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Improving the ‘Stickiness’ of Your Website

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For a long time, the only solution to make websites appealing and "sticky" was to rely on gurus (web designers who were just supposed to know the "right" answers). But what if the guru made a mistake or did not take into account all the variables and created less-than-optimal pages? Alex Gofman explores ways to involve consumers in the co-creation process in the form of multivariate landing page optimization as a possible solution for the problem of the ever-increasing bounce rate on many websites.

It is hard to believe that one person alone could introduce so many revolutionary ideas: department stores, restaurants inside them, price tags, money-back guarantees, newspaper ads, white sales, commemorative postal stamps, etc., etc., etc.

All the above were invented by a man named John Wanamaker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He reportedly coined the phrase "The customer is always right". And this amazing list can go on...

This merchandising and advertising genius is reputed to have complained that "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half" (Zulker, 1993).

Visitors Make Snap Decisions

The world has changed since then, but the question remains. Virtual stores are replacing the brick-and-mortar ones. However, there is nothing virtual about inept advertising. Moreover, the problem is even more exacerbated if the advertisement actually works and brings the visitors to the site but for whatever reasons they leave without a purchase driving ROI down more and more.

A department store manager would be greatly alarmed if a big portion of prospective buyers walked in the store and in the first few seconds of their visit walked out of the door. This is exactly what happens to many websites—the visitors just "bounce back" from the landing page. "Bounce rate" of many sites is well above 50%.

Why does this happen? Did the visitor get there by a mistake? Or did he assume it was a mistake because he did not like the landing page or could not find the critical information fast?

Even worse, a visitor stayed on the site for some time, chose what she liked, but did not complete the purchase. According to MarketingSherpa data, the average ecommerce shopping cart has about 60% abandonment rate (Can you imagine three of every five department store carts left abandoned in the isles?). Is it because the visitors could not find some important information about shipping, taxes, return policy, etc.? Or is it because the site requires too much personal information?

Businesses understand the importance of making their websites appealing and "sticky." For a long time, the only solution was to rely on gurus: web designers who were just supposed to know the "right" answers.

What if the guru made a mistake or did not take into account all the variables? Indeed, people’s perception changes, the target visitors have their own unique preferences, etc. Potential loss of not optimizing the landing pages may be staggering.

As for the payment pages, many website designers do not consider that part of their sites important at all, from the appearance point of view. However, simple changes to those pages could bring a substantial improvement to revenue per visitor with some reporting boosting conversion rates as much as 300%.

A recent study by researchers in Canada showed that snap decisions that Internet users make about the quality of a web page have a lasting impact on their opinions. They also reported that impressions were made in the first 50 milliseconds of viewing.

The implication of these findings is that it is mostly the main features and the general appearance of the landing page that make a difference, not necessarily the actual content.

However, should we solely rely on artistic taste of web designers as the only solution? No one can replace a good designer. Luckily, there are some new ways to help them to achieve much better results faster.

In the last few years, an approach called Landing Page Optimization (LPO) became widely popular. The idea behind it is to create several prototypes and test them with consumers. In the simplest case of an A/B Split Test approach, there might be only two variations of a page.

On the other hand, the most advanced form of LPO, called Multivariate Landing Page Optimization (MVLPO), involves thousands and thousands of prototypes. Although MVLPO was developed in the late 1990s, it did not get the deserved attention until very recently, especially with the introduction of Google Website Optimizer.

A typical MVLPO creates multiple experimentally designed variations of a web page and evaluates the difference in the reaction or behavior of the consumers who visit these pages.

In one variation, a special Java script serves different executions of the page to the actual website visitors and traces their online behavior (e.g., Google Website Optimizer).

After accumulating sufficient data, the software finds the optimum combination of the elements of the page through a regression analysis. The method is quite reliable because it uses actual website visitors and monitors what they do, their conversion rate variations, and whether they stay or leave.

The problem with this approach is that it modifies the actual website, which could be considered risky by many operators. In addition, it assumes that some of the visitors will not like their page’s execution and then abandon the site. This may not be acceptable for businesses with low-traffic, high-stake websites and others.

An alternative solution uses experimentally designed web pages in a simulated environment typical for online market research activities. It is based on Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE) – a new paradigm developed in cooperation with Prof. J. Wind (Wharton Business School) and introduced in the book Selling Blue Elephants (Moskowitz, 2007).

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