Optimization has multiple levelsfor continued success

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that Web analytics is no longer optional: whether it’s easy or hard is not the issue — Web analytics has become mandatory for us all doing business using the Web.

Web site optimization, as well, has become something that businesses cannot ignore.

Optimization has become a buzzword. As such, its meaning has become diluted; marketers may find it easy to roll their eyes when uttered once again, or gloss over it and ignore it.   Let’s take a look at the rise of “optimization” and why its still a critical concept that needs to spread even deeper into marketing organizations today.

Old-School Web Analytics: Site Optimization

Traditionally, Web analytics and optimization was borne out of the idea of removing bottlenecks on a site.  In the early days, whomever owned the Web site, often IT or specialized eCommerce teams, wanted to know where the barriers for successful conversion were located, and would set out to remove those barriers delivering the best flow for the typical visitor to the site. They were able to use analytics to figure those pieces out.

Marketers Have Arrived: Campaign Optimization

In the last few years, as more marketers have discovered Web analytics, they have begun embracing the idea of optimizing their campaigns — that is, improving each step of a user’s interaction from first impression or touch point (be it a banner ad, an email or a search engine keyword) all the way through to the registration, conversion event or sale. With this campaign analysis comes the idea of using analytics to ensure that the campaign is successful and if not, making course corrections while there is plenty of time to make sure it’s successful.

Are We There Yet?

Mature marketing organizations know that, if they are to continue their adoption of being fully accountable for each dollar spent, and to increase their measurable contribution to the organization, they must embrace optimization as a cultural shift, on all of its many levels. Everyone in the department needs to be thinking about continuous optimization so that marketing’s contribution can continue to grow.

But even as marketers are beginning to take advantage of these types of optimization, there tends to be a disconnect at many levels within the organization.  Optimization often occurs in a sort of ad hoc manner. As of yet, for many organizations, there seems to be no top-down mandate pushing the entire team to make optimization a part of their culture.

That must change — and marketers, who know the benefits of optimization better than anyone, need to be the driving force.

Start With the Tactical, but Move to Strategic

My first two examples — optimizing on the site level and campaign level — are tactical in nature, and most marketing departments with rudimentary analytics in place can begin embracing optimization at these levels.

But marketers can’t stop there, even when success is experienced. Marketers need to broadcast this success and use it to start asking other questions that lead to more strategic optimization. Good questions to ask include:

  • Where are we spending our dollars for maximum business benefit?
  • How do we best allocate between paid and natural search, rich internet display ads, static banners, email?
  • How does our offline marketing effectiveness compare to our online marketing effectiveness?

This will direct marketing organizations toward optimizing their budgets and spending at regular intervals. This can be done on a quarterly, monthly, weekly — even daily — basis. It all depends on a company’s ability to put the analysis to use with improving actions. The process of optimization for each company is different, but after some experience, each organization will figure out the best ways and time intervals to make budget optimization effective and not burdensome.

Take optimization to still another level: what needs to happen in order to help bring optimization into the consciousness of the organization’s CMO and CEO? As marketers become more committed to optimizing their contributions to the company, C-level executives will begin buying into that culture.

Finally, each organization needs to think about how its customers’ relationships are strengthened, and optimized across the organization. At every touch point, are they being given the best service and experience possible? Is the organization as a whole committed to optimizing the customers’ experiences on an ongoing basis, and are the metrics available to measure this in an unbiased manner?

While the Web site, the main channel of driving customer experiences today, needs to sit at the center of all this, it cannot be the only area of the organization that looks to optimize its interactions with customers.

What Does a Culture of Optimization Look Like?

Once all levels of an organization have embraced optimization, there’s a subtle shift in team consciousness. Gut feel, intuition and opinion take a back seat to metrics and facts. Arguing and debating various ideas give way to disciplined testing. Everyone will know that new campaigns will have multiple creatives designed to test, and that numbers will drive the results to decide which version is the best one. Everyone knows that testing will be an ongoing process, because what’s “right” today is not necessarily “right” tomorrow.

In the past, marketers would launch a campaign and three months later, would look at all the data and announce its success (or lack thereof). In today’s world, an organization operating that way gets left behind in an instant. Marketers can now launch campaigns and don’t have to wait to see if it is successful. They have the tools to ensure that it is successful, because they can adjust their course in real-time until it is successful..

Phil Pickard
Phil Pickard

Interesting that you bring up the point that web analytics is no longer optional. If I also understand correctly, if you are serious about being in business then you have some web analytics solution in place. If this is the case, then this also changes the business model for Web Analytics solution providers from helping businesses to get started in online optimization to offering better optimization solutions. Maybe this is already the case in many aspects of the industry, but what I believe this implies is that there is a shift from a technological advantage to an intellectual advantage and thus the development of a surge in 'extra value' through professional services and web analytics consulting services that intepret the mountain of data into actionable insights. I think that the tomorrow of business optimization will be driven by visionary individuals and well positioned analytics teams, which is something new and exciting to think about.

Soeren Sprogoe
Soeren Sprogoe

Very nice, and interesting article! One thing though: In most cases I find focusing on "How do we best allocate between [marketing channels]?" can be very, very dangerous. Because in most cases most analytics measure on the last channel the customer was exposed to, where as the first channel actually was the one who grabbed the attention of the customer. Imagine this scenario: - By accident I notice a banner advertising for cheap dog food on a site. I own a dog, and it catches my attention. So I click on it, and is directed to The Dog Food Shop via some affiliate program. I don't need any dog food right now, so I leave the site again. - A couple of days later I notice I'm running short on dog food. So I Google "dog food", and notice a PPC ad for the interesting Dog Food Shop that I visited the other day. I find an interesting offer, but I want to check out some other prices/offers so I leave again. - After checking the price on dog food in the local pet store (and finding out it's cheaper to buy this stuff online) I go home and Google for Dog Food Shop as I can't remember the URL. I click on the first result in the Organic SERP as this is the brand/shop I'm looking for. - Finally I convert by buying a dog food subscription for the next year. Ask yourself: If this was your shop, which channel would the conversion in the scenario be subscribed to? And which channel is actually the "order starter"? This is one of the biggest dilemmas in my mind, when it comes to comparing online marketing channels. So far only a few has started really dabling in this area, and allthough I don't use Omniture myself I've heard you guys have a tool for tracking this stuff. But one thing is being able to track, another is being able to analyse & respond to the data. I'm sure there's companies out there that are working with this, but I've only heard of a small handfull.

Chris Tackett
Chris Tackett

Been reading for a while now. Just wanted to say good job. Chris Tackett