Don Davis , Editor in Chief
Testing and Targeting Solutions Deliver Superior Online Experiences to Consumers While Driving Revenue and Profit for Businesses
BOSTON, MASS., December 16, 2008 - Ever gone online and had an unsatisfying experience on a website? Maybe you weren`t happy with the way information was displayed or found it hard to find what you were looking for. That`s the unhappy picture that consumers face when shopping on websites that have not been fine-tuned (or "optimized") for visitors. The good news is, businesses realize that not optimizing their websites depresses their revenue and profits and are now doing everything they can to improve online shopping experiences in an uncertain economy.
Increasingly, large retail websites are turning to website optimization technologies such as multivariate testing and behavioral targeting to improve visitors` online experience. Testing allows businesses to present multiple variations of content and discover which content you prefer while targeting enables companies to understand you better as a customer so that they can present you with relevant information, such as coupons. ShopNBC, the third-largest television home shopping network in the United States, is one business that has implemented testing and targeting solutions within its e-commerce infrastructure.
"We needed a way to raise the bar for ShopNBC.com`s user experience, making the site as intuitive and easy to use as possible," said Geoff Smith, Vice President of ShopNBC.com. "Our testing program has delivered significant returns in a shorter period of time than we originally expected, and we`re seeing many benefits in results that we didn`t anticipate."
For example, ShopNBC designed a test to optimize the layout and content on the product detail pages of ShopNBC.com. They wondered if, by drawing attention to key elements of the page, they could encourage more customers to initiate and complete purchases. ShopNBC suspected that several key features were getting lost on the page and that they were losing sales as a result.
The company identified five key elements to test that might influence the actions of users who were contemplating a purchase:
• Location and size of the "Add-to-Cart" button
• Headlines identifying cross-sell items
• Styles of tabs that link users to product details
• Color, size, and style of Clearance and Limited Time pricing offers
• Highlighting of payment options for qualified buyers
After testing variations of each of the above five elements, the results of the test were surprising. Not only did 4% more begin the checkout process, but the average value of the items in those shoppers` carts increased by 16%.
This kind of web optimization can help drive online sales during a time when consumers are holding on tight to their wallets. But it`s not only consumers making purchases that count - a website might set other goals for visitors, such as signing up new subscribers, generating new leads, or having visitors help themselves to information on the website (also known as self-service). Overall, online businesses are keen on keeping consumers engaged and coming back for more, which they can measure by the amount of time you spend online, the number of pages you viewed, and whether or not you are a return visitor.
One example of a company using testing and targeting to increase visitor engagement is well-known destination site VEGAS.com, which features a veritable buffet of Las Vegas travel choices - from hotels to shows to tours to front-of-the-line nightclub passes, and then some. More than 2.5 million unique visitors visit VEGAS.com websites each month. The company found that they needed to get a handle on how best to present their vast array of travel choices in order to keep visitors online.
To do that, VEGAS.com ran a test to determine what combination of online security messaging components would be most conducive to raising sales conversion rates for site visitors. The company simultaneously tested four security icons, three text treatments, and their placements on five different pages within the site to determine the winning combination. The winning variation produced significant improvements across multiple key performance indicators, including site abandonment, visitor page views per session, and overall conversion rates.
"Over every door in our company there is a sign that reads `Think of Yourself as a Customer,`" said Mike Brown, Vice President at VEGAS.com. "We design our websites with this customer-centric focus in mind, but there are always opportunities for additional optimization. We can theorize all we want about which user interface elements improve the visitor experience and ultimately, conversion rates. But it is by implementing multivariate testing and targeting technologies that we`re able to actually prove which user interface elements work and which ones don`t."
Overstock.com, the well-known online retailer offering brand-name merchandise at discount prices, follows a similar approach.
"Overstock.com has long considered ease of shopping one of the core components of great customer experience," said Seth Moore, Director of Customer Value at Overstock.com. "Rather than speculating about usability, however, we prefer to test the content and let our customers vote their preference with their actions."
In relatively little time, Overstock.com optimized its conversion rates and average order values by globally testing new product page layouts against current page layouts. To determine how various layouts performed, both at the page and category level, Overstock.com ran simultaneous multivariate tests to analyze a variety of scenarios on the site`s shoppers. Similar tests were also run for promotional headers.
Moore further explained the importance of testing in Overstock.com`s e-commerce strategy: "Testing is critical to making sure that web site optimization is not `two steps forward and one step back.` Often, we find that the results are counterintuitive to what we had assumed, so now we hesitate to make site changes without testing. The web site has, of course, improved in efficiency throughout our company`s history, but testing has accelerated our rate of improvement markedly."
Another place you might have shopped online that takes testing seriously is CSN Stores, which offers more than one million products on more than 200 web sites in niche market segments, covering a wide variety of home and office goods.
"Here at CSN Stores, customers are our highest priority and multivariate testing lets us tune our sites so that they are highly intuitive for the largest number of customers," noted Chuck Casto, Vice President of Corporate Communications for CSN Stores. "By continuously testing and targeting, we are able to enhance the CSN online shopping experience for consumers."
CSN Stores has credited web optimization firm SiteSpect with creating 7 percent of its 2007 sales growth, thanks to the company`s patent-pending A/B and multivariate testing solutions. SiteSpect allowed CSN Stores to quickly and easily run tests to measure visitor responses to variations in site content, search functionality, and features. Based on the test results, CSN Stores enhanced its search capability to help visitors more quickly find the products they wanted, improving the user experience and increasing sales. Additionally, CSN Stores was able to discover and use alternate image sizes that elicited higher response rates.
Eric J. Hansen, president and founder of SiteSpect, says companies have a multitude of choices when it comes to getting started with website optimization.
"We`re seeing more and more companies move from simple A/B testing, where you test one or more variations of a single element to see which your visitors prefer, to multivariate testing, where you try out variations of multiple elements," Hansen noted. "Multivariate testing shows you not only which combination of elements increased conversions, but also reveals which individual elements influence visitor behavior versus those that do not."
"During an uncertain economy, it is more crucial than ever for online customers to find what they want and have a satisfying shopping experience," Hansen concluded. "Online marketers must test and optimize their websites to drive more visitors into a site, keep them engaged, and move them towards actions that generate revenue - or risk going out of business."
Mike Brown of VEGAS.com concurred with Hansen and noted: "SiteSpect`s multivariate testing and targeting essentially empowers our customers to vote with their clicks, so we`re quickly able to focus in on the winning design, user interface, and text combinations that were empirically proven to make it easier, faster, and simpler for our customers to find the Vegas information and deals they need. It`s that simple," he said.
About SiteSpect, Inc.
SiteSpect enables web marketers to optimize website and mobile web effectiveness through multivariate testing and behavioral targeting. By testing variations of landing pages, product descriptions, search results, and buy-flows, SiteSpect allows marketers to fine-tune every aspect of their website on a segment-by-segment basis. As the first and only non-intrusive solution available, SiteSpect empowers marketers to optimize their sites without the need for ongoing IT involvement. SiteSpect`s patent-pending technology is used by some of the world`s largest and most successful online businesses, including Cabela`s, iProspect, Overstock.com, ShopNBC, and VEGAS.com. For more information, visit www.SiteSpect.com or call 617-859-1900.