Guest comment: Beware of optimisation ‘best practice’


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May 15, 2008

Are you becoming overwhelmed with best practices and wondering which ones are actually best? Greg Kelton is Managing Director, Optimost EMEA, lists some key standards to aspire to when creating a website.

To design the best site experience for your customers, you may not need best practices. Good (and even not so good) practices tested on your customer base may be the “better” way to reveal the best practices for your online business.

The only way to find out is to start testing – your customers will soon tell you what is working and what isn’t. It’s useful to have an idea of where to test though, so here are some of the best areas we’ve found based on recent client work.

Heavy Mouse

No this isn’t a mouse who’s had too much cheese but rather a complaint of website owners who aren’t enjoying high levels of click through – their visitors therefore suffering from heavy mouse syndrome. To lighten the mouse and increase click through test variations of copy that provide an incentive for the visitor to visit another page, e.g., sell them the idea of what is on it.


Test removing elements on the screen to avoid overcrowding. Often too many ideas from HIPPO’s, (Highly Important Persons’ Personal Opinion), i.e., everyone in the company has a view of what must go in to the company website, can cause the screen to become overbearing for the visitor. Test a more simplistic view of your offerings while ensuring that all the relevant KPI’s are maximised.

Mind Candy

Be sure to consider what frame of mind your customer is in at the moment – hour of day, day of week. Delivering an experience that matches to the goals of the customer can derive significant results. For example, during the weekday, a stay at home parent may only have a few minutes to get online to accomplish tasks. On the other hand, a weekend visitor may have time to spare and is more likely to respond to additional content or cross sell opportunities.

Got Space?

Just because your template includes several areas does not mean you have to fill the open space. Test completely different layouts to meet the specific goals of the page in question. Don’t allow your technology boundaries to dictate how you interact with your customers.

Guru vs. Newbie

Do your existing customers react differently to different promotions on your site? Do they expect a different type of interaction with your site than brand new customers? Test more advanced features on your long term customers that can help them derive a more efficient and rich experience. Test easier, less busy presentations for your brand new customers to ease them through the sales funnel.

Just Do It

Is there a change or addition to your site that will obviously provide an uplift in conversion? Don’t be so sure until you test. Often, the most obvious changes to you may not align with customer needs. Delta found that adding credit card logos to the billing page, in fact, had a significant negative effect on conversion.

An oldie but a goodie

How much change does your site really need? Before revolutionising your site to meet the needs of the new generation of visitors, consider the value of your “classic” version to existing customers. Often we are lured into the excitement of overhauling our site with whiz bang features to keep up with competitors and the anticipated expectations of the new generation of web users. Before leaping, test to see how your users will react. When Yahoo launched the new version of their email client to keep pace with Google, it smartly kept the classic view to ensure the retention of a large existing customer base. Similarly, Microsoft provides classic views of several operating system elements as well.

All your eggs in one basket

Do you have a clear view of the impact of site changes to all KPI’s and not just one or two? When making changes to your site to improve conversion are those changes negatively impacting average order value? When simplifying your site to drive the first sale are you decreasing retention due to limited content? When changing your site, be sure to measure the impact of those changes on as many KPI’s as possible to mitigate the risk of losing a bigger opportunity for the sake of another gain.

Having conducted some or all of these tests, you’ll have a better understanding of what your customer considers to be good or best practice and in the end that is all that matters. What works for you may not work for another company so the best advice I can give is to ignore handed down best practice advice and discover your own truths.

Greg Kelton is Managing Director, Optimost EMEA (An Interwoven Company)