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June 17, 2008

Waking up to Optimization

I attend the High Tech Communicators' Exchange. It's the brainchild of Catherine Ducharme, a local marketing/communications professional. Her company's name is Outsidein Communications.

Last night, the final night before summer break, we heard from three different presenters with three case studies. The presentations were all excellent but my favorite was by a woman named Raquel Hirsch. Her company is called Wider Funnel Marketing. Personally, just my opinion, I think there's a more creative name and they might want to hire Catherine to improve their brand but the service they deliver looks fantastic.

Her talk was on Conversion Optimization. Those two words - Conversation Optimization - translate into a bunch of questions. Why do you have a website? Is it to get people to contact you to use your services? Do you want to sell them something? Can you prove, statistically with the help of software, that your users are actually following through or not? Do you want them to download something? Are they doing it? Do you even know? Wider Funnel Marketing, like the name suggests, means you are getting more of what you want from your users, faster. That will translate into more business, more products sold, more work, more money, a stronger brand.

I loved it when she said, "I feel uncomfortable when people ask me, 'So, what do you think of the way our website looks?'" I want to say "Who Cares? It doesn't matter what I think of how it looks. It doesn't matter what you think of how it looks. Is it doing what you built it to do? Did you build it to do anything? Do you even know what you want those who land on a page to do? What's the action you're asking of them? Are they doing it?"

It made me realize, (for about the one-thousandth time) that too many companies still think of a homepage like the front door of a house. But, we all know that on the web there is no front door. People are coming in the windows, up through the floor boards, through the mail slot and down the chimney. They're arriving from other sites, from Facebook and LinkedIn and MySpace. They're coming from Google search and from Blogger and Flickr, because they attended an event and heard about a company. They're arriving from a million other places for a billion other reasons landing on any one of the pages, not necessarily the homepage, on your site randomly (or not so randomly) depending on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) prowess.

Let me give an example that brings a smile to my face. A while ago I wrote something on my blog about getting a bad haircut that reminded me of Pat Benetar's haircut from the 80s. I use Google Analytics on my Blog. I can therefore see who's visiting my Blog and in some instances how they got there. You would not believe how many people are googling "Pat Benetar's Haircut" and arriving at my blog. They end up on my site by mistake just because I wrote a blog entry about getting a haircut that looked like Pat Benetar's haircut. Who knew that many people in the world still even thought of Pat Benetar?

Hirsch said accurately and painfully, look around the boardroom and here's what typically happens. It's either the guy who makes the most money in the company or the cool guy (the creative director) who decides what the website looks like. But, very few of either one of those people are actually using, or are aware of, software such as Google Optimizer (or a more powerful version of that software) to create hypotheses, then design alternative landing pages that test those hypotheses. Then, based on the statistics that those different landing pages generate, you will change the interface of the site to lead to an increase in people doing what you intended them to do - call you, buy your product, download your information or whatever you decide. And, you will do that even if you personally, aesthetically, don't like what your interface looks like as much as you did prior to finding all this out.

We all know from experience, (because most of us who work in Communications are not even up-to-date on the technological tools that exist out there and how to use them to a business advantage) that the weakest link in Communications has always been measurement.

The best examples I can think of are communication's consulting firms, usually small, that have these incredibly cool websites that use Flash and they've come up with some clever visuals that lead you through some analogy with metaphors. You're having to click on a candy cane or a beer glass that's emptying and sometimes you can't even figure out which graphic to click on to just get to a page with the kind of information you were seeking. And, all you really wanted to know was, where the heck are they located in the physical realm here on planet earth?

I consider myself a creative person and I'm initially attracted by those types of sites but if I can't figure them out, I get pissed off, and I don't even get to the end of the analogy before I just say screw it and I'm gone. I'm not unique. They've forgotten that I'm giving them less than a couple of seconds to fulfill my needs. And you thought sex was demanding!

Tommorrow I'll talk about branding and share some of the things that Catherine's business partner Sharon Habib spoke about in her exercise of branding the North Shore Credit Union.

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