Green for “go!” will convert better, surely?

I’m still shocked at the basic nature of A/B testing taking place across the digital industry.

There is no user behavioural insight, no process or methodology, WYSIWG testing, tests being concluded too early, egotism and opinions running riot and most significantly, there is a lack of appreciation for the importance for experimentation from the C-suite - due mainly to a lack of knowledge and understanding.

The list goes on. 

In early 2016, I set out the five digital realities every CEO and MD must face up to. The article was centered around how businesses need to become more customer-centric and harness the potential of strategic conversion optimisation and the positive effect it could have on their business. 

Unfortunately, over the past year (well, almost a year) I can see that little progress has been made. In this article, I am going to share my thoughts on this lack of progress.

Why is there still a startling lack of investment in converting visitors to customers?

It is true that converting visitors to customers will become essential, but has this message resonated and started having an impact within businesses? Not very much; at least, not yet. 

The reality at the end of 2016 is much like it was at the beginning: most businesses have a fixed mindset, running and growing their business as they always have, with the primary focus on acquiring traffic to generate sales.

For many decision makers and marketeers, A/B testing is a simple tactic to tinker with buttons, headlines and images from basic data analysis. There’s still no real strategy. 

The penny will drop at some stage, although for many businesses this could quite easily be too late as their more open-minded, progressive and growth-focused competitors have embraced the importance of CRO (long before others have).

With more than 80 new companies being started every hour (each looking to take market share and disrupt the status quo), I hope established businesses start putting their budgets in more intelligent strategies in 2017.

As the saying goes, there is no time like the present.

We need to master A/B testing before tackling personalisation and big data

Why walk when you can start running straight away?

As we heard in 2015 and throughout 2016, the future is all about big data, one-to-one experiences, behavioural targeting, automation and machine learning.

With so many articles and other media promoting this message, many businesses were leapfrogging intelligent A/B testing and landing feet-first in automation and personalisation in 2016.

What a shame.

It is time for businesses to firstly go back to the roots of simple A/B testing, driven by understanding users, understanding data and harnessing a multi-disciplinary team to create more persuasive and compelling user experiences for every single visitor.

Once that has been accomplished, then you can start adding on the bells and whistles. 

You don’t personalise a crappy checkout for a one-on-one experience – you improve the experience for every single visitor through intelligent, persuasive UX design and A/B testing.

Tools and machines can’t replicate brains

Despite my protestations, in 2016, we saw the tools and tech get even bigger and shinier.

As far as testing tools and experimentation software, Optimizely gave us Optimizely X, Qubit developed a more cohesive experience-building platform and now more AI tools are coming to market.

What this has meant in 2016 is more businesses believing the answer to improved website performance lies in these tools because:

  1. they’re better than the last one and..
  2. they have more features and functions, meaning our experimentation workflow can be more efficient.

For the millions of pounds or dollars invested in the latest tools and technology (which in the majority of cases gather dust amidst the lack of resources), the lack of knowledge and skills available to get the best out of these tools is a crying shame.


Within many businesses it’s still a case of 'all the gear, no idea'.

The most important tool businesses have got at their disposal is people. You can’t buy ‘off the shelf’ creativity, innovation and strategic thinking. Even machines need to be given the data to create variations. 

Conversion optimisation requires creativity, innovation and strategic thinking. It requires people and their brains.

Are you customer-centric?

We are a customer-centric business. The customer is king. We listen to our customers.

Almost all business say they are customer centric, yet the reality at the end of 2016 is that very few actually are. It’s merely lip-service. 

Many business will claim that they have multiple channels that all feed into their online experiences.

Affordability and simplicity have meant there’s increased visibility on customer actions, but the responsive solutions to problems flagged through these tools are:

  1. based on internal opinions of what the solution should be and..
  2. not put through a testing tool to let the customers tell you what is their preferred solution. 

Not only that, but in a year which saw machine learning’s rise to prominence, many businesses are still ignoring the value that one-on-one research has.

When was the last time you spoke one-on-one with your customers and prospects to ask them how you can improve your user (and customer) experience?

Intelligent, natural one-one user research is still the most undervalued and underutilised activity that businesses invest in. 

No matter how long companies choose to run their business, there is no escaping that the most successful, sustainable businesses truly invest in understanding how they can best serve their customers.

Your competitors are taking optimisation seriously

It isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s been a real uptake in businesses understanding the importance of experimentation in their business and this is a definite shift in the right direction.

The next step heading into 2017 will be businesses transforming their internal processes to develop an intelligent culture of experimentation across all aspects of the online experience.

It is very likely that some of your key competitors are in this minority. They have recognised how much of a competitive advantage it can be, and they are busy planning and testing a much better user experience for their (and your) potential customers.

Will you join your competitors and start taking optimisation seriously? 

You have the power to start controlling your own destiny

Compared to the increasingly competitive space of visitor acquisition, conversion optimisation allows you to control your own destiny. 

You choose how much you want to invest in optimising and improving your website experience and commercial performance.

Will 2017 see you and your business start controlling your own destiny? Go on, you know you want to! 

Now read:

Paul Rouke

Published 21 December, 2016 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author, creator of the CRO Maturity Audit, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Dominik Heyberg

Dominik Heyberg, Mobile UX Manager at Google

Great article, Paul - I am 100% with you. A/B testing is crucial to the long-term success of any business. To me it seems that many business owners simply accept low conversion rates as "industry standard", e.g. "my desktop conversion rate is x% and mobile is half of that. Its normal because its the same for everyone."

If you were to own a shop on the high street though where 100 people walk in and 97 leave almost immediately through the back door you would probably take immediate action. There is still work to do to have online business owners think the same way they would when owning a brick-and-mortar store.

over 1 year ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

Thanks for your comment Dominik. Your 2nd sentence is very, very quotable and one which I have been saying for the last few years. Your point about the general acceptance of lower conversion rates on mobile is spot on too. Schuh are one of the few brands I have come across in the last few years who simply don't accept this difference and have worked incredibly hard to get mobile converting at a much more valuable and impactful level than "the industry norm".

Finally your point about there being still work to do - absolutely, this is a significant and for many businesses pretty much unsourmountable challenge to change their mindset from being product led to being customer led.

The brands that do cross the chasm and embrace change are the ones that will prosper long term, there is no doubt in this from all my experiences.

over 1 year ago

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