Online Optimization, Like Parenting, Never Ends

At around 1:20 p.m., while presenting at the “Survival of the Fittest 2.0” session at Search Engine Strategies NY on March 24, I got a text message from my wife. It read: “I am in labor.” At 11:32 p.m., Matthew David Eisenberg joined our family. Baby and mom are doing well. My daughter and other son are enamored with our new addition.

Driving home that night from the hospital brought up memories of my Mom and Dad and their great parenting wisdom: “Your job as a parent is to screw up your child the least possible.” We are human and we will make mistakes; no child, no parent is perfect.

It’s easy to look back and see where we made poor decisions, but the value comes when you start identifying those things in the moment and are able to make the changes so as not to repeat the past. It isn’t uncommon to find a first-time parent who took the time to read the books or take the classes on the grand theory of parenting who was rudely awakened by the real-time results.

Why am I providing you with parenting advice on ClickZ? Because the lesson applies equally to your online marketing efforts. There’s just no sugarcoating it. It will happen.

You’ll screw up.

And just like we shared during the “Survival of the Fittest” session, to succeed you must learn to be nimble and make changes on the fly. The key is to plan on optimizing; you don’t succeed with a set-it-and-leave-it mentality. You must have a plan for continuous improvement. And you must learn to make the best of each so-called screw up.

My first example of this lesson is a ClickZ classic I shared back in 2003. A reader called a little bit freaked out. After making a change in his shopping cart, he saw his conversion rate plummet nearly 90 percent. We applied a bit of learning and easily turned it back around. While you should never screw up on purpose, don’t let the fear of making a mistake paralyze your efforts.

A Recent Example

When training new staff, we work hard to instill the idea that the only thing worse than a test with negative results is a test with no results at all. You will always learn something valuable when you move the needle either way, and with a negative test you can always set things right back to the original control. A neutral test typically wastes time and resources.

Last summer we took on a client who was eager to optimize and test. We began by recommending a multivariate test of a few common elements on the home page. In the first test, the two variations lost to the control by 6 percent and 5 percent. The second test was an A/B and the variation lost to the original control by about 32 percent.

About this time, most clients would have seriously questioned hiring us. While this client may have privately discussed that, they didn’t show us a lack of faith. In fact, we were able to convince them to run a third, more costly test. Throughout the first two tests, we had began narrowing down some unique factors that would influence conversion on the site, and we had evidence that suggested exactly what we needed to do next.

We had the client bring hire both a copywriter and a graphic designer, and we went through the process of developing a single test centered on developing a unique value proposition. In the end, the client realized an increase in business worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The Lesson

I could repeat stories like this all day. But the lessons are the same:

  • Stick with it.

  • Remember, you will make mistakes (or at the very least, not everything you do will be a home run).
  • Learn from your mistakes. Having a learning process in place pays off.
  • You’ll be in good company.

So like parenting, online optimization never ends. It takes hard work and the cold, hard realization that you won’t do it perfectly.

As we face the online world together, please join me in wishing my new son, Matthew, much success in his life and in hoping I screw up as little as possible. And if having a bigger family wasn’t enough, I’m also having a birthday this week. In lieu of parenting advice and birthday wishes, please send share your story of an online marketing screw up with the rest of us.

Join ClickZ Expert Julie Batten for a new Webinar: Leveraging Outsourced Online Marketing Services for Your Web Site, Thursday, April 16, 2009, at 1 pm (EDT). Learn why outsourcing your online marketing activities — including search marketing — can help you save money and achieve better results.

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