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The Web's Best - Keep Calm, Keep Up

Posted on 12.01.2013

The Web's best probably looked a lot like your digital enterprise at one time or another — doing whatever it took to reach consumers’ hearts and wallets. They didn’t just arrive on the scene fully polished and impressive. The Web’s best continually refine their offerings, promotions and brand images and now embody what it means to be successful on today’s 'Net. This is no time to panic, but to keep calm and keep up with the Web's best.

Leading enterprises make improvements (varying in degrees of complexity) as they carry on — measuring, testing and optimizing at every turn. They have intangible qualities in common — beautiful, resilient, reliable and recognizable — and have an unparalleled focus on what it takes to succeed on the Web. They also have a commitment to acquisition and retention, optimization and analytics, and infrastructure and reliability.


The Internet’s hyper-competitive landscape can make it seem impossible to keep up with the Web’s best. WordPress bloggers publish a half a million posts every day, around the same number of Tweets are sent daily and e-commerce sales continue to grow at impressive rates, topping $200 billion annually. But as you will see, with such a huge pool of enterprises to keep up with, it’s better to keep calm and go into digital battle knowing there will always be more engaging blog posts than yours, there will always be wittier Tweets and more streamlined paths to purchases, too.

Before delving into some of the Web’s best in 2013 — and before readers begin comparing their digital initiatives and hurrying to get the latest platform or software to keep up — stay calm and learn about other companies’ pain points and how they leveraged technology to fix them. The best of the Web do not have to be the largest brands in the world (or the digital enterprises with the most bells and whistles) — they simply have to be the ones who recognize where they need to improve (for their customers not their competitors) and leverage the appropriate technology or tactics to be a better self.


Rewarding Customer Loyalty Customers — however they look for your enterprise — are the livelihood of every business. The Web’s best develop and test new tactics to acquire more customers and retain the ones they already have. American Giant and Advance Auto Parts are using Extole to leverage the power of referral marketing to do just that. This digital initiative is when a brand offers its customers a reward for sharing the brand or specific products with their friends. It’s a valuable acquisition channel, as referred friends can prove to be 16 percent more profitable over their lifetimes than customers acquired through traditional advertising. This statistic is hard to ignore, but Extole CEO Matt Roche, thinks it’s not difficult to understand.

“People drive the same cars and wear the same styles as the people they spend time with,” said Roche. “When people share, they are attaching their affiliation. That automatically brings loyalty. People are driven by this social proof. Referred friends develop a strong loyalty because they inherit the loyalty of their friends.”

American Giant is a U.S. apparel manufacturing and retail company known for “The Greatest Hoodie Every Made.” It used the Extole platform to allow its customers to share their brand or products with friends however they feel most comfortable (e.g. email, social or personal URLs). It’s what American Giant does with those shares that is worthy of note. Don Pillsbury, VP of sales and marketing at American Giant says all interactions with the shares are tracked from initial clicks all the way down to conversions, allowing his team to see which sharing channels are most popular and which products get referred and purchased the most.

“The platform also gives us control over the entire referral experience and supports optimization across calls-to-action, promotional copy and placements as well as offer (reward) structure,” said Pillsbury. “Being able to tweak and modify the program to optimize for our audience has helped us turn our referral marketing program into an incredibly valuable customer acquisition channel.”

Through referrals, American Giant is also able to reach a valuable group — the friends of its customers — that it wouldn’t otherwise have had access to.

According to Pillsbury, American Giant is seeing a 21 percent conversion rate from email shares through its referral marketing program, which is higher than the brand’s typical email conversion rate. The program also consistently drives 10 percent of all e-commerce transactions.

Advance Auto Parts, an automotive aftermarket retailer of parts started in 1932, reiterates many of the same success stories using Extole.

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Referral marketing helps Advance Auto Parts achieve two primary objectives, according to the company’s eBusiness Marketing Manager Heath Bradbury. First, it helps its marketing team better understand the value that referrals have for its business. Bradbury says they get better visibility into which channels are driving these conversations and referrals, as well as tighter tracking of sales that come from those referrals. Secondly, referral marketing helps Advance Auto Parts provide incentives on both sides to help drive even more conversations and referrals. Advocates are rewarded for bringing new customers, and those who were referred to Advance Auto parts get an exclusive offer.

“Referral marketing helps us reach an audience that may not be engaged with the brand in other marketing channels like search or email,” said Bradbury. “In that sense, it’s very complementary to our other marketing efforts. We’ve found that referral marketing over indexes in acquisition rate when compared against our other marketing programs.

“This makes sense given the nature of the program lends itself toward acquisition; existing customers, I think, are probably being brought back via many of our other marketing programs. Furthermore, acquisition is supported by a strong conversion rate derived from careful attention to program optimization.”

Converting Traffic to Sales
Many Internet professionals can empathize with The Thule Brand, which prior to leveraging Shopatron, enjoyed substantial visitor traffic to its branded marketing site, but had little success converting that traffic to sales. The brand website did not enable online purchasing, and instead referred visitors to its online and offline retailers using dealer locator buttons and product-to-product links (its roof racks and bike mounts are sold at retailers like R.E.I., L.L. Bean and Dick’s Sporting Goods). Thule was able to generate some orders for retailers but ultimately, was missing sales and frustrating its most loyal customers, who trusted the brand and wanted to buy direct.

“In mid-2007, we decided to rebuild our Web presence,” said Steve Doviak, Internet manager for Thule. “Despite the fact that ‘omnichannel’ was not yet a buzzword in the retail community, connecting our online and offline channels made perfect sense. However, it was extremely important that our strategy addressed both our dealer and customer needs. Shopatron accommodated both.”

With Shopatron, Thule integrated its dealer network into the e-commerce process to convert traffic from its various branded websites into increased sales for Thule and its authorized retailers. In fact, Thule has increased its dealer base from fewer than 100 to more than 700 local retailers servicing Thule online orders.

And because shoppers buying from Thule can elect to receive the order through direct shipment or in-store pickup, Thule has dramatically expanded the delivery options for shoppers when they purchase online, transforming them into active participants in the fulfillment of their orders.

“Shopatron helped Thule create the connection between our brand, our retailers and our customers,” said Doviak. “By launching for e-commerce, we are able to learn about our customers’ needs and help drive business for our local dealers.”

Within three years of implementing Shopatron, Thule’s average order value increased by 50 percent and the number of orders increased by 96 percent.

Impressive for sure, but Thule’s e-commerce site has also enabled rich online store analytics that serve as a resource in paidadvertising efforts. The data has helped Doviak and his team target both users interested in products as well as consumers who may not be familiar with the Thule brand at the time of the product search.

Increasing Visibility via Social
Long gone are the days when social success is based on fan and follower numbers alone. Instead, most enterprises know that the true goal of social is to cultivate brand engagement amongst audience members. Not only does an engaging social strategy produce loyal customers, but it also boosts visibility and has the ability to increase conversions. The biggest challenge, however, is finding the right technology to help your brand succeed in its social initiatives.

Take Victoria’s Secret and Shape as an example. The companies partnered to launch a sweepstakes on Pinterest during the 2012 holiday season through the Piquora platform. The objective of the promotion was to drive impressions and gain followers for both brands. The campaign simply required participants to curate their favorite holiday gift ideas and inspirations to a board titled “Red Hot Holiday Countdown”. In the end, the campaign drew in more than 3,200 participants and had more than 68,400 Pins and Repins, which generated an estimated 2.9 million impressions. The two brands also gained a combined total of more than 11,000 new followers during the promotion, and two months later, Shape was receiving 27 percent more page views originating from Pinterest.

More recently, powerhouse coffee retailer Starbucks also stepped up its social strategy, launching the “Tweet-a-Coffee” campaign that encourages spontaneous gifting on Twitter. Through the campaign, customers can sync their Starbucks account to Twitter in order to purchase $5 gift cards for their contacts directly from the social network. Starbucks first launched its eGifting platform in 2011 on, which was extended to Facebook and its iPhone mobile app prior to its arrival on Twitter. This new campaign, however, not only provides increased revenue for the company, but also fosters word-of-mouth advertising, thus increased visibility, for the brand on the social network.

“What’s so exciting about extending our eGifitng platform to Twitter is the open and real-time nature of the platform,” said Adam Brotman, chief digital officer, Starbucks. “Tweet-acoffee allows us to do something quite different in eGifting in that people can now give the gift of Starbucks to anyone on Twitter in the moment. This can be between the closest of friends, the most distant of colleagues, or even between people who have not even had the chance to meet yet in person, but have connected in some way on Twitter.”


Optimizing for Everyone
To succeed in the service industry, it is vital to cater to every client’s potential needs and wants. This is challenging for a service website like Trulia, which must be optimized for not only a consumer audience looking to rent and purchase homes, but also a broker/agent audience looking to list properties. To identify the best performing combination of features and design elements for both audiences, Trulia sought out the services of testing platform SiteSpect.

“Trulia chose SiteSpect because the functionality fits well with our rapid, iterative development process,” said Dan Voorhies, director of analytics at Trulia. “For smaller changes to Trulia, SiteSpect allows us to modify content outside of our release process and quickly use quantitative data to evaluate changes. SiteSpect also works well for traffic management, allocation and analytics for the larger-scale testing that is needed for major changes in the user experience.”

Trulia leveraged SiteSpect when implementing a redesign for key areas of its website back in April. SiteSpect enabled Trulia to test different versions of its redesigned page, helping the company hone in on the most intuitive page layout for its enduser. According to Voorhies, the result was a much cleaner and more navigable page.

In fact, Trulia’s Q3 revenue report suggests that its testing and optimization efforts paid off, as the company received an average of 35.3 million monthly unique visitors in the quarter, which is an increase of 42 percent from the same period last year. Plus, the real-estate service saw an upswing of approximately 4,300 subscribers in the third quarter, reaching 36,401.

“At Trulia, we want to make sure that we are constantly innovating to create the best possible user experiences for homebuyers, sellers, and renters,” said Voorhies. “Our product and user experience teams come up with great new features and designs for areas on the site based on qualitative user feedback. It is important to gather quantitative data on the performance of these new designs to make sure end users are actually understanding these new features. A/B testing offers us a way to measure the side-by-side performance of these designs with a much larger sample of users than would be possible in a qualitative study.”

Voorhies also says that Trulia is constantly running tests to make sure that the site is optimized for the user experience. In fact, at any given time the company may have up to six concurrent tests running to improve different areas of the site. According to SiteSpect CMO Kim Ann King, continuous testing is the best way to meet performance goals.

“It’s not just about implementing a tool, it’s about having a culture of testing and really having a strategic program on testing,” said King. “Website testing is so much more than, ‘Oh, I’m going to test this headline and see what works.’ It’s really about understanding your goals, your website KPIs, what you’re trying to change and having a really good hypothesis, buy-in from executives and having a team to look at those results and communicate them with the organization. It’s more comprehensive I think than most people realize.”

Serving the Underserved
Launched in a dorm room in 2002, ModCloth has expanded from a modest moneymaking “thrifting” hobby to employing nearly 300 people in offices in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its website averages about 700,000 unique U.S. visitors each month and its tech-driven approach to selling vintage-inspired clothing and décor from thousands of independent designers has made it a Web best, from its acquisition strategies to its analytics initiatives to its optimization campaigns.

Before looking specifically at how ModCloth acquires new customers, it’s important to understand the variety of challenges retailers face. In its “Customer Acquisition Strategies Guide,” Lenati, a management-consulting firm specializing in sales and marketing strategy, highlights eight core barriers to acquisition: low category awareness, low product/brand awareness, poor perceptions, purchase product friction, competitor lock in, strong ecosystem, poor brand fit and poor product fit. Lenati suggests only by building a rigorous, honest, and comprehensive understanding of why every individual in the market is not yet your customer will you be able to create a clear vision of the pathways you must build or nurture to ensure success.

In published ModCloth case studies, it was clear the retailer levarged analytics to recognize these barriers in its business model and eventually turned to Monetate to optimize its offerings. Let’s take poor product fit as an example. Not only were ModCloth shoppers sharing their measurements in 58 percent of the product reviews on its website, but they were also asking for their products to come in different sizes. Mod- Cloth sizing was a pretty big problem because of the wide variety of independent designers they work with meant no standard set of sizes and it was also underserving a very active online audience — women who wear sizes higher than a 14 (which many retailers cap their offerings at).

Interestingly, ModCloth found that U.S. women who primarily wear plus sizes are twice as likely than those who don’t to shop online daily. Additionally, U.S. women who primarily wear sizes 16 and above indicate that they buy more than 50 percent of their clothing online compared to women who only wear standard sizes. ModCloth took this barrier to acquisition and retention and began offering a wider range of clothing sizes to optimize the shopper experience.

ModCloth then needed to figure out how to share this development with its community. The company created specially curated landing pages for plus-size customers, gave individualized product recommendations based on new versus returning visitors, and also used Monetate to note the last three apparel and shoe sizes a visitor added to her cart. The company then used this data to personalize a shopper’s future website trips with content and links to connect her with the products that are more likely to fit. This is especially relevant for plus-size shoppers, according to a Monetate case study, as they would normally have to dig through the site before finding clothes in the right size, causing a bumpy path to purchase. Now, visitors who have previously purchased plus-size products are shown homepage images that provide quick links to the growing range of apparel that’s offered in sizes 16 and up. This content personalization from Monetate drove a 14.94 percent lift in average order value, improved customer service and lowered product returns.


The only way to succeed as a business on the ’Net is by making a commitment to progress — making small, yet measurable changes over time. There will always be a better technology on the market, but brands that take steps to identify and act on the areas that need improving, like those recognized here, are the ones that customers will come back to time and again.


The infrastructure and reliability of a website is crucial to the success of any enterprise. Downtime can result in lost sales, reputation points and even ranking in the search engine result pages (SERPs). In fact, Google went down for (stated anywhere between 2-5 minutes) in Aug. 2013 and reportedly took a 40 percent hit in Web traffic. Additionally, Amazon, who Panopta reported had no downtime in 2012, also went down in 2013, but for a lot longer (reports average it was about 30 minutes or more) — losing a widely reported $2 million because of the outage. See who were the uptime winners, downtime losers for 2013.

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