Wednesday, October 21, 2009

6 Examples of Data-Informed Site Changes that Increased Conversions

You're not one of those designers still resisting the use of data to inform site changes, are you?

If you are, I'll let you in on a little secret: I was too just a few short years ago. I would make prolific statements, like: "Who needs data? I'm a designer, dammit! I craft websites based on my intuition, design aesthetic and vast experience." Sound familiar?

In hindsight, I was not taking the time to understand site visitor behaviors, friction points they encountered or frustrations they harbored. I was far from being an advocate for the user. As a matter of fact, I didn't have a solid understanding of what was working and what wasn't, and certainly not 'why'. This resulted in a lopsided balance between user needs and business goals. The business almost always won.

Embracing Data
Fast forward to today: I'm growing my agency's client relationships and winning new business by evangelizing data-informed design. Of course, we don't let user data drive all of our design decisions. That could translate into emotionless, marketing-driven garble. But there is a happy place where a quantitative and qualitative approaches live harmoniously together! I've been there and have seen how it can result in delighted clients, satisfied users and an invigorated design team.

Success Stories
Let me share some quick examples of how we got to that happy place. Below are 6 challenges I faced with a few select clients. For each, I've listed the evidence we found within the analytics + survey data and the design changes that helped achieve dramatic increases in conversion:

Client Question #1: Are our visitors sufficiently motivated to start the checkout process?
Evidence: 10% of visitors abandoned before proceeding to checkout, although self-qualifying themselves as "ready to buy."
Result: Set expectations around checkout process length, as well as improving the visibility of shipping and return policy.

Client Question #2: Why is there a high abandonment rate so late in the checkout process?
Evidence: Nearly 20% of visitors never clicked "Checkout," but did click "Update Cart," possibly mistaking this button as a means of continuing.
Result: Designed clearer visual distinctions between calls-to-action.

Client Question #3: Within checkout, are visitors confused by our process?
Evidence: Multiple page views of billing and shipping pages, with a high rate of visitors clicking "Help" within them, then abandoning shortly thereafter.
Result: Improved error messaging and contextual instructional copy.

Client Question #4: Are we appropriately allocating page real estate to our features, such as gift card redemption?
Evidence: 90% of visitors never attempted to redeem a gift card during their session.
Result: Removed gift card feature and re-allocated page real estate to revenue-generating features.

Client Question #5: Why are our visitors making only single-item purchases?
Evidence: Only 30% of visitors scrolled down far enough on product pages to see cross-sell functionality. For those that did scroll to see the cross-sell functionality, less than 50% of them interacted with it.
Result: Moved the cross-selling functionality along the right rail and added explanation of why the products are "recommended."

Client Question #6: What are the optimal number of pages for our application process?
 Is our current long 1-page design optimal?
Evidence: A/B test showed that over 70% of visitors to the 1-page control application scrolled and then abandoned, without any other type of page interaction. The 2-page design showed higher interactivity and 10% higher conversions.
Result: Put 2-page application process in market and conducted further multivariate tests to lift conversions another 8%.

Of course I have to write the disclaimer: "your results may vary." We apply best practices to every site we build. But more often than not, we identify a multitude of distinct user behaviors that are specific to each of our clients. Hence the embracing of an iterative and data-informed design process.

(Note: this post was originally intended to run on Carsonified's Think Vitamin blog in the late summer. But since they procrastinated, I decided to post it here on my own blog.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adobe Buys Omniture = BIG DEAL

I've been asked by clients and colleagues alike to share my POV on Adobe's acquisition of Omniture. So why not share it with my readers?

First of all, Adobe knows how to do acquisitions better than anyone else. They turned a small WSYWG application called GoLive CyberStudio into an Adobe-branded, best-selling web developer app. And not long ago, Adobe made the game changing, industry consolidating move of acquiring Macromedia.

Bottom line – Adobe is a master of product development, marketing and integration. Remember, through their own (ahem, clumsy) acquisitions, Omniture also has testing, targeting, surveys and site personalization capabilities. That can make Adobe an even larger dominating force in web development. What's next, a content management system (I'm looking at you, ATG)?

In my opinion, there are huge changes ahead for the web design industry as a result of this acquisition.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8 Reasons Why Your New Site Isn't Performing

Tell me if this has happened to you. Client says: "I don't get it. We just spent tons of money redesigning our site. It looks so much better. How could online sales be down?"

And you say: "It's the economy, stupid."

Now hold your horses there, Junior. Let's not jump to conclusions. The economy can be blamed for plenty (see: Housing Collapse and Demise of Auto Industry). eMarketer forecasts that retail e-commerce sales (excluding travel) will likely be flat in 2009.

There could be many reasons why your shiny and new transaction-based site isn't performing so well. Sure, some will be healed over time. But the good news is that most can be overcome with better planning.

Here are 8 traffic and site-side client challenges that I've recently observed:

  • 1. New site architecture can take weeks or months for your visitors to adjust
  • 2. New SEO tactics could take weeks or months for organic traffic to pick up again
  • 3. Login module was moved to new position on page and visitors can't find it
  • 4. Primary call-to-action was moved to a new position
  • 5. RSS feed was changed and now it's broken for past subscribers
  • 6. New site is so different, that visitors immediately abandon because they think they're in the wrong place
  • 7. Familiar past site functionality was removed (for better or for worse)
  • 8. New site has either too hard or too soft of a selling approach in comparison to prior design
Flickr Image: kevindooley

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Shall I Share? Let Me Count The Ways...

Here's the scenario: I read an interesting story online and decide to share it with others. What distribution method should I choose?

Well, if it's an article on the NYTimes, I can "recommend" it within their proprietary network. And in most cases, I have plenty of other options to share my find. I may Tweet it, post it to Facebook or LinkedIn, bookmark it in Delicious, save to Read It Later, Digg it, email to friends or write about it on my blog.

Sure, solutions have come along to ease some of my pain — enter: TweetDeck, Feedly and FriendFeed. But none of these are really scalable across all platforms and reach the majority of my intended audience.

So you see my dilemma? I'm not sharing very efficiently. There must be a better way...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why I Don't Blog, And 6 Reasons Why I Should

Q: Why do I write a blog? A: To share my opinions on digital advertising for the purpose of educating readers, stimulating conversation and... feeding my ego.

Q: So why has it been months since I wrote a post? A: Because I can accomplish my aforementioned objectives with Twitter and Facebook.

I'm not trying to make excuses here. Honestly, these social media destinations enable me to easily tweet, comment and share candid opines. I post via my iPhone apps and TweetDeck on my Mac/PC. It's never been easier for me to publish in such quick and easy ways with an engaged audience.
  • Twitter's 140-character limit discourages full sentences (for better or for worse). Public conversation is enabled via responses, tagging and re-tweeting.
  • Facebook is plugged into so many sites, that it's easy to post an article and add my own color commentary (natch'). Public conversation is enabled via commenting and wall postings.
So why blog? Here's 6 good reasons:
  1. Not everyone uses Twitter and Facebook.
  2. Blog postings are indexed by Google.
  3. Blogs provide a certain permanence to posts that can easily be searched.
  4. Blogs can stay focused on a single subject, positioning author as subject matter expert.
  5. Blogs may generate revenue (Google AdWords).
  6. Blogs contribute to building the brand You.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Data-Driven Design: Five Must-Haves for Online Retailers

During our economy's high times — oh yea, in case you forgot, that included careless consumer spending and huge credit card debt — online retailers neglected their websites' user experience. Heck, I might too if my site was generating hundreds of millions of dollars as-is!

It wasn't unusual for consumers to tolerate non-intuitive online product browsing, hunt for hidden calls-to-action, agonize over registration forms with too many or irrelevant questions, and endure shopping carts with more steps than the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But what I found interesting was that consumers were very often motivated to buy online, regardless of these faults. Eagerly spending on the latest cashmere sweater, cell phone or over-sized plasma tv, they only occasionally groaned about the user experience.

Consumers are now selectively spending every penny. Their tolerance for a poorly designed, untrustworthy, and "not-worth-the-hassle" online experience has completely diminished. Not to mention the still-lingering fears over site security and identity theft. Conversion rates have recently plummeted as much as 50-75% year over year for some of my clients. Suddenly, measurement and optimization are the topic of discussion, from board meetings to cocktail parties. Marketers are talking about web analytics tools like they're the latest Spring fashion that everyone's got to have! Organizations have hired - or are hiring - website analysts (go check the job boards if you don't believe me) to evaluate and maximize their online revenue. Well, at least that's the desired effect. The fact is that retailers are still lacking effective website optimization programs.

My prescription: Optimize your website right. Optimize now. And optimize often. While it's easy to look at an online retail experience and conclude that it needs work, without data that says so, it is particularly challenging to pinpoint the precise reasons that make it so bad. This in turn makes it difficult to embark upon site revisions.

What are the friction points within each page of your online shopping experience? A methodology needs to be in place that determines what is wrong, how to fix it and prioritize site changes. Studying actual visitor behavioral data is a crucial first step to understanding what is wrong with your website.

Interestingly enough, hardly retailers have access to within-page user behaviors. And sadly, most don't even have their web analytics tool installed properly. Regardless of what your vendor told you, professional installation is required (ie. this is not your IT team). I swear, I honestly see marketers staring at only high-level dashboards all day, just gleaning how users arrived and what page they droped-off from. Ahh yes, so very insightful.

To ensure future success, here are five must-haves for online retailers:

1) actionable within-page data
2) qualitative visitor attitudinal data
3) benchmarks that provide context to the data
4) best practices / design know-how
5) a method to easily test new page layouts and design elements

Once the above five tenets of data-informed design are mastered, consider targeting site content to visitors based on their geography. I also recommend huddling with your media team to match creative, messaging and offers featured in the campaigns that sent consumers to your site in the first place. Then, strategically plan and develop new site-side changes for each online and offline campaign throughout the year.

My rant is by no means a detailed instruction manual on how you should proceed. Putting together a custom-tailored website optimization program is not going to be easy. You may or may not even have all the right people on board to execute efficiently and effectively. If anything, I hope this is a wake-up call for retailers to take action.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Questionable Future For Printed News

Printed newspapers and magazines across the globe are in trouble. Big trouble. In-home subscriptions are rapidly declining and advertisers are avoiding them like the plague.

The NYTimes reports that the French government is providing a financial bailout for their country's newspaper industry. This frustrates me because the primary reason for the newspapers' woes are cited as a "decrease in advertiser revenue." So why does the French government think the solution is to purchase print ad space? Isn't that just a band-aid for a much bigger problem?

I recently attended the Gotham Media Ventures forum "The Future of News and Information." The panel included prominent leaders in digital publishing, including Martin Nisenholtz, SVP Digital Operations at the NYTimes. He described the frightening decline in his publication's new print subscriptions, but noted that the NYTimes still proudly claims tens of millions of existing print subscribers. Interestingly, Nisenholtz added that their data shows print subscribers rarely cancel their home subscription unless "they die or move out of NYTimes' distribution area."

That's pretty remarkable. Very few companies or products can claim that sort of brand loyalty. But that still paints a picture of a very bleak future for the NYTimes.

So how do newspapers and magazines restructure their business models? How do they respond to declining print subscriptions? What now, if brands don't want to advertise in print?

One solution was offered by another Gotham panelist; Financial Times' managing editor, Chrystia Freeland. She sees the future of print publications as a subscriber paid model for online news consumption. I should note that not one of the panel members or audience agreed with Freeland's solution, and eagerly challenged the notion, citing the failed subscriber-paid models of the NYTimes and WSJ.

Nisenholtz offered e-paper as another possible solution. He noted that the NYTimes has made recent investments in e-paper, but declined to share any specific details.

I'm concerned if a new medium like e-paper addresses the problem at hand. Today, readers are accustomed to using their computers and mobile devices as their medium for consuming content. These devices are readily available, making the consumption of content both easy and free to access. How would the introduction of yet another electronic device solve this problem?

Bottom line: advertisers no longer see value in print advertising, and readers are no longer interested in newspapers and magazines. As consumers of digital content, what is our obligation to publishers to continue providing their incredibly valuable service?

Disclaimers: For purposes of nostalgia, I currently subscribe to the NYTimes, Wired, Forbes, GQ, Time Out NY and Newsweek. My employer is a global digital advertising agency.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Radio Station That's Really Trying

I rarely use this space to write about non-digital matters. But every once in a while I stumble upon a profound offline experience. In this case, analog (gasp!).

Let me make one thing clear: I don't listen to radio much any more. Why? Non-stop commercials, bubble-gum-crap, constant-loop-soundtracks are all that can be found on New York radio stations. And classic rock stations keep the same old songs on rotation all day. Even the so-called "rock stations" are often irrelevant. For these reasons, I haven't gone out of my way to stream any New York FM stations or tune into much more than NPR during my once-a-week drive in my car.

Then I found 101.9 RXP. Recently re-branded into "The New York Rock Experience," it's hard to imagine that this station formerly broadcast only smooth jazz. RXP plays very few commercials, which is either because they don't have advertisers yet, or they're incredibly considerate to their listeners. I'd like to think it's the latter. They found non-chatty DJ's (get out!), with veterans such as Matt Pinfield, whose familiar, raspy voice is still welcome.

After listening for hours today on this snowed-in, freezing cold Sunday, RXP managed to not repeat one song, delivering unique music from upcoming bands, current alt rock chart-toppers, and established classics. These aren't the hit songs that get regular radio play - they're B-sides from the likes of: Elvis Costello, AC/DC, Led Zep, Tom Petty, The Police, Kaiser Chiefs, Death Cab, Interpol, Killers and Kings Of Leon.

It's nice to see a radio station that's really trying.