Twelve months on from writing “Will 2013 be the year of conversion rate optimization?” I’d like to follow up and share some answers and stories from what we saw in 2013.

One thing is clear, last year was absolutely the most progressive we have experienced, with a continued trend towards brands embracing a data driven, on-going optimization strategy.

What were the key challenges in 2013?

We are privileged to work with a range of major worldwide brands, many of which operate a multichannel operation.

The reality for many brands is that with legacy systems in place, a truly packed development schedule, and a company philosophy which has historically focused on traffic acquisition rather than on-site conversion, changing to a culture of on-going on-site optimization is no easy task.

Another key challenge we saw in 2013 is the reality that change isn’t everyone’s best friend – although there could well be people within a business who have really bought in to the benefits of developing a testing culture, until you have buy-in from senior management and in some cases the CEO, the changes needed to really make on-going optimisation work are hard to introduce.

Having robust visitor behaviour data from a well configured web analytics set-up to help inform and support on-going testing and optimization efforts is of course a key requirement.

During 2013 the main challenge we saw here is that organisations aren’t always investing the right level of resource for both implanting advanced configurations of their analytics solution and then not being able to allocate sufficient resource continually for improvement and data analysis.

The good news from 2013

Strides are being taken in each of these areas and I’m confident that by the end of 2014 they’ll no longer be seen as key challenges for CRO – although I predict all three will still very much be in place across many organisations.

One major trend we saw amongst retailers in 2013

Early on in 2013 I wrote an article looking at how Nixon had delivered its new responsive ecommerce website. Around this same time we were delivering in-depth moderated user testing for a major multi-channel retailer, with a particular focus on gaining user insight on a range of multi-channel retailer websites, including many of the so-called leaders and best in class experiences.

As this research was to inform the user-centered redesign of our clients new responsive website, we were particularly interested in user testing responsive ecommerce sites, yet our challenge was there were very few really good examples to work with.

In particular there were very few retailers who had delivered a usable, multi-faceted navigation solution with responsive design.

Fast forward to early 2014 and what we now see is a wide range of retailers who during 2013 delivered a responsive experience for their visitors.

One of the major drivers for responsive redesign projects that we were involved in was having the opportunity to address key user interface and conversion issues which significantly affected site performance on their old website – these were changes which would have required significant technical investment and back-end changes across devices on the old non-responsive experience.

In addition these type of page and process improvements weren’t ever going to be easy to simply A/B test.

In summary 2013 saw many retailers developing a new responsive experience with the plan to then start moving in to continuous on-site optimization.

Opportunities in 2014

Based on our experiences from what have been our most progressive and successful client collaborations over the last 12 months, I’d like to share with you a few key opportunities we see for brands in 2014, whether in retail, financial services, education, travel or any other sector that uses online as part of their revenue generating process.

Don’t get too carried away with testing

Testing can be a game changer for businesses, but you have to continue gaining customer insights to help deliver higher impact testing which really addresses user needs.

Ensure you allocate budget and resource to continually use your analytics solution to provide data insights as part of your on-going testing efforts – once your configuration is fit for purpose.

Long live the HIPPO

Involving the most senior person in the business along with people on the ground from the very start of introducing a testing programme can yield surprisingly positive results on a number of levels – I share a couple of insights on this in the stories below.

Whether internal or external through an agency, getting the developers bought in to the concept of becoming a data driven, continuous optimization operation is crucial in our experience.

Yes you can do some tests without technical involvement, but when you really want to start delivering experiences which will affect use behaviour, you need to have your developers on board to support the optimization process.

Collaborative sketching

One of the many ways in which we engage a wide range of people within an organisation to feel a part of an optimization programme is having collaborative sketching sessions – allowing people who are close to both the business’ USPs and their customers to relay how they feel a key page within the user journey could be reworked to provide a more persuasive experience for visitors.

Collaborative sketching also breaks down barriers within a business and gets people thinking about friction points for users and potential solutions – putting themselves in the minds of their visitors.

Gain competitor advantage 

Insights from some of the industry’s most experienced practitioners and businesses doing CRO are a big help. For the last two years I have had the honour of both speaking at and being on the advisory board of Conversion Conference UK.

This is an annual event which runs across the world throughout the year, and I genuinely can’t recommend highly enough attendance at this two day conference.

Look it up and make sure you put a date in your diary when the 2014 conference date is announced – you will not be disappointed, and you can bet many of your competitors aren’t attending (this year at least!)

So what will 2014 be for you and your business?

How is your business introducing or developing a culture of on-going testing? Do you have any more words of wisdom that other brands (hopefully not your competitors!) can harness in helping to develop a new culture? 

Thanks for reading my thoughts on conversion optimization in 2013 and 2014, and I look forward to reading some of your comments.