I met Paul Rouke at a Conversion Conference a couple years ago and I wanted to find out more information about conversion optimisation and how he is preparing for Conversion World, the virtual conference taking place next month.
How did you get into Conversion Optimisation?
Leaving school with a passion for design and computers, clearly the natural path to take was to join an engineering apprenticeship with British Aerospace! As it turned out, two years in to my four-year apprenticeship I made one of my early life lessons – if you don’t feel like you are in a role that is allowing you to do what you are really passionate about, make a change.
So I went from wiring missile control panels to a design role (desktop publishing in fact), which soon after led me to join Shop Direct Group (who at the time were Great Universal Stores). As I was working within their catalogue design department, an opportunity came up to become their first web designer and I jumped at the opportunity. This was back in 1999, and it was then that I took part in my first ever user research session. This role and introduction to interacting with users to understand their behaviour set me up for life (well, the rest of my career to date)!
In 2004, I began moonlighting under my company name PRWD, providing UX design and development for a range of businesses looking to invest in a customer focused online experience. User research was a core passion and a core focus for the business then, and it has remained the same throughout our first 11 years. On saying this, up until 2009 we were missing one thing – the quantifiable evidence that the improvements we were recommending were actually changing user behaviour and delivering a higher percentage of outcomes for our clients.
With this in mind, in 2009 we started our first conversion optimisation programme. Since then, we have focused the business on delivering transformative conversion optimisation programmes for a wide range of mid to enterprise size brands such as The North Face, The Student Room, Skyscanner, Bensons, Sliderobes, Lovehoney, King & McGaw and Harveys.
You will be presenting at Conversion World, the biggest growth barriers still holding companies back in optimisation. Can you share some of these before the event?
I need to be careful here so as not to give too much away before my talk!
Through our front line experience working with a wide range of brands (and with some of our growing team having worked within the optimisation teams of brands like Shop Direct and AO.com), we see and experience the same barriers all the time.
A common barrier that we encounter is the complete lack of true understanding and appreciation of what optimisation is and what it can mean to the growth of the business. So often this lack of understanding is driven from the very top of the business and without a true understanding of optimisation from the decision makers within the business, that business is going to be severely held back. It saddens me to say this, but even now, in 2016, optimisation and A/B testing is still seen by many people as button colour testing and other small, trivial types of testing.
When businesses start to embrace the full spectrum of testing, from iterative to innovative to strategic, only then will they be able to set themselves free and utilise optimisation to grow their business.
If you want to learn about other barriers to conversion optimisation helping grow businesses, tune into my talk, because that’s all you’re getting for now!
I have seen you present before and you clearly show how changing just one thing on your site, helps conversion rates immediately. Why don’t people implement these changes sooner?
This statement isn’t particularly true as changing one thing on site without any research informing a decision can do more harm than good. What I champion is how one thoroughly researched, hypothesis-led, well-designed test that has been through a proven optimisation methodology can help conversion rates.
Many people may have tried to implement changes already but been stung badly. Such cases often start with a team-member reading a blog post on changing button colour (we’ve all read them). This leads them to believe they can apply the same change and get the same result, only for the whole experiment (as it is often treated with the caveat, if this works, we’ll give it a go) to end with results ranging from, ‘nothing happened’ to ‘it was a disaster’.
Also, I don’t want to just promote the idea that conversion optimisation is about solely improving conversion rates. Changing one thing on a website is just the first step to creating a harmonious and intricately linked optimisation programme linking all arms of a business. Perhaps the real reason businesses aren’t laying the foundation for optimisation is because it may be just too daunting a prospect for many businesses, especially if it means transforming current internal structures and processes.
Do you think it is more that they are scared of how much they could have saved if they had implemented these changes before?
I wish that was the case because it would make my job and plenty of others in our industry easier! Unfortunately, the lack of uptake on investing in an intelligent, customer insight driven optimisation programme is less to do with wounded pride and more to do with issues raised in the previous points: misunderstanding of what conversion optimisation is, poor practice, lack of belief in its potential due to poor practice, the list goes on! There seems to be more people out there coming up with excuses and reasons not to believe in optimisation than there are who do. But that’s part of the challenge our industry faces, changing perceptions. And I do like a challenge!
What about for the smaller websites, do you have examples of how much it cost to make the changes to their site and how much traffic or sales they generated from this?
For smaller websites, costs for tools to conduct testing are no longer a barrier. In addition, techniques for gaining valuable insights on where there are opportunities to improve your website don’t need to cost anything – watching people use or try and use your website is both enlightening and invaluable. You can even try drunk user testing!
When it comes to costs, I would say this to owners of small websites. How much money have you spent designing and building your current website? Add on top how much you have spent to date getting visitors to your website. It is time that business decision makers realise that Data Driven Website Redesign (DDR) along with Continuous Business Growth (CBG) through intelligent, customer driven optimisation are the two acronyms that should start becoming part of your DNA.
In summary conversion optimisation shouldn’t be seen as cost – it should be seen as an investment to grow your business and increase the return on investment on what you are continually spending to drive traffic to your website.
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