‘Six Sigma’ Web Marketing

“You create the system your visitor must navigate. People don’t cause defects, systems do,” said the late quality management guru, W. Edwards Deming.

Anything that results in a lower level of customer satisfaction or a lost customer is a defect, a flaw in the sales process. When a visitor doesn’t convert, your Web site has a service defect and your processes don’t deliver on your promise to customers or to prospects. At least, that’s how you’d look at things if you applied the Six Sigma discipline to your Web site. I’ve referred to these defects in the past as holes in a leaky bucket.

Six Sigma Defined

For many organizations Six Sigma is a measure of quality that strives for near-perfection. It’s a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology to eliminate defects in any process (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit). It can be applied from manufacturing to transactional businesses, or from products to services. Six Sigma was originally developed at Motorola in the 1980s for high-volume, highly standardized production processes. The goal is to eliminate waste by achieving near-perfect results. General Electric, AlliedSignal, and other well-known manufacturers credit Six Sigma with having produced billions of dollars in efficiencies.

Six Sigma’s value is not limited to manufacturers. Organizations use it to optimize such nonmanufacturing processes as accounts receivable, sales, and research and development (R&D). The Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge reports:

Dow Chemical, for example, estimates that the application of Six Sigma to environmental health, and safety services has saved the company $130 million in the past two years; other initiatives are under way for corporate R&D, finance, information systems, legal, marketing, public affairs, and human resources processes.

It should come as no surprise all sorts of companies are becoming Six Sigma converts. The article continues:

Six Sigma won’t work for every service process, and adjustments may be required for it to suit even those processes for which it does apply. Nevertheless, many of the lessons learned from the production lines are relevant to service processes….

Six Sigma’s off-the-shop-floor successes are too significant to ignore. The issue is no longer whether Six Sigma should be considered; it’s when, and how….

Take Web site development. Highly customized site developers are likely to achieve benefits from Six Sigma in project administration: client set-up, billing and collection, and perhaps in project status reporting. Mass-customized Web developers can apply Six Sigma to hone their core service. Standardized services have the greatest Six Sigma potential because they use software or Web sites to take clients through the entire process. A human is involved only to answer a question.

Six Sigma methodology’s fundamental objective is to implement a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process enhancement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. This is accomplished through the use of two Six Sigma submethodologies: DMAIC and DMADV. The Six Sigma DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) is an improvement system for existing processes falling below specification and looking for incremental improvement. The Six Sigma DMADV process (define, measure, analyze, design, verify) is an improvement system used to develop new processes or products at Six Sigma quality levels. It can also be employed if a current process requires more than just incremental improvement.

Six Sigma in Action

Identify and measure specific service and process defects, then ask, “Why are they happening?” That question uncovers the underlying reasons for customer dissatisfaction and/or defection. Typically, there’s more than one reason. You’ll often find a half-dozen or more root causes contributing to the service defect.

Once you’ve identified the chief contributors (e.g., copywriting, usability, visual communications, marketing plan assumptions), you can build systems that better serve customers.

For example, at a macro level the problem is defined as conversion to leads. Measure conversion to leads, analyze causal factors (a.k.a. chief contributors), and improve those variables versus a control. Then, repeat the process.

At a micro level, the problem is defined as a high rejection rate (visitors exiting) on a page. First, measure and define a baseline. Then, use surveys, pathing, content analysis, sales process analysis, persuasion architecture scenario analysis, time on page, and other data to determine root causes. Analyze the results to determine what needs to be improved, then fix the leading root causes (e.g., copy, design, navigation, interaction). Test the leading variables to see what changes make the biggest impact. Then maintain the variable (e.g., fresh content) to control the improvement. In the end, you’ve learned something that can apply to other pages as well.


It may sound like pure theory, but Six Sigma is practical and yields enormous return on investment (ROI). We apply its principles to Web marketing, also utilizing two submethodologies. Web site design as embodied in persuasion architecture is a similar to DMADV. The DMAIC cognate is how we tie Web analytics to Kaizen. Applying Six Sigma to Web marketing makes everything measurable. The result is a repeatable process. Of course, this doesn’t apply equally to all areas of marketing. Advertising is an exception.

The Six Sigma methodology is proven to work for Web marketing. Are you prepared to apply it to your own efforts?

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