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Carrie Hill

Increase Web Site Conversions with the Scientific Method

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My daughter is going into sixth grade, and she's pretty excited about taking more advanced math and science classes, which she gets from her dad. I need a calculator to figure out a 20-percent tip. The other day she asked me if they taught the scientific method when I was in school. Of course they did -- but I realized I had no idea recollection of exactly what that method was -- so I looked it up.

I was amazed, surprised, and a little inspired. It's so simple in description, but has unlimited potential. According to Discovery Education, "The scientific method is the 'tool' that scientists use to find the answers to questions. It is the process of thinking through the possible solutions to a problem and testing each possibility to find the best solution."

I'm working on establishing a conversion optimization program for our clients. We have a need for something structured and tangible that we can implement and show our successes in measured steps. In theory, the research and development of this plan sounded fairly straightforward when I tackled it; in practice, I'm struggling a bit.

Showing results from the beginning of the implementation of the program seems to be a key factor to obtaining buy-in. This 10-minute conversation with my 11-year-old cleared the fog from my brain and gave me a new way to approach my research.

Small business owners all the way up to Fortune 500 companies can benefit from applying the scientific method to their Web site conversions. If you can't afford to hire out, it's important to understand how you can do things yourself. Breaking it down and making the process achievable in small chunks is a great way to get things done.

Basic steps to the scientific method:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Formulate a hypothesis.
  3. Test the hypothesis.
  4. Collect and analyze the data.
  5. Make conclusions.

To this I've added a sixth step: rinse and repeat.

1. Identify the Problem

Do you know where your sticking points are? Does your homepage or landing page have a huge bounce or abandonment rate? This is the problem you need to solve. You can't know about your Web site problems without analytics -- so implement some type of measurement on your Web site right away if you haven't already. Before you move to the testing, make sure you baseline the data you have, so you can compare before and after.

2. Formulate a Hypothesis

This is fancy scientist speak for "decide how the issue might be solved." If your homepage is bouncing visitors left and right, take an objective look at how things are laid out. Is the traffic you're receiving qualified? If not, your hypothesis should be, "change optimization and paid search targeting to be more focused on products and services we deliver."

3. Test the Hypothesis

Testing is so important. Making changes to a site can be tricky -- and measuring the cause and effect of everything you do is key. Always make changes and test within a controlled situation. This means change one thing at a time. Changing four things in one test makes it impossible to know exactly which one of those four changes did the trick.

Sometimes, something as simple as changing your paid search phrases from "broad" to "phrase" match is all it takes. Maybe some re-optimization of landing pages so they rank for a longer-tail, but more qualified keyword can improve poor traffic quality.

I'm really happy that Google's Website Optimizer is both free and pretty straightforward to use. With a little help from a good designer you trust, you can start testing different buttons, calls to action, and more.

4. Collect and Analyze the Data

Again, analytics is crucial to making your site convert. Look at your numbers before and after the test to see how you did. It's likely you won't dial it in perfectly with the first test. Look at what worked with your test, and what didn't.

5. Make Conclusions

Once you've analyzed the data, decide if you're happy with the outcome or if you need to test again. Maybe a red button would work better than blue. It's worth a try if you have the time and money to invest in the process. Your conclusion may be that your test didn't work, and you need to move back and formulate a new hypothesis.

Scientists develop and test many hypotheses before coming to a reasonable and desired outcome. Don't be afraid to try again if your outcome was less than desirable.

6. Rinse and Repeat

The scientific method can apply to any type of experiment, be it chemistry or Web site marketing. Increasing conversions is an ongoing process, until I reach a 100-percent conversion rate. That's a pretty lofty (and some would argue impossible) goal -- so setting a realistic incremental change is important.

That being said, theoretically you could test forever and never be "done." Set a goal for what you'd like to accomplish to help you know when you're "done." Then set the next goal.

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