How To Prevent Yourself From Failing A Conversion Optimization Process

From 14th-16th June, a team of growth hackers from RockBoost attended the Digital Elite Camp 2018 edition. And yes, I had the absolute pleasure to be one of them! Together with over 150 Conversion Optimization passionates, we gathered at the lovely venue of the spa & conference hotel in Laulasmaa, Estonia.

Like a dry sponge I absorbed all the deep knowledge the industry leaders were more than willing to share with us. However, there was one talk that truly stood out and hit the nail on the head. This one presentation sparked the need for some elaborate thinking. Fasten your seatbelt and join me on my “thought journey”.   

It was André Morys’ presentation about “Why Most Optimizers Fail to Produce Great Results” that made me think about how we, as growth hacking consultants, approach the day-to-day challenges we face in order to achieve growth for our clients.

For those of you who are new to conversion optimization; when we are talking about conversion optimization, we are generally talking about the process of increasing the percentage of visitors that take any desired action (on a website). For this, we often use methods like: A/B tests, multivariate tests, redirect tests to compare different versions of a web page to test which one performs better.

But what many fail to take into account with these activities is their own internal biases that influence the decisions they make.

 

Bias

Bias, bias, bias! I lost count of how many times a reference was made to a specific bias during the Digital Elite Camp talks.

But how does the Cambridge Dictionary define it?

“The action of supporting or opposing a ... thing in an unfair way, because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment.”

This definition made me rethink how this may affect a methodical and research-driven conversion optimization process. In particular, two specific things came to mind that are really interesting to discuss. Namely:

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  • Instant gratification
  • Frame of reference

Instant gratification

We live in a world where we all experience the powerful force of instant gratification. We know what we want, and we want it now! We have evolved into these impatient human beings seeking for a sense of fulfilment without delay.

This also becomes apparent in our day-to-day work. Conversion optimizers are often looking for the golden nugget that will skyrocket growth overnight. So yes, you probably caught yourself red-handed Googling “Top 10 Ways to Optimize Conversions”.

It’s characterized by a combination of lack of knowledge and over-enthusiasm. Something that best can be explained according to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a truly fascinating psychological phenomenon known to everyone who successfully passed primary school.

What? No, the Dunning-Kruger effect is not something you should have learned during primary school. It’s a metaphor.

Remember when you first started learning something new? You probably noticed at first a little effort resulted in a large improvement. This gives a feeling of confidence. It is exactly this confident feeling that nurtures the illusion of having complete knowledge of what you are doing.

That is what happened when you joined the hype of A/B testing. You ignorantly started climbing the Mt. Stupid!

Having a little knowledge about something can therefore be incredibly misleading. You know just enough to perform, but not enough to know what you don’t know. When you continue to learn more and more, you soon figure out that there is just too much you didn’t know yet. That’s why you realise you won’t get a 150% increase, after magically changing the button color to Smurfs blue.

But... when you start to learn more and more, does it guarantee you are in the safe zone?

Well, you might have made your way through the valley of despair and experience the slope of enlightenment. Are you now well on the way to becoming a conversion optimisation guru?

Maybe.

But be very wary, another bias is lurking in the shadows.

 

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What makes you a conversion optimizing guru?

Is it the list of previous experiments that you ran? Is it the best practices you can sum up? Is it the research method or process you developed for truly understanding what to test?

Well let’s start off with saying that we are all human (most likely), and as human beings, we are famous for being everything but rational. We are highly subjective.

We are often guided by what we experienced in the past; our frame of reference, or a collection of different ideas or facts that influences our behavior, opinions, or decisions.

Our frame of reference differs from person to person and is continuously nurtured with all we experience in the past; for example, all your previous A/B tests that worked or did not work. So when you gradually start learning more and more about conversion optimization, your frame of reference changes. You have more varied perspectives from which to view your experiments which can help to explain and interpret different contexts.

But… it also gives you more possibilities to f*ck up your conversion optimization process!

Why?

Well, because of our frame of reference, as optimizers we have the tendency to base our hypotheses and test setups on our attitudes and opinions. Something also known as confirmation bias:

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.

You risk ignoring the information that could contradict your ideas. Especially when you are testing what you think could be the problem or thoughtlessly applying the best practices from your previous experience. See?

Just like that, we mix some teaspoons of confirmation bias with a little congruence bias and we got ourselves a recipe for a subjective, failing conversion optimization process. - Click to Tweet

We often tend to forget that conversion optimization is a real science and we therefore have to be objective to provide actionable data.

It’s rather about how prioritize things we want to test and how we acquire the actionable data. After all, where do you start a successful optimization? It is not about testing your best practices or gut-feeling-based ideas. It is about learning what truly drives people in order to be able to make an impact. It is about understanding the truth.

Understanding the truth

To prevent bias in our optimization process, we really need to change our perspective. Forget your instant gratification, get off the Mt. Stupid and focus on the next phase. The next phase is all about understanding the truth. Or, as André Morys puts it in his presentation:

“Understand the real challenge. It is not statistics, tools or errors on websites.”

Remember talking about instant gratification? Well, the same force of instant gratification has taken a hold of our customers or website visitors as well. That is why we, as conversion optimizers, are often so focused on increasing motivation and decreasing friction. After all, our goal is to get people what they want as fast and easily as possible.

This underlines why there is a need for customer-centric focus in order to be able to make an impact. André Morys’ message was clear:

“Companies who fail to embrace CX as a strategic path to growth won’t just be lagging, they’ll be left behind.”

In his presentation, he showed us the following graph that truly captures the essence of a sustainable optimization process.

Customer Centric Focus (Source: André Morys @ Digital Elite Camp 2018)

See what causes that uplift? It shows that, besides being data-driven and agile, the degree of customer-centricity defines your true growth potential. For your optimization process, it means that verifying what you should be testing and how these tests performed should strongly depend on your customer.

Customer-centric focus helps you throughout the different phases of your optimization process:

  1. Ideation - You define the possible optimizations based on people's needs. How could we help the company provide a better customer experience?
  2. Prioritization - What would make the highest impact for the customer?
  3. Analysis - Did your optimization affect the customer experience? In what way?

It is not about what you think you should be testing, it’s what the customer tells you you should be testing. It is not about how you think your test performed, it’s about how the customer thinks your test performed. The importance of a customer-centric focus shows the need for a research-based bottom-up optimization process in order to achieve great sustainable results.

But how can we actually be customer-centric?

The answer is; do the research!

Although the answer is plain and simple, many forget about or undervalue this crucial step. The importance of doing your own research has been a running theme throughout this edition of Digital Elite Camp. Els Aerts (AGConsult), Karl Gilis (AGConsult), Peep Laja (CXL), Momoko Price (Kantan Designs) and Lukas Vermeer (Booking.com). Although, to truly cover all of the above is beyond the scope of this review, in essence, the message from this group of expert speakers was strikingly similar:

DO THE RESEARCH!!!!!!

The industry tells us that your research should be the very starting point of your optimization process.

How do we formulate our starting point? Well, use surveys, feedback forms, online mining, interviews, user testing, etc... Do whatever is needed to truly get inside your customer’s head (figuratively, please) to find out their pains & fears, hopes & dreams and barriers & uncertainties.

Many approach the process of conversion optimization - or A/B testing in particular - like the problem at hand is too few conversion and test how to increase them.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is the customers’ problem.

Once you know what truly drives or frustrates people, you have your starting point and you can start developing your hypotheses. This is what I call a bottom up vs. top down optimization process. Bottom-up, as our starting point is “I don’t know; what does the customer say?” As opposed to top-down, “look at me, my brains and my ego!”

Having a bottom-up optimization process also makes your optimizations more tangible for the top-level management. Mildly put, the top-level won’t be interested in what you have to say unless you are able to show how you could help the company drive incredible results. Therefore, align your optimization process with their strategic challenges.
 

Key learnings to achieve results

By now, I hope you have learned the importance of focusing on what really matters when you are performing the craft of conversion optimisation. Namely, challenge your thoughts and assumptions based on a methodical and customer-centric research model.

In addition to this valuable piece of knowledge - or should I say “keystone” - every conversion optimizer should posses, André Morys shared three ideas that would allow you to make even more impact.

Prioritise Impact over Speed

As mentioned earlier, we are often focused on the low-hanging fruit and high-tempo testing. Try to focus more on the ideas that could have a higher impact. High-impact testing may require triple the effort compared to your average A/B test, but they are most definitely worth it. After all, we are here to deliver a better customer experience right? Well, we might as well put a little bit of effort in it! To deliver this next-level customer experience, try to prioritize your tests starting with these more likely to deliver high-impact results.

Prioritisation framework (Source: André Morys @ Digital Elite Camp 2018)

Report real ROI

I told you about connecting your optimization process to the strategic challenges of the top-level management. Alignment with the top-level management is going to be so much easier if you report on real ROI. Quantifying the impact based on real ROI makes the top-level management understand and care about what you are actually doing. Organise a workshop together with the top-level management to really get them involved.

Use your own weapons

I hear you thinking “the top-level management is busy minding their own problems. There is no way they will listen to me.” Yes, you are probably completely right! They don’t care unless you make them care! As with real ROI reporting, it is all about alignment and finding a common ground. For example, your CFO simply loves controlling things. Show him that the results are controllable. Build a stakeholder plan to truly understand the different motivations your stakeholders have to see how you can tap into these specific motivations. You will be BFFs with the CFO in no-time!

To sum up

I can tell you that a lot of clients ask us: “It is all well and good, the research and analyses, but when do you guys start with the A/B testing part?” Firstly, involving the client in the optimization process more actively will show the value of what you are actually doing and will inform them about the possible impact of your work. Similar to the stakeholder motivation mapping.

Secondly, we already started A/B testing a while ago when we started doing the research and analyses. It enables you to start asking the right questions and find answers that could prove you are wrong. Because proving you are wrong is a thousand times more valuable than that one test that skyrocketed your conversions rate with 150%. It allows you to develop a customer-centric and sustainable conversion optimization process and learn even faster.

This is exactly the point of this blog post. Because, in truth, it seems most people are still guessing…

Because without research...

There is nothing!