We have to go back to the basics. I gave a seminar on Tuesday about optimization to a group of marketers in Los Angeles, and it really opened my eyes to the current state of online site marketing today. While it was a great, interactive session, the slide that got the most nodding heads was the one that listed the challenges marketers face with just getting content up on the site today. Many people took notes when we talked about different testing ideas, ways in which you can break your audience up into impactful segments, and the successes that our customers have enjoyed themselves through using Test&Target. But the most telling point came when I asked people to raise their hand if they hadn’t started testing yet, but would be starting within the next year. No one raised their hand.

Hitting a Roadblock

It was hard to get people to talk about the reasons why during our session, but I spoke to these marketers afterwards, and the overriding sense I got was that they were completely handcuffed and roadblocked by processes and politics. No one felt like they actually owned the site they were supposed to be marketing on. Changing content on the site, let alone testing it, felt like an insurmountable challenge.

I realized that I could show as many examples of bad landing page experiences, wasted opportunities for testing and targeting, and case study successes as I wanted, but the problem these marketers faced was not a lack of belief in testing – it was the inability to sell this belief up the chain. With that in mind, I want to help arm you with an arsenal of reasons why your company can’t afford to delay testing another year.

1) Testing Drives Results

ZeroDash1 conducted an independent study at the eMetrics show in San Francisco this year, and one of the key questions they asked was whether marketers who were testing thought it was worth it. Take a look at the results. (Note: this survey was not solicited by Omniture in any way)

92% saw positive ROI! How many other initiatives can you say that about? It also makes me really proud to point out that 54% of those who say they “can’t live without it” use Omniture Test&Target. As part of a company that has been evangelizing testing for the last 5 years, it’s incredibly rewarding to see affirmation of the original bet that Offermatica’s founders made – to make a product designed for marketers, not statisticians or IT.

2) Optimizing On-Site Increases Off-site ROAS

I recently surveyed the web to see the state of landing pages today. What I found was that companies are still missing out on so many opportunities to increase relevancy and engagement on their sites. I’m only going to show one example here, but it certainly reflects the majority of pages I visited.

Note the ad at the top of the page. It’s a timely ad considering we all have savings on the mind these days. Here’s the page I landed on when I clicked through.

Was that what you were expecting? I was looking for more sale information, a preview of those thousands of items, the hundreds in savings. Instead, I got sent to the lighting page. Do I think that Design Within Reach’s marketing team thought the lighting page was the best place to send this traffic? Nope. I think the media marketers probably weren’t talking to the site marketers, and even if they were, the site marketers probably couldn’t change anything about the page or put up a new sale preview page in time. This example represents a huge missed opportunity though. Imagine the difference in bounce rate if a user had landed on a sale preview page instead.

3) Hope is Not a Strategy

In the same ZeroDash1 survey conducted at eMetrics, marketers were asked whether their pre-test hypotheses were always correct. “100% of survey respondents admit that their pre test hypotheses are not always correct.” 100% means not one single person can say he or she has always been right. Even though it sounds like a no-brainer, it means that anybody who is not testing today has been wrong at least once about a new idea or design that’s been pushed out to production. Testing allows you to understand whether your ideas actually impact your success metrics and then make data-driven decisions instead of hope-driven leaps of faith.

Put another way, optimizing your site enables you to fail fast. One of the marketers in our session said that some of his most significant test results are those that show him which ideas don’t succeed. To know that something doesn’t work on your site allows you to put that debate to bed and move on to the other ideas on the list.

4) Time is of the Essence

The window of time to get a head start on the competition is closing quickly. 69% of marketers who have not already begun testing plan on implementing it within the next year.

If you look at the companies who are producing the most innovative products and sites, you’ll notice they all have one thing in common – they are ahead of the curve. When Amazon created a retail site, they didn’t wait until their competitors figured out that whole personalization thing first. When Southwest Airlines came up with a new way to ticket and board people, they didn’t wait to see whether the process would fail in another airline’s hands first.

Optimizing your site is a way to innovate. Understanding how your customers react to content and layout and design gives you a huge advantage. Linking their offsite experiences with their onsite experiences allows you to reach out across multiple channels. That integration is not only an opportunity to increase revenue and conversion, but also a way to present a cohesive message about your brand.

I have a very successful customer who I’ve been trying to get out to conferences to talk about the stellar test results he’s seen and the ways in which he went about installing a testing culture at his company. He’s hesitant to talk about anything related to his optimization efforts though. He realizes he’s found a competitive edge at a time when there are few edges to be found, and now is the time for him to exploit it for all it’s worth.

5) Arm Yourself With Data

You probably have analytics running on your site today that can help you identify problem areas, places where your visitors are bouncing at a high rate or clicking away from the purchase path. Think about what you could test in those areas to improve your success metrics, and then bring both the data and the correlating ideas with you.

Have you considered segmenting your audience as well? Make the case for targeting large segments intelligently. The segments that I would recommend examining include traffic source (email, PPC, organic search, banner ads, etc), search queries (branded vs. non-branded), time of day (work hours vs. non-work hours), day of week (weekday vs. weekend), and loyalty (new vs. return vs. past purchase history). Bring data that is specific to your company, your business, and your competitors.

Lastly, bring case studies that show other companies deriving value from testing and targeting on their sites. If you need any inspiration, check out Omniture Test&Target’s own repository. Here are a few specific Test&Target ones to check out:

Implementing a new culture of testing and data-driven decision-making does require changes in your organization, there’s just no way around it. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without someone to enthusiastically support it, preferably someone high up on the food chain. But let’s also recognize that while change can be scary and political, it is also necessary for any company trying to keep up online today. And hey, the goal is not to keep up, the goal is to win. We’ve seen many of our optimization champions go on to be recognized as rock stars within their companies, people who can point to data and attribute annualized gains in the millions back to their specific testing efforts. Is that something you can say about yourself today?