Is 2010 the Year of Conversion Rate Optimization?

This is not very digital, but even a stopped clock is correct two times a day. My first ClickZ column, “Marketing is NOT Sales” was written exactly nine years ago today I wrote this column. Soon after the dot-com crash, I wrote:

“For all that’s being written about various marketing strategies, success in e-business, as in any business, isn’t about marketing or about design; it’s about sales…

Ultimately, it’s about the conversion rate: the percentage of visitors your site can turn into buyers. Lots of dot-coms have turned into dot-bombs because even though they spent tons of money on ‘sexy’ designs and tons more driving traffic to their sites, they overlooked the tiny fact that they needed to sell to visitors once they arrived at the site. The sad thing is, many of those visitors would have bought happily and could have left delighted.”

Pioneers get arrows in their backs but settlers get the land; venture capitalists seem to enjoy explaining that to entrepreneurs. I’ve been predicting that conversion rate optimization would become mainstream forever and was convinced the moment was upon us in May 2005 when “Call To Action: Secret Formulas To Improve Online Results” became the first self-published book, without wide bookstore distribution to become a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best seller. I was wrong. Despite many successes with clients, more New York Times best sellers, lots of publishing, and speaking about improving conversion rates, I underestimated the value of tool adoption.

Even if people had the desire nine years ago, it was very hard work without good tools. When you can now get enterprise level tools like Google Analytics, Yahoo Analytics, and Google Website Optimizer for free, the barrier to entry into conversion rate optimization has dropped. And it isn’t just these core analytics and testing tools that exist today. There are countless free and low cost tools to improve your Web site that didn’t exist even a couple of years ago, fueling the desire and the ability to increase conversion rates.

So, Is 2010 Finally the Year of Conversion Rate Optimization?

I’m not going to say it. I’ll let others speak for fear of jinxing conversion rate optimization (CRO).

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz recently predicted that 2010 is the year of landing page optimization. Rand writes, “think this is still the most under-utilized and highest ROI activities in the marketing department, but more awareness is on its way. CRO isn’t just about testing; it’s about building a process for improving conversion over time. Online businesses can generate so much revenue from this, yet few invest. I think 2010 is the year, simply because it’s an inflection point for companies to assess their spend and where they derive value.”

Rand, from his SEO (define) perspective, thinks of it as only landing page optimization, but there are more than landing pages involved in optimizing conversion rates.

Raquel Hirsch of WiderFunnel Marketing Optimization agrees with Rand. Raquel makes the following observations that I concur with:

“Rand Fishkin then goes on to present a table describing three tiers of marketing channels and their scores for Average ROI, Average Effort and Average Cost. Conversion Optimization appears in the #1 placement for Tier 1….

…We at WiderFunnel work with clients using different tools and, as a technology-agnostic firm, are free and unbiased to recommend the right testing tool to the right client at the right stage of their company’s adoption of conversion optimization as a strategy…

At the end of the day, conversion optimization success is never about the testing tool: there are already many excellent tools available…

…When we first started WiderFunnel, we would spend a lot of time explaining what testing is all about, trying to cause an ‘Aha! Moment’ where prospects would suddenly (well, after a one hour presentation) ‘discover’ that it was dramatically cheaper and far less risky to run conversion optimization tests than to keep throwing marketing dollars at Search campaigns…

Things have changed.

We now get a steady stream of well-educated prospective clients who contact us knowing what conversion optimization is all about and asking how we work with clients…

Most importantly, we now get a very high percentage of prospective clients who have already dabbled at testing themselves (both with free and with paid testing tools) and have realized that conversion optimization isn’t just ‘one more thing’ their in-house staff can do: they know they need experts to deliver a sustainable and scalable testing strategy for them if they are to optimize the complete site and stay ahead of the competition…

…After two and half years of running tests for clients, we have learned that conversion optimization success is NEVER about the testing tool they choose and ALWAYS about two factors:

  1. The right test hypotheses (or ‘knowing what to test’)
  2. The right (and scalable) process (as in ‘Can you execute properly in the areas of web analytics; conversion optimization strategy; test design; variable content placement; wireframing; graphic design; copy and modifications; layouts and mock-ups; technical installation; HTML; real-time results analysis…?’).

…So many marketers still look for the silver bullet: that shiny new idea that pleases their eye and their ego and which can be done with relatively little work.

However, current economic conditions, where the CFO continues to cut the marketing budget and demands marketing actually increase its productivity and deliver even higher ROI, is changing all this.

And it is changing on a daily basis: we are seeing not only greater investment in conversion optimization but a greater realization on the part of marketers that this is a business-model changer for their companies, here to stay.”

Rand and Raquel are smart people. I’m happy to consider them my friends.

Is there any other evidence that I can see? Market Motive recently added a certification course in conversion rate and landing page optimization; I am the instructor. There is more demand than I thought. Even the day after our first kickoff call on Monday, several new students registered.

Students’ interest is not superficial. They want to dive deeper into all the diverse disciplines required to be a good conversion analyst. With all this interest in conversion rate optimization, I’m going to have to revise my recommended reading list to include, “The Portable Conversion Analyst” for all the would-be conversion rate analysts. If you’d like to help everyone out, what books would you add to that list?

Related reading

Vector illustration with a magnifying glass focusing on a pie chart, a graph line trending upwards, and other metrics symbols.
Checkboxes on smartphone screen. Hand hold smartphone, finger touch screen. Checkboxes and checkmark. Modern concept for web banners, web sites, infographics. Creative flat design vector illustration
Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.
How numbers affect conversions