Warm Up to Web Site Optimization

  |  January 29, 2008   |  Comments

Management consultancy Accenture acquires an optimization testing company, underlining increased interest in improving site performance. Despite the talk, why aren't more sites doing it today?

Last week, global management consultancy Accenture announced that it's acquiring Memetrics, a Web optimization testing company. This is the latest big deal in the marketing performance sector, following other larger players buying up niche marketing optimization players, such as Omniture acquiring TouchClarity and Offermatica last year and Interwoven scooping up Optimost.

Certainly, Omniture looked at Memetrics and Optimost during its buying spree last year. One thing's for sure: these deals demonstrate that increasingly more people recognize the value in helping companies improve, in a measurable way, their overall business and site performance.

It's interesting to look at these site optimization tools' progression. Not long ago, Web analytics professionals were banging their heads against the wall trying to get clients to act on the opportunities and insight they were uncovering.

Initially, people were attempting to perform basic tests using homegrown solutions with mixed results. Then these "new" companies and technologies came about that could streamline testing and make it easy. Ironically, this got people more interested in not only these technologies but also Web analytics. People believed it would be easier to take action on what they were learning.

These days you can't attend a conference without hearing multiple discussions about site optimization, behavioral targeting, and the like. In many surveys where Web executives are asked about their focus next year, nearly all respondents say they're interested in site optimization. Again, these things are great and positive.

There's one small problem: only a fraction of medium-sized and large companies are really engaging in ongoing site optimization. If site optimization offers the promise of returns, improved site performance, and more satisfied visitors, why aren't most companies doing it today? While the rewards are definitely there, it comes down to a few simple things:

  • Starting point. It can be difficult to know where to begin. What test do you start with? Do you need a complex paid tool or something free like Google Optimizer? Who within your organization will determine what components to test? How will this line up with the different metrics for success and analytics tools? How do you ensure you set the test up correctly? How long do you run it? What if there isn't a concrete winner? How quickly can you get it up and going? Shouldn't you be able to get the test up within a couple of days? Why is it taking so long?

    These are all issues that will come up when you initially look to run tests. The key is to use your different methods of insight (analytics, surveys, focus groups, etc.) to identify the opportunities that can most impact your business, and start testing there.

  • Processes. An ongoing optimization plan requires a shift in the way things are done with larger projects within the Web team. Consider the differences between a project with a three to nine month timeline and one that could and should be turned around in five to eight days, if not sooner. On a quick turnaround optimization test, there are some things you're used to doing that you won't do on a larger project, and there are some things you don't normally do that you'll need to do. Realize optimization projects are often handled very differently.

  • Budgets. Everyone sees the value in site optimization. But larger companies often establish budgets so far in advance, funding for site optimization can get left out since it wasn't in last year's budget. Other questions include: who should pay for it, how much should be allocated, and can we leverage existing skill sets? Again, all are important questions. You may look to start small in year one, but find the budget, get started, and show the impact.

  • Experienced people. This may be the toughest, most important aspect of creating an ongoing site optimization program. Finding people who are experienced in identifying, defining, and creating tests can greatly reduce your learning curve. A lot of people will give lip service to the fact that it isn't much different than other types of projects, but the truth is creating an ongoing optimization program is very different to set up and operate. Finding those experienced people or outside resources can be key to your near- and long-term success.

Yes, the valuations and hype these companies are generating are for real. These companies can deliver significant improvements, but they can't do it on their own. These tools can't simply be plugged in to instantly change your organization. It takes time and work to leverage these tools in a manner that will return ongoing results.

The return on that investment can be compelling if companies stop talking about site optimization and start doing it.

Let me know if your company is putting more focus into ongoing optimization or what you're struggling with, and I can share with you how we break down barriers with companies to get them moving faster.

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Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 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 POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. 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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