Recession-Proof Your Online Marketing

Everyone’s using the “r” word. Just a month or two ago, online marketers were whispering the word for fear of contagion. Now it’s spoken out in the open. We all seem to sense that we’re in a recession or that one’s stalking us and tapping on our shoulder.

Some sites are experiencing slight sales declines; others are prepping for the recession by trimming marketing budgets and tightening their belts in other areas. Online marketers are being asked to do more with less. It seems it’s going to get worse.

It’s interesting to watch how different companies respond to tough times. Traditionally during a recession, most will cut their marketing spend and ask the sales staff to squeeze more from what marketing delivers. In the online world, most decrease ad budgets, but the first cuts are aimed at any sort of marketing optimization (like analytics or testing). This bunker-type approach often leads to stagnation. Optimization is the last line item you can afford to cut.

Others will pour more money into traffic acquisition and flashy advertising or gimmicks. This kitchen-sink approach is highly inefficient and risky.

Effective Optimization Is a Scientific Process

I prefer a more scientific approach.

The “r” word doesn’t mean failure or certain doom. While we don’t control the factors that cause a recession, we can optimize the factors we do have control over and do our best to build and continually improve a recession-proof Web site.

A site that converts better will decrease cost per acquisition and, in turn, will increase ad spend efficiency. A site being continually improved for conversion can withstand the storms of finicky economic times. Optimizing your site should be a scientific process that gives customer insight and is accountable, efficient, and measurable.

In the midst of the dot-com boom, we took on our very first conversion optimization client and helped the company build an internal process to continually optimize its conversion rate. Everyone else was talking about eyeballs and, to their detriment, got spanked by the mother of bursting bubbles. Site after site went into the trash heap, while our client’s continued to grow and thrive through the worst of it. During that time, the client enjoyed an aggregated 400 percent increase in conversion. Its advertising spend was potent, each dollar spent on advertising was worth four times more in top-line sales. Its competitors could spend the same and a lot more on advertising and couldn’t get similar traction. Some went under.

Building a recession-proof online marketing campaign is common sense, but you must work on it. It’s well worth it. It’s not about getting the occasional gain from a test or analytics but about having a continual process for doing so.

The Cost of Not Improving Your Conversion Rate

Let’s suppose your site draws 100,000 unique visitors per month and you have an average conversion rate of 2.5 percent. If you average sale is $50, then you gross about $125,000 a month. Let’s also say that after some optimization work and a couple tests, you increase your overall conversion rate by just 10 percent (a very achievable goal), and your conversion rate is now 2.75 percent. Your monthly gross is now $137,500. The annualized revenue realized by the move of the needle is $150,000. With a minor conversion increase, you’ve earned a baker’s dozen: 13 months of revenue in 12 months’ time.

If you continue to optimize better every month throughout the year, that 13th doughnut gets bigger and bigger. Assuming traffic costs remain static, ad spend becomes stronger and your cost of acquisition goes down. Even in the likely scenario that your traffic costs inch up, you’re riding the curve instead of falling below it.

If you don’t become recession-proof, your competitors will. There are simply no more excuses. A decade ago, putting together the resources for optimization was a challenge. Today, analytics and optimization software are much more easily available and affordable when you look at them in this light. Google even offers them both for free.

Steps to Recession-Proof Online Marketing

Here are three steps you can take to make your online marketing recession proof:

  1. Turn your analytics into customer insight. It’s not enough to get reports. Each click is an action taken by a real person. Learn why your customers do what they do on your site.

  2. Turn your insight into action. If customers leave your site or landing pages, theorize as to why, then test variations to confirm or refute your insight based on step one.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

Don’t become a victim of a recession; instead use it as an opportunity to take control of the things you can and jack up your conversion rate. The dot-com bust would have been a blip had many focused more on the fundamentals of increasing conversion online.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live through another bust. So I leave you with the wise words of Blackie Sherrod: “The reason history must repeat itself is because we pay so little attention to it the first time.”

What are your plans to recession proof yourself? Let me know.

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