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How to Start Optimizing Your Website Today

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By Kim Ann King

(eM+C)—You think you have a great website, but do you? If you’re not testing and targeting, you’re likely not making the most of your online presence. Research shows that many companies still aren’t testing, and as a result are losing ground to competitors who are.

So, where do you start? Typically, you want to examine your web analytics framework to truly understand the most important metrics—i.e., key performance indicators (KPIs)—behind your business goals. In turn, those KPIs can be correlated to site factors that can be tested. Here are a few tips on how to turn metrics into testable factors, along with five key errors to avoid when getting started.

If you don’t already use a web analytics framework for your website, it’s about time you start. This framework will make your goals and their measurement explicit as well as keep you focused on what’s important. Almost every website wants to achieve one or more goals: reach, acquisition, conversion and retention (RACR). If your business is focused on more than one of these goals, you’ll want to set up a different framework for each of them as you’ll be focusing on different metrics and, therefore, different factors to test.

With this framework we now have enough information to figure out which site elements and factors to test in order to understand which of them influences visitor behavior. Obviously you’ll want to track those pages and areas of your site where users click on in the conversion funnel.

Here are some things you could test and measure in support of an e-commerce website:

• What elements of the website led to the most clicks?
• Which combination of information such as graphics, descriptions, layout and color increased average visitation and interaction value?
• What combination of factors relating to site search most successfully brought users to pages from which they ultimately found what they were looking for?

These are just a few things to think about. You’ll want to start with the factors you believe are most important to your KPIs, then decide what experimental design is best. With A/B testing, you test one factor (e.g., a call-to-action button) against one or more variations to see which is most persuasive. While A/B testing allows you to test just one factor at a time, multivariate testing enables you to test multiple factors simultaneously. Evaluating the impact of combinations of factors and variations often reveals significant interaction effects that can have a dramatic impact on your conversion goal.

There are five common mistakes that are easy to make when running multivariate tests:

1. Improper factoring. This is caused by poor or no isolation of individual test changes — e.g., changing a headline’s text, font color and size all at the same time as an A/B test instead of a multivariate test. Why is this problematic? Because it’s difficult or impossible to isolate the impact of each individual change. Was it the font color and/or the text that caused the visitor to behave differently?

2. Running a test for too short or too long of a time frame. Stopping a test early because you think you have a winner increases the risk for statistically invalid data. It also may increase time bias from events and conversion cycles. In contrast, running a test too long increases the risk of wasting time waiting for marginal results and consumes test samples that could be applied towards another test.

3. Tracking or analyzing wrong KPIs. For example, measuring a KPI that’s too far upstream in a conversion funnel from the ultimate goal or only measuring one KPI when there are multiple indicators and goals that matter. There’s also the risk that a measured KPI improves but at the expense of another untracked KPI, or that the measured KPI is actually a bad predictor of the ultimate goal.

4. Not targeting or segmenting visitors. When you optimize for everyone, you’re really optimizing for no one. Make sure you’re targeting tests and segmenting results. Not all visitors are the same; they’re at different stages of the buying cycle.

5. Not taking action on results. This could range from not making the winning changes to your site or not taking what you’ve learned and running another test (the iterative test of learn, then repeat). The risk here is that there’s no momentum gained, no ongoing strategy applied, no realization of test results and, worst of all, underwhelming return on investment.

If you aren’t already testing, start today by considering your business’s RACR objectives, web analytics framework and related site factors to test. It’s a strategic and comprehensive way to get started in the right direction.

Kim Ann King is chief marketing officer of SiteSpect.

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