One of the first projects of my career was a website redesign for the non-profit I work at. It had been several years since anyone had made any notable updates to the previous website, barring content swaps and changes. Design and functionality were essentially the same as they were 4-5 years prior when they had launched the site.
Needless to say, we were starting completely from scratch with the new site. Much research went into current trends in web design, balanced with versatility and timelessness. Every page was redesigned, all copy was re-written, and everything about the way things “had been working” was re-thought & re-structured.
Nine months into the project, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was relieved for the project to be completed, to walk away from the world of web development and to let my much-labored over website do its thing without me. I was ready to move on to projects like establishing consistent branding, re-strategizing our SEO, and finally looking into whatever was going on with our e-mail communications.
Those of you with more insight than I had a couple years ago are realizing the rude awakening I was in for.
The day came where I launched our new, beautiful website to the world! It was a good day (everyone in the office ate donuts to celebrate).
And the very next day? I thought of something that might make a web page more effective, noticed a piece of copy that could have been better written, saw an example of a lead generator I wanted to try, and quickly came to the realization that this website would never be something I “moved on” from.
The lesson I was learning here was what one of my favorite marketing researchers calls “The Power of Perpetual Optimization.” The website, as with many facets of marketing and business, is not a task to complete, but a tool to be utilized, enhanced and optimized.
Creating a Culture of Optimization
You see, I could have fallen into the same trap that I had walked into when I started. I could have “finished” the project and been left with a tool that would shortly become ineffective.
However, this would be a disservice to the many months of work that went into it and the organization that it is supposed to be serving. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the tool, we must always be looking to optimize.
So what exactly is optimization?
Optimization means assessing the ever-changing developments, growth and needs that a business, campaign, tactic, or tool is designed to meet, and experimenting to find the most effective way to accomplish a goal.
Optimization is setting best practices aside to learn what actually works through research and testing.
It is collecting data on our market and customers by learning their behaviors, and serving them and our businesses better by meeting them where they are and potentially even changing consumer behavior (depending on your goals).
If I’m being honest, optimization does not come naturally to me. However, it is a principle that I have learned I cannot afford not to implement. Maybe you can’t either.
- Determine one area of improvement or growth to hone in on. Start in steps. Optimization can apply to all kinds of aspects of business: webpages, e-mail, advertising, social, marketing strategies, etc. The list goes on. Choose one area to focus on so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Consider a testing platform. I have previously used a platform called Optimizely, however there are many options for testing platforms. If this is your first time stepping into the world of optimization, I suggest considering a platform like this which automates much of the process and makes testing easy! Using a platform will also give you ideas and parameters for what to test. Depending on what area of your business you’d like to start with, different platforms will have different strengths.
- Create a system for recording metrics. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time coming up with experiments and testing, and having no idea what worked. Set definitions of success and determine a measurable conversion that you will be diligent in recording.
- Start your experiment. Test your hypothesis and set your experiment into motion. Let your test run for a long enough time period to collect an accurate picture. Try to only change a small amount of variables (maybe even only 1) between your control and each variation. This allows you to know which change actually effected your results.
- Analyze data. Once you have run your experiment, analyze your findings and see what your learn about your consumers. Compare what you discover with what you had previously assumed. Are best practices still effective for your audience? What is working?
- Do it all again. Test, test, test. Cast your assumptions aside and let the data speak. Every business is so different from the next. How can we assume that what works for one will be just as effective for another? The only way to know what works for you and your audience is to conduct your own research and follow the data, not intuition or best practices.
This is only the first step to creating a culture of optimization in your business. Once you have completed your first experiment, you might find yourself addicted to research and results. No more guessing what works. No more assumptions about your audience. Use data to make accurate and informed strategies that lead to desired outcomes and meeting goals.
What experiments have you conducted in your business if you’ve dipped your toes in the ocean of optimization? What ideas do you have for a test that you could start this week? Share your results with us and let us know what you find!
Welcome to the world of optimization.