Site Optimization: Setting Your Site Up for Success

  |  November 21, 2006   |  Comments

The value of analytics is in acting on the data to improve your site.

In previous columns I've written about the need for Web analysis to drive insight and recommendations. Too often, analytics data are just a rearview-mirror look at how people moved around the site. But analytics' value is in acting on the data to improve your site.

Forrester Research asked Web analytics users what the hardest part about using analytics was. Fifty-three percent said acting on the findings, more than double the 24 percent who said pulling the data together.

Most people struggle with acting on the data. Do you use A/B or multivariate testing? No matter how you do it, the key is changing your site based on your findings and tying them to your overall business goals.

Look at your site and get it ready for testing. It's often fairly easy to conduct a basic A/B test that splits the traffic then reports the better performing version. Or work with one of the more sophisticated tools, such as Offermatica and Optimost. These tools allow for very rapid dynamic tests once in place.

Start by defining your site goals. Do you know the site behaviors that lead to success for your business -- and your customers' goals? If you haven't identified those desired behaviors and goals, don't spend time or energy testing. It will most likely be misguided. Get those goals defined and prioritized, then start thinking about optimization so you're properly focused.

Site testing doesn't have to start big. Pick your most important site behavior (again based on your business goals). Then dig into your Web analytics data for areas where people may be dropping out of the conversion. Dig into any attitudinal, customer satisfaction, and survey data based on the site section you're researching. Pull in a usability expert to review the pages you're focusing on to see if she has any ideas or best practices you could leverage.

Your competitors' sites can be a good source of information as well. Review your competitors' sites, as well as data from companies like comScore, Compete, and Nielsen. You'll get a better understanding of what's working well for your competitors.

If you only have behavioral data, start there and look for some opportunities. As you get started, keep it basic. Most times when companies get started in testing and really focus on site goals, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit to improve site performance!

Once you've identified and researched your best opportunity, it's time to act. Depending on whether you used A/B or multivariate testing, your rollout process will differ.

As you look at your technology options, think about how you can set up your site to conduct ongoing, quick optimization tests.

The next time you launch a new initiative, build the testing right into the release. Based on launch goals, you can often identify the areas that are key to driving the desired behaviors. You may not run tests in all those areas, but take the time to build the ability into the launch.

The same goes for full site redesigns. Build a testing plan into the project and the code into the site for specific areas you may want to test. Be sure to save a portion of your Web budget and resources to address testing at launch. The last thing you want to do, no matter how talented your team or agency, is think you've created the best possible experience and conversion content right out of the gate. There are always things you can learn and improve based on understanding your visitors and their use of new pages, new sections, or fully redesigned sites.

The greatest return on your investment will be those small optimization projects you conduct right after launching new site content. But too often, it's forgotten or people don't know where to start.

Get your feet wet. Start with something fairly basic. Plan ahead if you have significant initiatives launching soon. You'll gain more knowledge and experience over time, and you can get more sophisticated.

Share your optimization stories with me. If you are struggling and want to hear how our clients have crossed the chasm from looking at data to acting on it through ongoing testing and optimization, let me know. I can share a few more tips.

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Jason Burby

As president of the Americas regions for the digital agency POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. Jason has 20-plus years experience in digital strategy. He is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports our clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works.

Jason speaks frequently about helping marketers take advantage of data to make smarter business decisions and improve the success of their organizations. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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