Multivariate testing is a powerful web development strategy which boasts the best conversion rate improvements in the business and strongest return on marketing spend - but it is a discipline, not a quick-fix, argues Mark Simpson, Founder and President at Maxymiser.
Interest in multivariate testing (MVT) is now growing at an accelerating rate, with many organisations announcing firm intentions in this area for the year ahead. Indeed, it is not surprising that multivariate testing should have entered the mainstream, given that it is now widely recognised as the single most effective means of increasing conversions of web site visitors to paying customers. An uplift of 40-50% is not unusual.
While three years ago, MVT was new to the UK market and a minority practice, it is now a critical part of web site development strategies across the retail, finance, travel and media markets. Other sectors see its value too, from online gambling and gaming markets to the online dating industry.
Having invested heavily in search engine optimisation and other techniques for driving traffic to their web pages, these organisations now recognise the importance of securing the best possible return on that investment - by making sure they get the most from those visitors before they click away again.
Science over supposition
Multivariate testing takes the guesswork out of web design optimisation. Unlike other forms of such testing, the MVT approach is able to deduce the best combinations from its detailed, integrated analysis.
Because it uses science rather than gut-feel, MVT overrides the random preferences of senior managers to deliver tangible results. This point is driven home by the often unpredictable findings that emerge.
For example, a series of multivariate testing for On The Beach Holidays led to a £1.2 million increase in revenues simply as a result of removing a VeriSign logo from a key page. It appeared that this had been distracting visitors – a finding that would not have been obvious through any other means of research, such as customer focus groups.
That most online commercial enterprises have not applied statistical analysis to the way customers navigate and behave across the pages of their web site until now points to a scandalous lack of attention, given the money they have thrown at analytics for just about every other facet of their online activities.
Certainly, there is little point investing £10,000 on pay-per-click advertising, if visitors to the site click off as soon as they’ve landed, due to a poor web site experience, or low relevance of content.
Beware working in a vacuum
When Asda redesigned its home page following discrete multivariate testing, it profited from a 19% reduction in bounce rates. In a similar exercise, its Finance arm saw a 14% reduction. By testing its products pages, Fragrance Direct added £1 million in revenues in just six months.
Crucially, however, none of these improvements were achieved by those companies using MVT tools in a vacuum. Rather, their actions were taken methodically, as part of a strategic roadmap of improvements designed in partnership with external MVT experts.
While there is now a plethora of MVT tools on the market, randomly applying the technology to the company’s web pages is not going to elicit the desired results. Identifying low-hanging fruit may be fairly straightforward, but the impact of any initial changes will soon be lost if there is not an ongoing commitment to iterative website development.
Significantly, companies harnessing MVT tools as part of an overall managed service reported an average 24-27% uplift in conversion rates over the last year. In contrast, enterprises that tried to do it themselves experienced an uplift of between 1.9% and 5% - a marked difference.
Iterative website enhancement
This highlights the importance of implementing MVT and perpetual, iterative web site enhancement with a clear strategy, and under the close guidance of experts who know what they’re looking for. While an initial overhaul based on the most dramatic changes can make a big difference that impact will quickly fade unless the findings from one phase of testing are fed into the next phase.
While MVT is now broadly acknowledged to be a critical, central requirement in any serious online enterprise, it must be accepted too that this remains a young market, where specialist skills and experience are essential to drive maximum results.
Multivariate testing is not something that can be done once, or even once a year, and then left alone as the higher revenues come in. It is a discipline and a service that must be built into companies’ ongoing marketing programmes.
In the web world, things move at a lightning pace, and hungry competitors are always looking for their next advantage. Blink, and the golden moment may have passed.
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