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Marketing Optimization 101

Posted by Chad O'Connor  June 6, 2013 11:00 AM

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Massachusetts appears to be emerging as a hub of web and mobile optimization, with several testing and targeting companies making their home here. Digital marketing optimization grows out of the science of A/B testing in direct marketing – if you’ve been in marketing long enough like me, you remember testing different versions of postcards to a segmented audience list and tracking which one converted best. It’s the same thing with online optimization.

Do you want to increase your conversion rate by seeing if a change in your current web site can improve your results? In A/B testing, one or more new versions of a page or single site element known as a factor compete against the original (control) version. For example, two new versions of a headline might compete against the original headline. You can test any factor, such as a call-to-action button or a hero shot, against one or more variations to see which is most persuasive.

A/B testing is very effective for answering certain types of marketing questions, including creative "bake-offs" where the decision has come down to two competing versions. But for more complex questions — often those that arise earlier in the testing cycle — multivariate testing is often the way to go.

While A/B testing allows you to test just one factor at a time, multivariate testing enables you to test many changes simultaneously. For example, two alternate product images, plus two alternate headlines, plus two alternate product copy texts, add up to a total of 27 possible combinations (including the original control versions). Evaluating the impact of combinations of factors and variations often reveals significant interaction effects that can have a dramatic impact on your site conversion goals. What's important to understand about multivariate testing is that it not only shows you which combination of elements generate more sales or pull more leads, but also reveals which individual elements influence visitor behavior versus those that do not.

For example, did variations in the product image influence visitor behavior more, less, or the same as the copy? Understanding how each site element causes visitors to interact with your site is the essence of a "test-learn-repeat" process that marketers can use to synthesize new ideas and continually improve their site's ability to achieve — and exceed — their marketing goals.

The process of site optimization reveals not only what works and should be implemented, but also what doesn't work and should be avoided. Every website idea, whether content, functionality, or campaign-related, should be put to the test to determine if it helps or hurts the visitor experience. While some new ideas lift conversions, others fail — sometimes significantly. But even with these failures, there is definable knowledge gained over what to avoid the next time. The ability to test a new idea and 'look before you leap' is an unmistakable advantage that breaks the constraints on marketing innovation. Only once a solid testing capability is in place, and the impact of any site change is able to be quantified, can marketers truly optimize their site's effectiveness.

But don’t stop there – for a comprehensive optimization strategy, test elements of your other marketing initiatives; for example, e-mail, PPC ads, online display advertising, mobile apps, and social campaigns. It’s all possible with testing technology, a little know-how, and an eye toward the big picture as well as the small details that make every marketing campaign a success.

Kim Ann King is an award-winning marketing executive and has been a B2B software marketer for more than two decades. She currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer of web and mobile optimization firm SiteSpect.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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