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Posted on 8.03.2014

By Tim Ash

Not long ago, in the early 2000s, the concept of conversion rate optimization (CRO) was new, and few companies understood how to do it effectively, or even why they would do it. The early adopters surged ahead of their competition, and are now some of the best known and most successful brands on the Internet.

Yet despite its growth in recent years, CRO is still a relatively young discipline. That, combined with the rapid developments in technology and evolving consumer behavior, has made it difficult for even the most advanced digital marketers to fine tune their optimization programs. So, what are some of the most common conversion mistakes nearly every company is making today?

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Not dedicating appropriate resources to CRO

Change is difficult, and many marketers have found it more than a little challenging to shift their focus (and KPIs) away from traffic acquisition and toward conversion rate optimization. Even companies that want to embrace CRO are ill prepared.

Results from the Adobe 2013 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey indicated 87 percent of marketers felt their departments lacked the technical and creative resources required to conduct CRO, 86 percent lacked the necessary budget and 82 percent lacked the appropriate knowledge or training in CRO. Similar research conducted by Kampyle reported that 55 percent of companies surveyed had no dedicated full-time employees responsible for CRO.

Clearly, regardless of company size or industry vertical, organizations of all types seem to be slow to dedicate sufficient resources, expertise and technology to support a mature, ongoing conversion rate optimization process.

Not performing usability testing

Usability has to do with how easy and satisfying a website is to use, whether it does what the visitor expects it to do and how proficiently a visitor can accomplish his or her task without making errors. Obviously usability is a core ingredient for conversions, yet a surprising number of organizations still do not conduct any sort of usability testing on their sites.

In 2012, usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote that investing just 10 percent of a Web design project’s budget on usability would more than double the website’s desired quality metrics. With that kind of return on investment, it’s mind boggling that so many marketers see usability testing as a “nice to have” rather than a “must-have.”

According to Nielsen, 85 percent of a website’s problems can be identified by watching just five test subjects. With the proliferation of simple and cost-effective usability testing solutions available these days, every company with an online presence should be taking the time to watch real users attempt to complete basic tasks on its website.

Big List of Testing Resources

You’ll never believe all the testing resources at your disposal, access them at

Not optimizing for the entire customer journey

Customers see an organization as a single unit, not a cluster of diverse departments. Yet most companies still parcel out responsibility for Web-based initiatives across different functional areas, including SEO, SEM, product management, social media, content marketing, customer support, branding, fulfillment and IT. This creates an inconsistent experience for the customer and a tremendous lost opportunity for the company.

Depending on the company and industry, a customer’s experience with an organization can include touch points ranging from blog posts, email promotions and offline advertising to Web visits, phone conversations with sales, customer support chats and tweets, in-store visits and customer satisfaction surveys. Few organizations have embraced a truly holistic approach to optimization that brings all of these touch points into sync.

Optimizing the customer experience includes understanding all the different offline and online channels a customer will use to interact with a brand, and personalizing the messaging each individual receives based on data collected from his or her interactions. The goal is to optimize every interaction by making it relevant, compelling and consistent across channels. It’s a powerful, personal way for a business to build relationships with customers, generate brand loyalty and create brand advocates, but not many companies have unlocked the secret to doing this well.

Not being able to harness data

One of the reasons marketers find it so challenging to optimize across the customer lifecycle is that they lack either the technological infrastructure or the expertise to put all of their vast website and customer data to use. Big data has been all the rage for several years, but even large enterprises find it challenging to merge disparate data sets like Web visitor behavior, past customer purchases, email engagement, etc., so that it can be used to inform future marketing decisions, more effectively target likely buyers at the moment of consideration and personalize messaging to each user.

Using data as an optimization game-changer requires a willingness to get rid of (or retrofit) legacy information systems, implement advanced Web analytics configurations, create data linkages with a robust customer relationship management system and allocate sufficient resources (financial, technological and human) to improve data analysis continuously. Younger companies are better positioned to embrace this approach because they tend to be more nimble and less restricted by “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. But there’s no doubt that harnessing big data for meaningful marketing optimization remains a challenge for many organizations.

Not operating in real-time

The world spins in real-time, and customers make purchase decisions in real-time. It shouldn’t be surprising that marketing optimization requires an ability to respond to customer interactions as they are happening, making the right offer at the exact moment of consideration. Examples of real-time marketing include sending a personalized email offer in response to specific Web page visits or social media activity or sending a targeted SMS message when a customer enters a retail location.

According to a 2014 report from Monetate, “organizations already carrying out real-time marketing experiences for their customers (which include delivering relevant information and product offerings across all channels and devices, personalizing interactions based on previous interactions, and tailoring offers and messages according to geography, weather and time of day) have reported a 26 percent uplift in their conversion rates.” In highly competitive industries, where companies struggle to differentiate themselves among a sea of competitors offering virtually the same product line, service and price, real-time marketing could be the tipping point for significant growth.

Shifting a marketing strategy from monthly or quarterly campaign planning to on-the-fly content and offer delivery is no small undertaking. Real-time marketing requires a more responsive (instantaneous) approach to customer messaging that depends on close working relationships between marketing campaign teams and data analysts. There is also an agility component that itself is a stumbling block for many organizations.

The fix

The traditional role of the CMO has changed dramatically, and marketing optimization has been a key driver of that change. For all the talk about technology and data, one common theme stands out as central to most optimization advancements: a focus on customers as individuals. Marketers may never be able to keep up with every new optimization trick in the book, but anyone willing to align their efforts with this core philosophy is likely to see results.

Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, Chair of Conversion Conference and bestselling author of “Landing Page Optimization.”

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