Robert: Hi, welcome to the Ecommerce Marketing podcast. Today’s guest is Linda Bustos. She is the director of Ecommerce Research with Elastic Path Software, and she has been the author of the Get Elastic ecommerce blog since 2007, covering all aspects of ecommerce marketing and just the experience. Today, Linda’s going to be talking about conversion rate optimization, so we’re going to be giving you a guide for conversion rate optimization. Welcome today, Ecommerce Marketing podcast, Linda.

Linda: Thank you, Robert.

Robert: So if you can please just briefly explain what Elastic Path Software is and what you’ve been doing since you joined the team at Elastic Path Software?

Linda: Well, Elastic Path, we’re an ecommerce software platform. And so we power ecommerce stores that are a little bit off the beaten path. So stores that need very customized features, that want to have omnichannel commerce around all touch points, and commerce in text, and all the emerging trends in ecommerce. And we are a flexible ecommerce platform that weeds into all of those new initiatives and new ecommerce trends.

Robert: Okay, and when you say “off the beaten path,” what do you mean?

Linda: Well, I mean, our customers tend to be ones that don’t just need an ecommerce store front, which is an online catalogue and a checkout and, you know, upload your images and things like that. We integrate really well with content management systems. So if you really want to have, you know, a very front end, rich digital experience that extends to mobile apps, that extends to digital kiosks at stores and stuff like that, you might want to bring commerce pieces into those experiences rather than having a storefront drive the experience. So oyu might want to bring your catalogue into that experience, or add a buy button into a mobile app or—you know, just doing things a little bit differently than traditionally. When ecommerce first burst onto the scene, you would get a platform and then the platform would drive the experience and it would be very much like you would see Amazon today, or just search and navigate and browse. But what we’re seeing a lot of is, you know, retailers and brands going direct. They want to really let digital experiences drive it. So video and very image heavy sites, that kind of thing driven by content management system.

Robert: Okay, so that’s really great. And it’s awesome that you’re at the forefront, you’re watching the trends. You know what trends are happening. And the big trend right now is conversion rate optimization. So if you could just briefly tell us, what is conversion optimization?

Linda: Well, conversion optimization in general is an activity that you take on in an effort to continually improve—I’m gonna say digital experience, because a few years ago, I said website. But now that we have smartphones, and tablet experiences, and social and all these kinds of things, really you can conversion optimize anything. Any experience that you have, that’s including mo—the forms on your website. Not necessarily a webpage, but an element within your website or a conversion flow like a checkout process for example. So pretty much anything that you build or design that you want an end user to take some action on. And you know, it’s often interchangeably with conversion rate optimization, but your conversion might be anything from, you know, a user making a click from a search page for example. Like, you’re not gonna make the sale from the search page, but the goal for that page would be—your conversion goal for the success of that page is somebody makes a search and doesn’t leave your site. So just semantically, people use the term conversion optimization and conversion rate optimization interchangeably. But it doesn’t have to be the conversion rate that you’re trying to optimize for.

Robert: Okay, so thanks for clearing that—the definition and explaining the difference between the two. So why is conversion optimization important? Why should ecommoerce businesses care about conversion optimization?

Linda: Well, before we had the tools, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a little bit more depth on this call, but before we had the tools that really allowed you to set up a conversion test, every design decision and every content decision was made by the designers and the marketers on your team. I used to work for a web design company, so I’ve seen that often times, there’s a difference of opinion between the client and—you know, the branding team on the client’s size and the merchandizing team on the clients side and then the creative directors on the agency side and maybe the user experience specialist or the SEO person, you know. Everybody has these competing objectives, and sometimes arguemtns can happen and conversion optimization is a great way to collect data to actually see, you know, this is what actual customers do on the site or actual website users are doing. So it removes all of the opinions, all of the biases and past experience which might not be relevant anymore.

So that’s on the one hand, and on the other hand, it allows you do experiment and, you know, say “what if?” Maybe you have four different ways that you could design your home page. Or four different products that you can put up. Or four different headlines. Or—whatever it is that you want to test. And you’re really not sure which is gonna perform. They all seem to be equally—you know, potentially good. And, you know, running a test gives you the actual data. And I think the longer that you’ve been in the industry doing whatever you’re doing. So say you’re a web designer—or if you’re in marketing, you’ve been working in digital for a really long time, you take it for granted how things come naturally to you using your own website. So you might have all these blind spots that a more novice user, which might be more representative of your customer base—you don’t see those things that trip them up because, to you, as an expert, as somebody who works in the field, those things just seem like the very obvious. But maybe they’re not obvious. And testing gets to point out those things, and gives you more of a clear view what your website really is accomplishing or not accomplishing.

Robert: I really like that. I really like how conversion optimization not only tells you who your audience is, but it’s also saving companies. Who knew that science is going to—you know, because a lot of companies, like you mentioned, the SEO people, the marketing people, the design people, everybody has their own opinion. And at the end of the day nobody really knows what the customer wants or why they’re attracted to your business until you test it. So, who knew that science is going to help businesses make money and even save all those in house fighting?

Linda: That’s right. The data driven approach is hard to argue with.

Robert: Now that we see and understand why it’s important, can you give us, like, the basics of how to start conversion optimization for your website or your brand for your digital experience?

Linda: Sure, well I’ll start of with—I mean, depending on the organization, depending on what resources you have an what your goals are, your basics are gonna look differnet. So if you’re a small business or a solo run website and you want to do some testing, then all of the responsibility might fall on you. And so the basics that you need to know is that you need to have an understand of web usibility and what common pitfalls and errors and things are so that you can look at a web page, you can look at your webpage or your checkout floor or something, and you can come up with those ideas and say “Yeah, we should try changing this because this is a likely point where customers might be confused” by this button label, for example, or they might be dropping off on this page because there’s information hidden behind a tab the way that we’ve designed it, for example.

So being familiar with web usability and, you know, best practices and stuff like that is helpful. So some people, you know, study user experience and best practices and then they rely on that and they rely on that knowledge. If oyu want to get into conversion optimization, sometimes you challenge those best practices and say there’s no sacred cows, but it still helps to have that background so that you can look at a webpage and sort of diagnose what might need to be tested. That’s one area.

The second area is often times the tools do need a little bit of IT work or web development work. sometimes that’s placing a tag on your page, you need to put the testing code in there. or you need to code something in the page to actually put the—you need to change this around or move this or whatever. And actually setting up the test, if you are a marketer without any HTML experience or any WordPress experience or whatever platform you’re on, you might need to get some help. There are a few 100% turnkey kind of tools that you might not start off with if you’re just getting into optimization for the first time, you’re probably gonna pick something like a Google conversion optimization tool. It used to be called Google Website Optimizer, but it’s called something else now. So the advice is if you’re just starting out is to get good at the free tool, kick the tires on it, get some successes under your belt and then look at some of the other, more sophistaced tools. And so, once again, you’ve got the marketing side, you’ve got that keen eye for recognizing problems, so you also need that technical person. And that might be you, that might be somebody else.

Then the third pillar is the analysis itself. So it you are a statistic person, you know, that knows numbers well and understands the idea of validity and statistical significance and confidence intervals and all the statistics that really are a part of testing because you can start—you can start a test and it just keeps running, running, running and you’re nowhere close to getting statistical significance because there’s not enough traffic going to that one page that you chose, or you’ve segmented the heck out of it now you’re not getting enough data across your segments or however you design the test. You need to understand what makes a statistically valid test. Now a lot of these tools will sort of give you like a green light, red light kind of thing. But you need to know when a test has been running too long, or what—you need to make a decision what confidence level are you gonna take. Are you gonna accept a 95% confidence interval or do you let it run to 99%? So you need to understand a little bit of the math there.

Those are the basics. Basics like basic of getting the test up and running. If you are a large organization, your basics may be different. You basics might be “Okay, we have to have a schedule of this is the back tests we want to do and we have this process and a methodology and we have a team and we have an analyst that goes and looks at it and extract the insights.” Because you can look at numbers and a test result, but it doesn’t give you a lot of insight. So this test won or this test lost, but why? That’s where the analyst mind kind of comes in.

Robert: Okay. That—yeah, that definitely explains how some businesses can get into it. You mentioned earlier some mistakes. So are there top mistakes that people make with conversion optimization?

Linda: There are so many mistakes that can be made. I would say the top one—like the easy one to pick on is not understanding what makes a valid test and not knowing to let the test run long enough and those kinds of small mistakes. You can make mistakes by improperly tagging the apges, you can have technical mistakes. From a strategic point of view, you can also make the easy mistake of just picking on stuff that’s…that’s testable just for the sake of being testable. So, you know, a lot of people might start off with button color or they might start off with “Let’s try this headline versus that headline!” rather than taking the approach of “Okay, we’ve got a website and where is it underperforming?” and start with the problem and develop your hypothesis around a problem. Because you can test a whole bunch of minutia, little things, and you run the test and you’ll get like a no improvement. Now you just wasted all that time on the test. Or, you know, you’re ignoring the big glaring things on the site that—the big leaks in your page.

So often times, it’s recommend “Oh, start with the checkout funnel” for example. But maybe for your business, it’s—it’s not the best place to start, at the checkout funnel. And I’ll give you an example of a software site that I ran some tests for. And this is a very unique software product where once a person is sold on it, there’s not really any competitors. So what we found was the check out process was really, really committed so many usability sins in best practice, and so we did the—whipped up a new check out process. We thought this was gonna lift business a ton, right, like how could it fail. This is just low hanging fruit all over the palce. And we ran the test and we found out it wasn’t a huge gain and what we realized after that is that this is a product that people will bang their head against the wall to get through that checkout because there is no other option. It’s like if you had your favorite concert tickets and you could only get it thorugh ticket master, you will put up with that frustrating process no matter how bad it is because you need those tickets.

So the better area for a business like that would actually be to shift the testing focus up towards when they’re actually describing the product and driving traffic to a landing page and creating demand and persuation and value propositions and price testing and all that kind of stuff. That’s gonna get more people too that check out and then you’ll see a high percentage of them will checkout. Whereas another company, like maybe the checkout is their Achilles heel and they should start there. there’s really, uhm—when you talk about mistakes, you know, there’s technical mistakes, there’s strategic mistakes, but there’s also mistakes that you might not get right away because it’s very specific to the business and you sort of find out those mistakes later as you start testing, and if you have a good analyst and you’re looking for the reasons why did we get this result or not and maybe should we shift our focus.

And I’ll say another mistake too is—like hypothesis formation is really, really important. Something that I see a lot is people saying “Yeah, we tested that and that didn’t work” but what they did was they just tested a feature A and B, so with and without. So here’s another example is I was on a mobile site the other day, and it has this overlay, so when you hit the home page, it pops up this sort of light box that says “If you want a faster experience, download our app.” And the two buttons are “Download the app” and the second one is “Continue.” Now, if they had tested that against having no popup, they might have assumed that, you know—say that the light box underperformed. They might say “Well light boxes don’t work so let’s not use it.” But what they might have missed is those call to actions are very confusing. What does “continue” mean? Does continue mean continue to the app or the mobile site? And that might be what was going through people’s heads. So if you just test it with and without, you might conclude that, you know, the light box is a conversion killer when really if they had test that and a more clear button, so “Return to site” instead of continue, or a “No Thank You” or whatever and test those, they might have been able to see that the light box actually does work better. It gets enough app downloads to make it worth it or however they want to run that test. But to actually test a few more things, not just the same thing with or without.

And the same thing goes for like…you know, security seals. Like people always wanna test a security seal. But are you putting it like a verified Macafee Secured, whatever—but if they’re putting it down in the bottom or in the top right hand corner so they have it but nobody sees it, that’s not the best implementation of it. So they might say “Oh, it doesn’t improve conversion” but if they move that seal right towards the credit card information field where people are starting to worry about security, then they might see a much, much higher lift than if they don’t.

Robert: Okay, so it seems like conversion optimization, it involves a lot of testing. So what are the best tools for testing and for conversion optimization?

Linda: okay, so, I’m gonna give sort of a black and white kind of answer, depending on if you’re just starting out verses, on the other extreme end, a big enterprise company and testing is part of you eat, breathe, sleep testing. So if you’re just starting out, get good at free tools. Invest 90% of your money in people—or 100% of your money in people and expertise and getting your feet wet in it and don’t just spring for the big very, very expensive enterprise tools. And there are some in the middle too that are lower cost. But definitely start with free. You can always add more later. If you’re an enterprise, then one thing you should consider is how they work with the tools you already have. So if you’re working with Omniture Site Catalyst, for example, which is the analytics tool, then it’s natural that you would probably want to work with Adobe Target because those two work so seamlessly together that the data in and out is very easy the features are built for eachother, verses having one analytics tool and then another third party testing tool. But you definitely—it will depend on how many tests you want to run. Do you want to do multivariate testing because with Google’s tool you can’t do multivariate testing anymore since they changed it. The answer is gonna be “It depends” but on the two very extreme ends, like if you’re just starting out, there’s not really a need to start with a pay tool yet.

Robert: Okay. And earlier you said—you talked about the basics of optimization. Are there some advance tips and hacks you can give for conversion optimization?

Linda: Well I think as you get better and better with testing, the advance stuff that you can do—basically the bigger site that you are and the more traffic that you have, the more flexibility you have to do advanced moves. So if you are a very high traffic site, you would be able to do personalization and targeting of segments for example. So you would have enough traffic. Say you wanted to segment by geography or you wanted to segment by people who can through a paid serch for a certain product verses paid search for another product, you could pslit up your test that way and only test within a certain segment. But those advanced moves are really reserve for if you have enough traffic within that segment to support a reasonable length of time for a test to get statistic signifance. And other advanced stuff is like, yuou know, everybody’s heard of the Google testing like six hundred shades of blue or whatever. Those are things that maybe aren’t ognna giv eoyu a ton of return, but for certain businesses, they might feel like “We need to test thirty or forty different versions at one time.” It’s gonna be a very small percentage that want to do it that advanced.

I’d say another advanced move is testing mobile. That’s an under tested area, there’s not a lot of web usability expertise in the mobile area yet, so we still see people making a lot of mistakes with mobile menus, hiding it behind these three bars and do people really understand how to use the navigation on mobile. And I think a lot of tests are still being focused and centered on the desktop experience, where it should be shifted towards mobile more and more because that’s where you’ll get the learning and oyu’ll get bigger conversion impact.

Robert: Okay, with the mobile, have you seen what’s the best way to display the navigation? Like you just brought up right now “those three bars” a lot of users might not understand what the three bars are but have you see what’s the best way to lay out navigation?

Linda: Yeah, so…so the three bars is also called the hamburger menu, so it’s like three bars, three little stirpes in a button, and you’ll see it at the top left hand or the top right hand on most mobile sites. And I actually went through the top one hundred ineernet retailer ecommerce sites and I actually took a tally of how many are using that and it’s well more than half are just using those three bars. And so behind that bar is—will be a menu. And I’ve acutally written three separate posts because a lot of people are testing and actually posting their test results and one of our own readers did this test and shared their resultsi with us too. And it was a dramatic differnet between labeling something a menu verses just having those three bars. Because as designers and tech geeks, we might recognize “Oh yeah, that means a menu, everybody knows that!” but it’s not true, not everybody knows that. And using a more clear label has helped. And there’s alternative approached too that can be tested but that’s defnitnely like…where I would start. If you are mobile testing, start with the navigation, because it’s the toughest thing for marketers and UX people to design, but it’s the most important thing for a usable mobile site.

Robert: Okay, Linda, thanks for being on the Ecommerce Marketing podcast. You’ve shared a lot of great information, so if you could please tell us right now how our listeners can reach you if they want to learn more about what you’re doing, about Elastic Path—so if you could just let them now for they can reach you?

Linda: Well, I would start by checking out the blog. It’s at—G-E-T—like…get— And we’re also on Twitter @getelastic. So those are two ways you can connect with our content and interact with us.

Robert: Okay, Linda. Thanks for being on the podcast, and we’ll talk to you later.
Linda: Thank you, Robert!