Archive for the ‘Process Improvement’ Category

Your site has more than one conversion

October 9, 2009

One of the first innerballoons does when we start with a client a short audit of the site conversion moments. We lay this out in a 1-page business model that we have stolen from Dave McClure’s Pirate Model (AAARR!) which you can find plenty of examples of by Googling Startonomics. I encourage all online business owners and managers to take a fresh look at your sites in this way. The steps are simple:
1) work out which types of users and partners your business works with (eg consumers, affiliates, business owners, …)
2) decide which conversion moments are important to measure for each user type. As a rule of thumb, look for acquisition, retention and conversion of each type.
3) estimate how conversions relate to each other and their value and cost to the business.
That last step is a way of linking everything into how a vertical makes money. Where it can get tricky (and where InnerBalloons can add a lot of value) is where
– you currently have no revenue generation approach
– you don’t measure any of these conversions yet
– you are absolutely convinced that one ‘golden conversion’ is the only thing to focus on
Often businesses, once they find a revenue generating user action, single handedly focus on this. And often, other conversions form a much simpler stepladder to get there. For instance, retained users can buy so much more frequently and so much more cost effectively than first time users that it is worth investing in user retention then converting these users. Similarly many users who have converted once will do so again many times so it’s more important to focus on this than on retention.

The 1-page business model is an innovative and agile way to look at the user experience lifecycle and the business value lifecycle side-by-side and to quicky iterate to profitable conclusions.

We see this in business after business – focusing on one conversion and ignoring the other user actions that are close by can be a big drain on precious resources. Your site has more conversion moments. Look at them all quickly then decide which has the greatest priority.


Connecting the dots of conversion

August 10, 2009

I heard a familiar story at a client. They had started up using pay per click campaigns to buy traffic on Google. The campaigns were apparently running well in that they had been able to far exceed their targets for unique visitors per day. They had two concerns with the PPC agency: that the cost of their clicks seemed way too high and that the ongoing management fee seemed similarly unreasonable now that the campaigns had been running for a few months. Apart from this they had started an RFQ to find a new agency to convert the traffic better on their product pages. They do not do any user testing and also found that A/B testing or multivariate testing seemed too complex. They were considering starting a new RFQ  process to find the best / cheapest agency to do this. Lastly, they had some concerns that they were missing out on organic traffic opportunies and felt sure that they needed the right experts to do this for them too.

Having two separate agencies for pay per click campaigns and for conversion rate optimisation seems a sure fire way of getting stuck as ‘piggy in the middle’. Both agencies will point to what the other does as the root cause of the clients high cost of conversion. The basis of improving conversions comes from finding the right traffic to send to correctly built pages. A page is correctly built when user say so by producing a higher conversion. The right traffic means finding the highest volume keywords that convert well. Similarly, optimising a site for organic conversions still comes down to finding the keywords that convert well.

Conversion needs to be the master of all internet marketing activities. It is ultimately an expression of a great user experience, showing that the company’s web presence has been listening and watching what users do online, knowing how they search and what experience they need when they find what they are looking for. Conversion is the measure of quality of organic and paid traffic. To buy traffic without knowing how it converts is to run the risk of buying junk for a high prices. To optimise a site for organic traffic without understanding for which keywords your optimising could mean again that you are setting your site up for a lots and lots of visitors who bounce on their first visit, or stay but never convert.  Similarly, user testing cannot be left aside. Whether it’s done formally in rooms with one-way mirrors, or down and dirty interviewing users in a coffeeshop, or fast and furious seeing which version of layout, imagery and content users prefer the best in an online multivariate test, there are so many low-threshold ways to get started hearing and seeing what users do and like.

There is a natural flow from a user searching for something in an engine to arriving at a landing page, possibly hitting a number of pages in between before ultimately converting and then continuing their business online. Companies must see this flow end-to-end and coherently because that’s how their customers see this flow. If companies don’t connect the dots, users won’t be able to either.

Converting the right thing

July 15, 2009

I was recently at Conversion for Design in Amsterdam. Alongside three good keynote speakers we had plenty of time to work on test cases. The group of 70 or so participants were split into 15 teams each of whom received a case study. These are real life examples of business trying to improve their conversions. They came with a good deal of background, business sponsors to answer our questions and some clear goals. I don’t want to go to into the specifics of the case we had but sketch the important points. For each case study two or three teams studied, brainstormed, developed and then presented their suggestions from which the business sponsor selected one. Each of these winners then went head to head again battle of the bands style to hoose the winner of the event. Our team was lucky enough to win. We did two or three things differently from the other teams and I believe these were the differences that made the difference.

Our goal was given as selling a certain number of products online. These products were easily broken and fundamentally kinaesthetic: it was all about feel and fit. You could think of tailor made suit or driving a car. Currently most products were sold offline in a bricks and mortar store where people got expert advice and could try things on. Once people had bought once buying again was pretty easy and much more common. In fact, after their first purchase, complete brand loyalty was common.

The online channel was having a hard time breaking in. They had done everything they has been told to. They had set up a webshop with all the products in, they had charts to help the consumer decide what version they should have. They had plenty of factual details to help the methodical rational buyer decide. Admittedly returns were tricky and costly but since this was a key drain on order profitability, it was hoped that the user knew what he was doing when he bought. The business had 700 new approaches to SEO and conversion they wanted to try but was looking for our team to find out what they had missed.

Although our team looked at some tactical ways of increasing the conversion rate for the shopping cart we focussed more on the big ticket items. We did this by taking a step back. By asking for more orders the client really wanted more profit. From our brief analysis of the customer behaviour we identified that very few customers buy for the first time online but many repeat purchases are made.

We suggested that the business focus instead on offline purchasers who then bought online. A purchaser who buys his second product online is highly profitable from that point on. Their threshold to buying is reduced because they have the largely kinaesthetic reference for a good brand experience already.

This approach can be accelerated by eliminating channel conflict altogether for instance by letting offline local stores share in the online revenue generated. This means that the offline and online channels are no longer fighting but are helping each other using what each of them does best: the bricks and mortar store focuses on getting a first purchase and bulding a relationship whilst the online store focuses on getting the profitable repeat purchases at a lower cost.

This was one thing our team did differently: we focused on the entire business from the consumer’s point of view rather than on just the web store or the web page. Seeing the big picture is important. Counterintuitively once the online store focusses on a deep relationship rather than just a quick sale it can start to generate more sales.

More on different focuses for greater conversion successes in later posts.

Conversion Rate Experts

May 17, 2009
One of the excellent seminars I was able to attend whilst at Affiliates 4 U (A4U expo) was Conversion Rate Expert’s How we grew the sales of SEOmoz by 170% . Interesting mostly because they were taking a landing page that had been deeply optimised by a number of ‘experts’ already and were still able to get enormous uplifts.

Actually, I phrased that first sentence entirely the wrong way. The only reason I attended A4U expo was to meet CRE and see a little of their magic in practice. I’ve been a hug fan of their site ever since reading their excellent Google Website Optimizer 101 which not only gives their assessment of Google’s Website Optimiser (“it turns your website into a ruthless money-making machine” — don’t you just love a little landing page copy with your morning coffee?) but also 108 handy hints for using this tool. At A4Uexpo, I was able to meet Karl Blanks, Ben Jesson and Stephen Pavlovich and chat to them a little about how they went to work.

One of the key take-aways of the seminar was that although GWO and other mulitvariate tools are absolutely fantastic ways of sifting through your website for nuggets of gold, much more important by far is the methodology by which you choose where to look.

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What I learnt from rebuilding my house

December 10, 2008

We are just finishing up rebuilding our house, a week later than our soft date (Dec 1) and well before our hard date (Dec 22). In the process we learnt a few things, or found a few things we wished we had learnt before we had started.
1. A stitch in time saves nine. I was lucky enough to be able to come into work half an hour late a few days a week (and sometimes quite a bit more). This meant I could check on the building work on a number of mornings and catch things before they got out of hand. I would walk in with a ‘shopping list’ of things that needed to get done, walk the builders through everything and try to answer their questions. The ‘grand plan’ of what happened week-to-week had already been done and we had a great prime contractor to track everything and keep all the plates spinning, but questions always arose at handover points (tiles to wooden floor, kitchen to electricity and water, boiler and thermostat, boiler and radiator, boiler and boiler, bloody boiler!). Working side by side to answer queries directly was crucial.
2. Find a great tier two contractor and be willing to pay the extra 20% to get the very best. We got screwed by the big telco/ISP/cable company (Wanadoo, no – Orange, no – Online) as well as by the little one-man companies (with some notable exceptions). You need someone you can work with, talk to face-to-face and, if need be, call up every day to bug. We found a builder who lived on our street and who had a few reference customers on our street. He was significantly more expensive than the other offers, but –
3. Goedkoop is duurkoop (you get what you pay for). In other words, a relatively high absolute cost can be reassuringly exensive if you know it comes with quick & responsive lead times and the ability to get the job done quickly. You’re looking for getting things done fast for a reasonable price, not finding the lowest ever price.
4. Expect problems and wherever possible have a back-up plan. In the last weeks, getting our kitchen tiled was critical path. On D-Day, the tiler called in sick. Quickly, our prime contractor was able to find not one but two new tilers who finished the work — just on time.
5. Have someone who lives and breathes the project. My wife was the mastermind behind the operation. She thought through every little detail and worked out how everything was going to fit together. She was thinking of the end goal whether she was asleep or awake.
6. Management by walking around. Make sure that you get to see how everything is going as often as possible. Be willing to spend time with those that do, not just those that talk. Ask lots of questions and do not be embarassed to show your ignorance. Use your enhanced knowledge to think ahead of what might go wrong and try to anticipate it.

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Zembling the best of the social web

September 20, 2008

I’ve been playing with Zembly and I love it. Zembly is a simple and social way to a-zemble (get it?) the best widgets and mash-ups. Zembly partners with other great services that I love (like Dapper) to enable you to extract information from your favourite websites and use them to build widgets, mash-ups and apps for the iPhone, Facebook and meebo amongst others. It’s quick and it’s easy and because Zembly comes with a whole lot of infrastructure baked-in, you don’t need to think about hosting, or scaling the architecture, because it is all in the cloud and taken care of.

Zembly is proving a breakthrough by really thinking through usability for developers: how do you make it really simple for developers to socially build social apps, and remove all the things that typically block them from doing that?

As you code your widgets (yes, you do need to hack a little to make the apps), you can clone other widgets that Zemblers have made, and tailor them to your own purposes. Zembly is part of Sun, and as you’d expect, there is some great scalable in-the-cloud infrastructure behind it. It has competition in the likes of Sproutbuilder (not to be confused with Sproutcore, which Apple used as part of the MobileMe rollout).

You can find an interesting interview with Zembly’s CTO, Todd Fast. He mentions the exponentially growing number of Facebook apps, going from 24,000 to 30,000 and above. He says that Zembly is looking at building niche applications for interesting special-interest groups — long-tail applications — by bringing the threshold for building these applications down. He also says that most social platforms, even the open ones, are very hetereogenous and fragmented. Zembly’s answer is to try to build small re-usable pieces, that you can play, standing on the shoulders of giants. He also explains why he feels that most developers don’t want to think too hard about how to scale their applications, whether it be in the form of databases with millions of rows or allowing tens of thousands of users or the analytics that measure the success of the applications. The latter functionality allows developers to measure social statistics: what kinds of users are installing the application and how, alongside measures of how virally the application is being installed.

All pretty cool and a lot of fun to play with. Zembly is currently in private beta, but if you put your name down, I think you’ll find you don’t have to wait long.

Small is beautiful

August 4, 2008

I have written a good few blog posts that have died, unfinished and unpublished because the nebulous idea I was trying to express was just too complex. Small is beautiful in blogging.

One of the key characteristics of a feature which we used in rolling out our agile methodology was that it had to be small. This could be defined by technology or the business:
Either by the development estimate — a few story points of under a couple of weeks of pure development
Or by a way of describing the business feature — for instance a one sentence description in what the user might see differently
Business users quickly get the idea, and technology loves it.

This has a number of great advantages. First up, you can fit a few features in an iteration and still keep iterations short. Next, if some features do take longer than expected or your velocity system has not kicked in yet it is easy to drop a feature or two from an iteration, keep to your plan and still deliver business value. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, small features are exponentially easier to define requirements for, develop and test for. As you add a little more complexity to a feature, the time it takes to go through the development lifecycle takes exponentially longer sine each piece can interact with the rest of the feature.

This principle — which is known elsewhere as “Keep It Simple” — can applied to a variety of other domains with great success. Simple works. It is also a great definition of agility. Simple means small and simple means only doing what you need and no more. Without simplicity, testing is hard and it’s hard to deliver the constant stream of business value needed to build the groundrock of an agile rollout: trust.

Understanding before documentation

July 25, 2008

One of the most important principles I use in all the agile and lean software development or cross functional teams I run is ‘understanding first’. This means that teams must first seek to understand and only then write that up. My default form of this is to take two very different groups — perhaps IT and the business or product management and producers or finance and a budget owner — and get them to each explain their viewpoint to the other. They talk until the other group can explain their viewpoint to their own satisfaction. Then they sit together and write it up.

The longer that the groups work together the more rapport that they build. Talking is many times quicker than writing and this is many times quicker again than waiting for an email response. Once understanding is reached the last crinkles can be ironed out by writing together.

Often the business will ask IT to do the write up so that they can review at their leisure. This is a mistake. It confuses the time spent as support with the total time needed. A little feedback in the first write up can be the difference that makes the difference so that only one iteration is needed.

How not service customers — by the Rabobank

June 11, 2008

My Rabobank credit card was rejected (and apparently had been rejected before, but I only just noticed it). Here is the value stream mapping of my customer experience with the Rabobank customer service group. Total value time: 2 minutes. Total wasted time: 29 minutes. Efficiency ratio: 6.9%.

First I searched for the number of my account manager. This was given as +31 71 565 9393 — the same number as the main service desk, so:

1. Call the Rabobank service desk +31 71 565 9393. Takes a few minutes to get someone on the line. Explain the issue (card rejected). Nice man asks me to hold which I do for a minute before he disconnects me. Wasted time: 7 minutes.

2. Call the Rabobank service desk again. Takes a few minutes to get someone on the line. Explain the issue and that I already called. Take a note of her name. Nice lady asks me to hold. I hold. She connects through to someone else. Wasted time: 7 minutes.

3. My account manager. Explain the issue to him. He asks me to hold, then after a couple of minutes of doing this, he explains that it will take a little to find out what’s going on and he will call me back. I reiterate that I don’t want to know what’s wrong, I want to be able to use the card that I pay them for. Wasted time: 4 minutes.

4. 5 minutes later he calls me back. He explains that I need to call another department (i.e. they’ve outsourced their services). When I ask why he can’t fix the issue, he says he’s not authorised. When I ask the name of the department, he can’t tell me but says they can fix Gold card problems. I didn’t even know that I had a Gold card. I call the mystery number +31 88 722 6777 (interestingly 088 722 6777 seems to also be the number of a property in Bulgaria — If only the Netherlands allowed reverse look-up). Wasted time: 5 minutes.

5. I call the number and talk to the nice lady. She says that to solve the problem I’ll need to talk to someone else. So she puts me through. Wasted time: 3 minutes.

6. The lady asks me some security questions, explains the card is blocked, because of strange activity. She can’t tell me what the activity is, but having seen that I’ve looked at and approved all my statements, she unblocks the card. Result!

I asked why no-one from the Rabobank contacted me. She says that a letter was sent and our house number was called. When I say we never got a letter, she laughs like “sure, sure, that’s what they all say, eh?”. She does say that the strange transaction occurred in Japan. When I point out that I’ve been through this before and that the Rabobank knows I travel, she says it’s not that the amount was high or that the transaction occurred in Japan, it’s that “the computer” spotted something strange, but she can’t tell me what that is.

Then I ask why the Rabobank chose to contact me with my home phone when they knew I was in Japan. She said because the transaction was fraudulent (it wasn’t), they might expect to find me at home or someone who could confirm that I was in Japan (apart from the other five or six transactions in Japan in the days before that is). The conversation was getting more bizarre by the minute. I asked why they couldn’t contact me in some other way. After all my Rabobank account manager has my full contact details: mobile phone, house number and email addresses. The nice lady (who was steadily getting more irate) explained that if I could give her these contact details and give her permission to use them, she would next time, but due to security concerns my Rabobank account manager could not contact her about this issue, or pass on my contact details!

When I ask how come the Rabobank has assigned me a special account manager who is supposed to my one stop shop and has to pass me through to the Gold card department to get these kinds of things fixed, she asks me what I’m talking about. “Gold card? Gold card? I have no idea what you are talking about!” It turns out that her department has nothing to do with Gold card. Go figure. Value time: 2 minutes. Wasted time: 6 minutes.

Total value time: 2 minutes. Total wasted time: 29 minutes. Efficiency ratio: 6.9%.

Yoskovitz: Be a Data Hog, Make More Money!

May 9, 2008

Ben Yoskovitz is known for his company Standout Jobs. In the article “Yoskovitz: Be a Data Hog, Make More Money!” he makes a good and simple case for collating lots of data, analysing it regularly and repeatedly asking Why? The approach reminded me a lot of my colleague Doug Brown, the executive in charge of operations in our Search Engine Marketing reseller division. Doug is constantly driving his team to build up data, analyse and test it, and then make interesting and useful predictions and conclusions.

There is a link here with highly iterative development. It comes down to generating and understanding feedback from a working system as quickly as possible and then being able to adjust your course as quickly as possible with the new information. Making the feedback small, incremental and falsifiable (as in test-driven development) is important. Each of these contributes to being able to translate the tests into next actionable steps.

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