of the context of their feedback.
You can use a tool such as Hotjar to recruit visitors yourself and then arrange to share screens via Skype. Alternatively you may prefer to employ an online usability provider such as UserTesting.com to recruit and conduct the research for you. There are also companies such as UserZoom.com who will provide a comprehensive suite of usability services from card sorting to help with website architecture to full site usability testing.
If you prefer to watch videos of your real users talking about your website or evaluating new designs you may want to consider UserBob. Video can be very powerful with your stakeholders to bring issues to life from the user’s perspective.
Step 8: Evaluate & Prioritise.
Any conversion rate optimisation programme can live or die on how resources are prioritised. So it’s important that you list all your ideas, issues and opportunities and place each of them in one of five buckets.
Where there is a clear opportunity for a conversion rate optimisation experiment. You may have some strong hypothesis, but if it’s not a no brainer for everyone you may require evidence to get resource to implement or to convince colleagues that it will increase conversion significantly enough. Where the idea affects a business critical process (e.g. check out) you should test it to manage the risk that it could reduce rather than improve conversion.
Where you find problems in your analytics and reporting that mean you can’t track everything you need for evaluating the performance of your website.
3. Create a hypothesis:
You’ve identified an issue with a page or a journey but there is no clear solution to the problem. This will benefit from gathering more data and collaborating with other people in the organisation to generate hypothesis that can form the basis for a test plan.
This may be a no-brainer or a small opportunity to improve conversion. Where there is little, if any, risk to conversion and it requires little effort to fix then you are best implement it rather than waste valuable resource testing it.
Where you are not sure what the nature of the problem is or you need to do more testing to better understand the journey. This will often also require more data collection, whether it is web analytics or Voice Of the Customer.
Next we undertake a process of prioritisation to ensure your conversion rate optimisation programme uses resource effectively. It’s essential that it has the most impact on revenues or other success metrics. This will help your ROI as you begin with the issues that can have a big impact and leave the less salient ideas for another day.
I use the Widerfunnel approach of evaluating issues on the basis of PIE (Performance, Impact and Ease). See my post on how to prioritise A/B testing ideas for details, but you can use these criteria for quickly rating each item on a scale of 1 to 5.
About how bad the page is now, is there potential for a big improvement. Your heuristic analysis should have identified these pages as having fundamental problems.
Measured by the number of visitors going to this page and the cost of traffic that you send their.
About how much time and effort it will take to fix it or develop a test variant. If it’s going to take a number of months to get the resource and it could be difficult to implement then you need to give this item a lower rating so that you can get on with some of the important but easy things to fix.
9. A/B Testing:
Even if your website does not have high traffic levels, you can use A/B testing to gather data to inform your decision making. Why make changes without testing when you can use free A/B testing tools like Google Optimize? It’s better to use A/B testing as a research tool and accept lower statistical confidence levels than make changes based on a hunch. Every website is unique and so you can’t assume that just because something works on one website that it will also work on your website.
The nine steps outlined above will ensure you have a systematic approach to conversion rate optimisation and will improve your chances of success. You should now have many potential items to fix, test or investigate. This will allow you to increase your test run-rate and focus on the things that really have an impact. Repeat this process every six to twelve months depending upon how quickly you get through your list of actions.
I would also present a summary of your conversion rate optimisation strategy and findings to your senior stakeholders. This will help-ensure you have buy-in from them. It is also valuable to present this if you plan to test anything that challenges existing brand values or other politically sensitive aspects of the site.
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What underlies the evolutionary success of the human race and allows social networks to function? In the book I’ll have what she’s having by Bentley, Earls and O’Brien, the authors’ assert that cooperation between individuals is key to both.
Research into a diverse range of group activities by North-western University Institute found that individual performance was a poor indicator of team success. Group results are a combination of individual performances and how well people co-operate. This post examines how cooperation evolves in social networks.
BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE COST:
Co-operation can flourish in complex systems such as social media and modern highly interconnected societies. For co-operation to evolve game theorist Martin Nowak identified that the benefits must outweigh the costs to the individual. It is human nature that people will not persist with a behaviour that does not have a perceived return greater than the time or effort invested in the activity. Social networks rely on the benefits outweighing the costs of participation.
The authors’ grouped conditions that need to exist for co-operation to evolve into three categories.
1. Group Mentality:
People support others who are either biologically related (kin selection) or belong to the same group (group selection). Despite the power of kinship it is group selection that is more common in our modern societies. Humans are naturally drawn towards cooperating as part of a group or social network. Psychological studies suggest that people have more positive emotions and are more motivated when feeling part of a community. This goodwill allows for sharing, bartering, trading, lending, borrowing and many other collaborative behaviours.
Cooperation allows people to provide different skills to manufacture complex products that an individual would struggle to build. To grow a single crop that can be exchanged for goods and services from other members of the group. People benefit from assisting the group because their long term interests are usually from the group’s success. As a result more cooperative groups, such as online social networks, tend to be more successful and grow at the expense of less cooperative groups.
The system of indebtedness originating from the rule of reciprocation may be a unique characteristic of human nature. Indeed, the archaeologist Richard Leakey suggests that reciprocation is part of what makes us human:
“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.” Richard Leakey
Reciprocation acts as an adaptive mechanism that facilitates the division of labour, the exchange of goods and services, and the formation of clusters of inter-dependencies that link people together into social networks. Robert Cialdini asserts that reciprocation is essential for our ability to make social advances because it provides confidence to the person who gives something to another individual that their effort will not be in vain.
Reciprocation can work where an individual looks for another person to cooperate first before they cooperate. However this form of direct reciprocation can be unreliable because the mood can quickly be destroyed by freeloaders. But it also fails to explain why someone will cooperate with people they don’t know and may never meet again.
Indirect reciprocation, where co-operation has become common, if not the norm, is a more powerful form of reciprocation. This occurs when individuals respond in kind to the reciprocal behaviour of others. Twitter relies on the mechanism of reciprocation to drive the flow of information around the social network. Following other people, re-tweeting other’s posts, answering questions, and leaving comments on blogs all encourage reciprocal behaviour from others.
Authority or reputation is a further enabler of indirect reciprocation. Robert Cialdini asserts that our obedience to authority allows for the evolution of complex systems for resource production, trade, defence, and social control that would otherwise not be possible. Such obedience often takes place with little or no conscious thought. Often a communication from a recognised authority is used as a behavioural shortcut that determines how we act in a certain situation. For example on Twitter people will sometimes re-tweet a link before reading the post because of the reputation of the source.
Earls and his co-authors assert that reputation only works if a person has legitimate authority. However, Cialdini points out that in reality just the appearance of authority can be sufficient for people to be influenced by a person or group. For instance titles reflect years of work. But it is very easy for a person to adopt just the label and receive automatic submission to their judgement. Clothes, such as a doctor’s uniform, can also trigger our mechanical compliance to authority.
In a similar way group membership and kinship use various forms of identification so that individuals know whether they belong to a group or not. This could be a surname or clan name in some societies or you from your accent or appearance. Whatever the nature of the group though copying and conforming is an essential part of belonging to a group or social network. Because we are social creatures membership of groups often overrides our individuality and determines our place in society.
“The key to group membership, of course, is copying those around you so that when you’re in Rome you act as the Romans do, and not like someone else.” Bentley, Earls & O’Brien – I’ll Have What She’s Having.
Social networks take many forms, from close groups of friends located within a small geographical location, to global social media networks. As a result we can use the ‘rules of the game’ as the authors’ refer to them in many different situations to encourage cooperation and innovation.
There are huge benefits to be gained from encouraging a culture of cooperation within our diverse social networks. People are more likely to be able to achieve change when battling a bureaucracy if they cooperate than working in isolation. Similarly within organisations cooperation is essential for any change program to be successful. Conventional top down strategies will often fail because they have not got buy-in from people lower down the organisational structure. Management need to accept that they can’t force people to do things that they don’t agree with. Innovation is also more likely to result from collaboration.
Brands and organisations in general can assist the process of cooperation by making sharing of content easy and rewarding. Facebook, Twitter and other large social media appear to provide a ready-made solution for sharing. Analysis of the dynamics of Facebook communities by Emilio Ferrara discovered that there are relatively few large communities in Facebook. The vast majority are small size communities. However, members of such networks often suffer from information overload due to the number of connections each has. This reduces the chance that individual members will see and share content.
As ‘super social’ apes humans benefit from being embedded within groups rather than acting in a selfish and isolated way. Research suggests that people who surround us influence and regulate our behaviour. Organisations can benefit from our social nature by engaging with people in a collaborative manner to encourage creativity and innovation. This helps build trust and is more likely to influence mass behaviour than conventional marketing approaches. Indeed, Rachael Botsman suggests that trust is the currency of the new economy and is our most valuable asset.
Organisations can encourage a culture of reciprocation by taking a genuine interest in their customers and staff. People are generally good at spotting insincere interactions, but appreciate communications that are both helpful and engaging. Offering interesting and unique content facilitates reciprocation because it is more likely to be well received when shared.
Reputation gives authority to communications. Organisations often adopt brand values as a way of demonstrating their commitment to key customer beliefs. However, Mark Earls suggests that actions are the most powerful means of communicating behavioural change. Organisations are more likely to be successful in achieving change if they align the company’s actions with their core beliefs. This demonstrates more clearly than any marketing communication that the organisation is serious about its core beliefs.
Don’t Make These Conversion Optimisation Mistakes:
Conversion Optimisation has become an increasingly important method for improving the customer experience and ultimately conversion. Developing a program of conversion optimisation using split (A/B) testing and Multivariate Testing (MVT) enables organisations to identify which new elements of a customer experience have the desired impact on visitor behaviour. This normally follows at least three stages:
Understand current visitor behaviour by using web analytics to identify conversion funnels. This helps you to prioritise pages and journeys to review. Start with the low hanging fruit. Focus on pages with the highest levels of traffic and the highest conversion rates.
Align webpage objectives with the business goals. This process can help identify low priority objectives that can either be removed or their prominence reduced to allow the focus to be on the high priority objectives.
Review priority web-pages and customer journeys using customer insights (e.g. usability testing, surveys and heuristic evaluation) to develop test hypothesis to increase conversion (or whatever the desired behaviour is). It is important to segment customers (e.g. new vs existing) as you will need to understand how changes to your website affect different key groups.
Up to this point I find everyone appears to be in agreement about what should to be done. However, when it comes to developing hypothesis for conversion optimisation there are a number of myths that some marketeers have.
1. You should follow the rules and principles of conversion optimisation.
One such rule I’ve heard is that the fewer clicks to conversion the better. Taking this particular myth first, if more clicks allows the visitor to build trust and engagement with the site, then the opposite may be true. Context is so important in improving the customer experience.
There are no rules in conversion optimisation, just hypothesis that need evaluating and sometimes testing if appropriate. Always seek to challenge existing thinking and don’t make assumptions about the customer journey unless you have evidence to back it up. Use a structured framework such as the 8 steps guaranteed to boost conversion and you should learn a lot more about how you can improve.
2. Apply best practice User Experience (UX) design.
By definition best practice is already out of date and the online world is rapidly changing. I don’t dispute that elements of best practice generate useful ideas for conversion optimisation. If we always considered best practice websites would never change. Good UX design is an important driver of hypothesis but this doesn’t always align with current best practice. Be bold, be different, test new ideas as otherwise testing will have very limited benefits.
3. Do what customer and usability research tells us to do.
Usability testing tells us if customers can complete a task or transaction, but does usability testing reflect real behaviour? People can behave very differently in a real purchase situation. They might be searching for a dress to impress and their own money is at risk. Real life can be very different from a usability test.
During research observe what people do and listen to the language they use. This is often more illuminating than their opinions of a particular webpage. Behavioural economics tells us that people are poor at predicting how they will adapt to change and generally are resistant to and dislike change. One of the easiest mistakes you can make is taking what customers say and applying it in a literal way. Listen, observe, and interpret according to a recognised framework of consumer behaviour.
4. Rely on gurus and online tips.
Anyone who needs to tell you that they are a guru probably isn’t one. Whilst online tips and advice from ‘experts’ can generate ideas for conversion optimisation, every website is unique. Your visitors and their motivations should reflect your value proposition. You also need to consider your business model and how you generate income. A good conversion rate optimisation consultant will advise you on strategy and ensure you have the right processes in place rather than advising on tactical changes.
Many companies that are serious about conversion optimisation, such as Amazon and Booking.com, don’t allow their conversion team members to write blogs or tweet about their experiments. They don’t want to give away a competitive advantage. Ensure your experiments are for your website and your visitors to ensure they have the highest chance of success.
5. Focus on the design of a single competitor or best in class website.
It’s good practice to browse other websites as you will see design features, interfaces, tools etc that generate ideas for testing. However, never fall into the trap of focusing or modelling your site on a single website. This is dangerous as their value proposition, and visitor profile is likely to be different from yours.
Competitors may or may not have good reason to present information and display assets differently from you. Their customers probably have different expectations to your visitors. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that they have optimised their site unless you have evidence to support this assumption. Focus your efforts on meeting the needs of your own customers and seek to create a user experience that reflects their aspirations and motivations.
6. If we didn’t experience a fall in sales last time we made a change to our proposition/offer. It is not necessary to test the impact of a further change!
Unless you have huge traffic such as Booking.com it is unlikely that you can test everything. For this reason some marketeers want to change important elements without first testing. They tell you that they didn’t see a drop in sales last time they made a significant change so they don’t expect one this time. This misses the point as many factors affect sales. Unless you use an A/B testing tool you won’t have a control and be able to isolate how sales might have moved if the offer had not been changed.
Furthermore, conversion optimisation requires that you understand how different segments respond to changes to really understand its impact on the business. Inertia caused by factors such as brand loyalty, perceived risks of switching suppliers and habit formation mean that existing customer behaviour may not change immediately. The danger is that existing customer behaviour (i.e. no change) will hide changes in new customer behaviour. Many sites are dominated by repeat visitors. Potential customers may be put off from signing up to your offer and you will never be aware of it unless you conduct an online experiment.
7. If a small change is made to one element of a customer journey. Don’t consider conversion for the whole of the journey.
Websites are ecosystems. Every element is linked to other parts of the system through their interaction and influence on visitor behaviour. However, people who change one element of a journey can be prone to focusing on their change in isolation of the customer journey as a whole.
This can have serious consequences if not challenged. Even a minor change early on in a journey can significantly influence visitor expectations and behaviour. This can result in a reduction in overall conversion that is not anticipated by those working in silos. To avoid such situations ensure that marketeers appreciate the importance of measuring all the relevant conversion rates, including the overall journey conversion rate.