Make a Business Case to Improve Conversion

Today, a case study from our company’s files. Thingamajob, the job search engine for recruiting giant Allegis Group, retained us in March 2002 to improve Web site conversion. We worked with Ethan Giffin, Thingamajob’s Web project manager. Ethan used WebTrends to measure Web site activity, so he knew something was wrong with the site. People were simply leaving. Most likely, they were dissatisfied.

We developed a plan of things to change. Unfortunately, most were outside Ethan’s control at the time. We evaluated over 50 site areas, comprising over 1,100 variables that affect conversion. These included system-generated email, search engine functionality, and the site’s general messaging. Things were pretty bad. Conversion rates were in the single digits. Over 46 percent of all job searches resulted in a zero results set.

During the uncovery phase, we discovered a fundamental message wasn’t articulated: The Allegis Group is a contract recruiter, not a job broker like many other job boards out there. We were able to change a banner to say, “We’re Hiring.” If you’ve ever been unemployed, those two words are just beautiful. Check out a screenshot of the site at this point.

That change, along with navigation reordered to focus on posting user resumes, increased conversions over 81 percent.

Several months later, Ethan reported to management how those couple of changes resulted in significant return on investment (ROI) increases. He’d taken the initiative, though it didn’t benefit him directly. He just wanted to improve the company’s Web presence. Ethan demonstrated how many new accounts and placements the site achieved from the changes and how these resulted in millions of associated dollars in increased revenue. He then requested a budget to fix the rest of the site.

We worked with Ethan to plan a new wireframe, produce all new copy and design, and mock up some of the back-end functionality that would allow Thingamajob to be a truly conversion-friendly Web site. That’s as far as it could go. Several corporate issues halted the project.

Ethan spent the next year learning, training, and tweaking the Web site. Finally (renegade that he is) he decided to release version 1.5 of the site and make his case. Ethan and his team worked evenings and weekends on a cosmetic site redesign, rewriting some key pages and streamlining forms to increase usability. Though no functionality was altered, he was sure he could show a positive ROI.

Thingamajob relaunched on April 15, 2004, with the cosmetic overhaul. Conversions increased almost 400 percent for new visitors and over 200 percent for return visitors. By reducing the fields in the job search form, Ethan’s team reduced the percentage of zero results from 46 to 23. Thingamajob is a site where first impressions are critical. Latency doesn’t play much of a role. Almost 100 percent of people who create an account do it on the first visit, and the vast majority post resumes, too.

Ethan proved his business case out of sheer tenacity and an incredible work ethic. In May 2004, management authorized Ethan to take a small team and finish developing the site. Sometime before October, version 2.0 of Thingamajob will launch.

Ethan isn’t the corporate worlds’ only white-hat renegade. We recently worked with David (his name has been changed to protect the innocent), a program manager for a large multinational company. We helped him increase conversions by over 700 percent.

David struggled to get the different business units he served to work with him to improve the content and persuasiveness of their own silo-like divisions. No one really wanted to change the status quo. David finally decided to take the knowledge he gained working with us and launch his own business.

Many companies have employees like David and Ethan. They care so much, they take it upon themselves to improve the site for the sake of visitors and, ultimately, for the companies they work for. I sincerely hope their managers take this column to heart and allow those driven employees to prove their business cases, run with them, and succeed.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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