2017 may finally be the year that businesses start to become customer-centric and embrace intelligent, strategic conversion optimisation (I’ve been saying that every year for what seems like a while now).

Here are my predictions and trends for 2017 which will both enhance and hinder the maturity of the conversion optimisation industry, and its application within businesses across the world.

For more on this topic, check out these Econsultancy resources:

1. CRO goes mainstream (driven by Google Optimize)

It was inevitable that Google would release a newly enhanced, powerful, free A/B testing tool and in 2016 the beta arrived.

Much like the launch of Google Analytics provided a quantum leap in the amount of businesses across the world using web analytics data (caveat I am using the words “using web analytics data” loosely here), Google Optimize is also going to start bringing the concept of A/B testing to the masses.

On the one hand, this is good news for the awareness and credibility of the conversion optimisation industry. Google’s rubber stamp (and an improved tool from its last effort) will mean that more people will be developing a culture of experimentation.

On the other hand, the harsh reality is, when we get something for free, we typically place less value on its importance and the need to invest time and money into it.

Google Analytics is one of the most powerful yet poorly configured and utilised tools in the digital industry.

Google Optimize has the potential of joining its big brother, if all that it does is encourage more businesses and agencies to jump on the CRO bandwagon (and practice poor A/B testing based on egotism and opinion).

Will SMEs understand the different statistical models they need to use to understand whether a variant on their testing tool is truly the winner? Will all businesses be able to configure their testing tool to their analytics and ensure the data they are recording is correct?

Just as Google Optimize will help make the CRO industry visible, it will inevitably bring about poor practice and misinformation.

Personally, I’m not prepared to let this happen. The CRO industry deserves to be valued by businesses as a core growth lever. Intelligent, customer-driven experimentation should be part of company DNA. I hope Google shares this view.

2. The proliferation of AI and machine learning

The machines are coming to take all of our jobs! Machine learning is the future that we need to embrace today.

In 2017, machine learning will take greater prominence in the conversion optimisation landscape. Is this a bad thing? It doesn’t have to be.

AI can alleviate some of the day-to-day workload that conversion optimisation strategists and practitioners have, such as small design tweaks, traffic allocation and data analysis.

It’s these functionalities that make me interested in what AI and machine learning can offer, just as long as businesses don’t neglect HI.

Human Intelligence is more important now than ever. To match customer expectations, businesses want to create engaging and exciting online experiences and the only way to do that is through creativity and understanding. At this point, AI can’t replace these two human attributes.

To truly draw value from machine learning, you still need to have a human behind the machine, ‘feeding’ it ideas, concepts and designs that have been built from user research and in-depth data analysis.

That way, you can get more improvements and solutions in your online experience than you could manually and leave your optimisers and strategists to do what they do best: create.

There is no getting away from the fact that AI is going to play an increasing role in our daily lives. The question is, do we just throw in the towel and leave all this to machines? 

Personally, I’m going to keep hold of my towel for my next holiday.

3. Full spectrum A/B testing

Very often, at the major growth and conversion optimisation conferences, thought-leading speakers mention “button testing” when sharing their experiences of how many businesses are still ‘conducting’ conversion optimisation.

In A/B testing there is a full spectrum of test types for businesses to harness:

  • Iterative: Smaller scale and quick to implement tests, that provide immediate commercial impact.

  • Innovative: Comprehensive and bolder tests, which enhance the customer experience and generate significant commercial impact.

  • Strategic: Tests designed to drive transformation of brand perception and proposition, alongside supporting long-term business growth aspirations.

In 2017, we may see the complete flip in approach to A/B testing. Already, I’ve seen more businesses ask for bigger and bolder tests, thinking it will bring about a big result.

As happy as I am to see businesses wanting to be more ambitious in their tests, sometimes, it can be a case of ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’.

This is why it’s more important than ever to find the perfect blend of the three A/B test types listed above; sometimes a series of small tests might not shift the needle but instead, lead towards a larger, more innovative test that will and vice versa.

The businesses that embrace the full spectrum of A/B testing will be the ones that see the dramatic changes in their business growth performance they’ve read about in all the blogs.

4. The realisation that culture really does eat strategy for breakfast in CRO

Culture eats strategy for breakfast and this will be even more applicable in 2017 as many businesses begin to embrace a culture of experimentation through testing, and shift their focus from being product-led, to customer-led.

The first of the four pillars of my Conversion Optimisation Maturity Model™ is Strategy & Culture. Within this pillar are assessment points looking at company mindset, strategic appreciation, having an influential champion, and planning long-term.

You can have the latest and greatest tools, you can have a multi-disciplinary team made up of researchers, strategists, data analysts, UX designers and developers. You can have a process in place for how you develop intelligent hypotheses for running tests.

However, if you don’t work on your company culture, at some stage, you will hit a mighty brick wall.

Intelligent experimentation has to become a core part of the company DNA for it to succeed long term.

5. Less of ‘I know best’ or reliance on machine learning

Throughout 2016 we have seen more and more content being pushed out there about customer experience, and I’m expecting this can only be a good thing. 

If want to become truly customer-centric, you have speak to your customers one-on-one. Period. You have to respect the ideas and opinions of other people.

When you do, ask them for their thoughts on the websites of your competitors. You may just find you get some invaluable, powerful insights which will make decision makers sit up and listen.

As we expect business culture to evolve and embrace more experimentation in 2017, more decision makers will begin to harness the new HIPPO characteristics: Humility, Integrity, Passion, Positivity and Open-mindedness.

The gap between your perception of how good your online experience is and what your customers actually think of your online experience can be huge.

Bridge the gap between your products and your potential customers..

Face up to your fears that maybe your product, services or online experience needs some TLC and it will provide you with a more sustainable business.

Evolve from being a product-led business, to becoming a customer-led business.

Is the future bright for CRO in 2017?

Amongst the heady mix of AI, machine learning, data clouds, Google Optimize and fixed mindsets within businesses, these five trends will be harnessed by the few brands who choose to step outside of their comfort zone.

The question is, will your business step outside of its comfort zone? It is often where the magic really does happen.

Paul Rouke

Published 6 January, 2017 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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