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Welcome to Josh Baker's Practical Advice for Optimizing Your Internet Marketing blog. Here you will find internet marketing optimization and online strategy articles full of tips, tricks, discussions, and thoughts to help you take your marketing and business to the next level of success.

Archive for Optimization

Three of my conversion optimization colleagues and I had a discussion online the other day that I had proposed about the common “sins” of online conversion testing we see or hear about often in organizations.  We came up with about 20 commons “sins” in about 7 minutes that we all agreed upon, and about 40 overall. Below you will find 8 of them in no particular order (with more to come in the future).

8 Common Sins of Online Conversion Testing that Organizations Let Happen:

  1. When running a multivariate test, after the test ends, not performing a head-to-head testing of the winning page combination and the control. The winning page combination is typically based on a prediction; a head-to-head test will further uncover the true results.
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  3. Having too many people involved in the testing process AFTER the test is given the “go ahead”. Everyone involved should have a purpose otherwise the process slows down.
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  5. Not believing that having no panels perform better than the control is still a win – just of a different kind; but only if you actually extract the knowledge hidden in your “loss”.
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  7. Not setting a concrete conversion goal – know what your test hypothesis is and understand how you will analyze the data ahead of time. Alternate lessons may be and should be learned from a test but it’s vital to know exactly what and why you are testing something in the first place.
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  9. Not allowing a test to run long-enough to accumulate enough conversions.
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  11. Not running the control panel (this happens often) at the same exact time as the test panels.
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  13. Letting personal opinions or biases override data in the results – the reason you test is because you really don’t know what will persuade your actual visitors best.
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  15. No Patience – ending tests too early, or not allowing the process to happen as it should.

 

As bad as these are, we all agreed we were still happy that organizations have the desire to test!

Have an online conversion testing or optimization sin that you want to share or get off your chest? Let me know in the comments section.

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Unfortunately most ecommerce websites that I come across, a very high percentage of them are not effectively reaching their maximum level of potential performance capability, especially true of their online catalogs’ category pages. The goal of the category page is to quite simply help the potential buyer get to the right product page for the right product ultimately and hopefully ending in a sale.

What complicates the situation (although not really as complicated as one would think, and often used as an excuse, or unaware of by others) is that visitors arrive at various different stages in the buying process. This being so, the category page needs to provide the ability for the visitor at any stage of the buying process to narrow down their selections in order to easily get to the product pages of the products that fulfill their reason for being on your ecommerce website in the first place. As a refresher, here are the stages of the consumer buying process:

  1. Problem recognition or need awareness – the buyer needs to replace a broken TV, they really want a new cell phone, they want to look more stylish, etc. This can be self-recognized or realized through external sources such as peer pressure, or even marketing materials.
  2. Information search to help buyer determine possible available alternatives – examples of search include comparison shopping, internet research, word of mouth, and even the buyers own memory.
  3. Evaluation of available purchase options – deciding which features the buyer wants, etc., if you are not satisfied with the choices that you find, you end up back in the Information Search step again).
  4. Purchase decision – this is where the buyer chooses the alternative they want to buy (the actual product, the make, model, the store, etc.).
  5. Purchase – the actual purchase itself.
  6. Post purchase behavior – the evaluation of the purchase such as satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Not all visitors will arrive to your site at the same stage in the buying process. Universally, not all visitors will go through all of the stages, and not all visitors will be at the same point inside each stage of the process, some may be just entering a specific stage, while others may be near exiting a specific stage.

Many category pages fail to help the potential buyer actually get to the right product, but rather leave it up to them to figure out what that right product is and how to get to it, on their own nonetheless. This is often ineffectively done by overcrowding category pages with individual products (or predominately featuring them on the pages most important real estate) instead of providing the functionality for the visitor to further narrow down their selections. An effective category page’s primary purpose in most ecommerce instances should not be to sell a product on that page, but to provide the “tools” to help the user further navigate to the right product or products with as much ease as possible and therefore with as little friction as possible on the way.

For example, if I am looking for a TV, and I am on your TV category page, I most likely do not want to see all of the 250 TV’s that you carry. Help me navigate to just the plasma’s, or just the LCD’s, or all TV’s by size, or all TV’s within my budget. Better yet, how about providing a “what type of TV is best for you” wizard option on the category page for those who haven’t made a decision between the various types or features or benefits and for those who aren’t as knowledgeable. They could use the help in narrowing down the available selections.

You can further break-it-down on the subcategory pages that the category page may link to – if I choose plasma TV’s on your category page, then your subcategory page needs to further give me the options to navigate the available options or features by size, by price, by resolution, by brand, again maybe a wizard to help the visitor in further choosing the right plasma TV for their purpose. Keeping all of this in mind allows for those in different buying stages to use the category pages effectively.

If you were in the canned good aisle in the supermarket and there was no rhyme or reason with the setup, the chicken noodle soup next to the canned carrots, and the canned chili next to the canned pears, and the canned tomato paste next to the canned sting beans, not to mention the sizes of the same brand and item not next to each other, how effective would you be in finding the item that you need and in the right size, you would probably get frustrated and leave to go to the supermarket down the street that presents the items in an manner that increases your usability of the canned good aisle. With the web, the user can hit the back button to the search engine and go elsewhere in seconds.

When your category pages are constructed properly and do the job they are intended to do, it’s almost effortless for the buyer to end up with the right solutions or products within seconds – increasing the chances that they will make a purchase from you rather than leaving in frustration or not finding the product they want or need. With ineffective category pages even though you may carry the right product for them, they may never actually find it in the time they have allotted to spend frustrated on your site before going elsewhere.

Now, I am not saying that you want the user to have to click through 10 pages to get where they need to be, but what I am saying is that you need to provide functionality for those at whatever stage they may be in. Those who know exactly what brand and model number may use your site search. Those who know they have $1,000 to spend on a plasma TV will take another route, and those who know they want a TV but don’t know what type or features available and don’t have a budget in mind just yet will take another route. Depending on where they are in the buying process will determine how much direction they will need (and want) and how much narrowing down they are willing to participate in to get to the right product. 

Let’s look at how Best Buy effectively uses their category pages:

Scenario: I want to purchase a new laptop, I am somewhere between the Information search and the evaluation stage (I know a fair amount about laptops, but not sure what new options are out there that I may want or need).

By selecting the Computer category on the home page I am brought to the computer category page thus allowing me to see all of the categories related to computers. I need a laptop so I recognize the picture of a laptop with the word “laptops” right below the picture, and proceed to click on it. Here is the computer category page:

best_buy_computer_category_page_1

 

I arrive at the laptop page and instantly see the headline that asks me “Which laptop is right for you” with images and links to the various subcategory pages of USES for laptops such as Entertainment, Gaming, Small Business, etc. I actually want one to use for movies, music, etc., so I click on the Entertainment link and am presented with a product listing page. Here is the laptop computer category page:

laptop_category_page_2

The product listing page lists all the products that fall under the Laptop>Entertainment Categories. But wait, on the left hand side (see the red box I added) I can also sort the products by Brand, Customer Reviews, Price, and so on, allowing me to further narrow down my selections based on more of my criteria (either known beforehand or as I uncover it during my visit). Here is the laptop product listing page:

laptop_listings_31
Just a few clicks and mere seconds after arriving at the Best Buy website, I was able to get a more or less customized list of laptop computers for entertainment usage, by Dell, within my budget. Here is the Dell laptop product listing page matching my criteria:

best_buy_dell_product_listings

I didn’t have to frustratingly search through Best Buy’s entire laptop inventory and read each of the product descriptions to determine which laptops were right for me. Their website easily guided me to the right products based on my stage of the buying process and based on the criteria I felt was important to narrow down their product selection by.

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You’ve already been running numerous tests on your best landing pages – those that contribute the highest value to your business. Unfortunately, sometimes you’ve run out of optimization ideas or hit a few roadblocks on what you should test next for even more conversion gains.  What should you do? Luckily, just as often when you are running a multivariate test or a/b test to improve the desired results of a given page on your website you will discover that you will gain improved conversion results not by altering a page element or adding a new or section to the page, but instead by removing one or more of your existing elements or sections.

Why is this so? Although each page, situation, and context is many times unique, a few of the more common reasons for the improvement in conversions include:

1) Removing distractions that enable the visitor to more clearly focus on your desired page goal.

2) Reducing the friction that forces the visitor to contemplate if the desired action is worth what is being asked of them to give in return.

3) Replacing confusing elements that prevent the visitor from understanding if they are on the correct page or even knowing what they are supposed to do next.

A few broader ranged ideas to consider include:

  • Removing to clear up page real estate
  • Removal to speed up page load time
  • Removal of potential road blocks or barriers

More detailed removal considerations include:

  • Removal of parts/all of navigation
  • Removal of sections of copy
  • Removal of unnecessary graphics
  • Removal of just the large file size images
  • Removal of flash elements (or those that require plug-ins or longer load time)
  • Removal of non-vital third party java-scripts
  • Removal of non-essential registration form fields
  • Removal of traffic-leaks
  • Removal of premiums or special offers

These should be enough start ideas to get you thinking in the right direction when you are looking at your landing page. You undoubtedly will develop various unique hypotheses for doing these (or any other “removal” ideas) based upon your own site’s data you have extracted and analyzed-or even from basic usability knowledge. The end goal is ultimately almost always the same – to uncover what page elements are negatively impacting your page’s ability to do its job properly so that you can fix them to increase the level of success your site achieves. Remember, removal testing doesn’t have to be done in isolation; removal can always be a part of any test when it’s appropriate to do so as judged by you.

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If you’re like most Internet Marketers you use bullet points in your marketing copy whether it’s on your landing pages, in your emails, your newsletter sign-up pages, your lead generation pages, or just about everywhere else. You probably also use bullet points because you either want to break up the visual appearance (i.e. monotony) of the page; draw attention to certain features, benefits, or ideas; or want to aid in influencing those who are skimming or scanning your page to take an action. 

Are you truly planning, writing, and using bullet points in a manner that will allow you to receive the most benefits from them?

Bullet points perform well because they allow you to clearly and concisely put the most important and powerful pieces of information that you the marketer want noticed directly in front of your target. And since we know that the majority of visitors to your page won’t read a page in its entirety and usually will either be first looking to see if the copy is of interest to them by skimming or scanning the page to see if the page answers their question or solves their problem that brought them to the page in the first place.

A great set of perfectly written and properly used bullet points should ultimately aid you in influencing the website visitor to either go back and re-read the entire page (or read a higher percentage of the page than they normally would read) or even better, as a marketer selling a product, idea, or subscription, it can help in influencing them to positively respond to the call-to-action you have presented them with such as a purchase, sign-up, contact, download, etc.

 

The 4 Basic Marketing Bullet Point Tips that Get Results:

  • Line lengths should be balanced and proportionate between each of the bullet points. It’s easier for your visitor to read them if there is symmetry in presentation between each point – i.e. 1 line each, 2 lines each, 3 lines each and so on.
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  • Complete sentences not required. When writing copy for each bullet point, think of each bullet point as an individual headline used to draw interest to aid in the influence or persuasion of that pages goal.
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  • Do not mistakenly organize bullet points in simple order of importance from top down. Studies show that your readers’ eyes see the first two bullet points, ignore the middle bullets, and then go on to see the last bullet point in your list. Organize as such.
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  • Place keywords and keyword phrases of major points first in each bullet’s copy. Start each bullet point with a different word. Using different and major keywords helps to differentiate each point, breaking monotony when scanning; increasing influence.

 

It also matters what content you choose to write copy for in your bullet points that in combination with the above rules determines their success. If your marketing a car,and you choose to present bullet points on the color of the hidden electrical wires, or that the bottom of your floor mats stick better than your competitors, you probably wont have as much success as bullet points that state the 50 miles per gallon that the car gets, or that it can go 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds.

For me, I find it easiest to write out bullet points off the top of my head to get the ideas flowing in a manner similar to a brainstorming session. Then, I rework them to fit into the above 4 rules while simultaneously tightening them up for maximum performance and impact such as removing unnecessary words.

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If you are new to online testing and not sure what page or area to test on your website or just need that kick-start to get those testing adrenaline rushes back…

Here are 3 important areas to start pulling data for to get you going (or going again) on the forward path to optimization success.

1. The most visited pages on your website. Things to think about for each page – what’s the pages purpose, what’s the conversion rate, what’s the bounce rate, where are the leaks, what’s the average time spent on the page by your visitors, any coding errors hindering performance, page load time, special plug-ins needed for visitors to get full functionality.

2. Your Conversion points – Pull conversion data for each of your sites conversion points, how much revenue does each conversion point contribute, order each conversion point by revenue from producing the most to the least and look at the opportunities starting at the top of the list – a 100% increase in conversions on a page that only produces $50 won’t produce the same result as a 5% increase on a page that produces $10,000 in revenue – it’s a good place to start.

3. Your most popular visitor paths – Review data for your most popular visitor paths. Where are the leaks that visitors are exiting or straying from your desired end goal that you have designed for them?  What are the opportunities to optimize and keep your visitors on the desired path? Can you shorten the path if need be, work on your call-to-actions, add a newsletter signup box, and so on.

4. Bonus – Combinations of the above, i.e the most popular visited page with a conversion point, sorted by lowest conversion percentage with theoretical greatest chance for improvement.

Of course this is not the be all end all of what to look for or what to test in each area, but merely a good  refresher for those who need it, or a guiding hand for those confused with all the potential places to start testing first. But remember, it’s important to consider the opportunity costs in testing one area, page, path, etc. versus testing another.

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