Vaishali Jain published a post on the VWO blog titled 15 Conversion Rate Experts Share Why to Step Up from A/B Testing to Conversion Optimization. An impressive list of experts; from founders and C-level executives to specialists in various subfields of online marketing. Always a pleasure to hear the 2 cents of top professionals, although in this case I felt it somewhat missed the mark.

Before she gets to the experts, here is how Jain lays out the CRO process:

Conversion optimization is a process that needs to be repeated, but A/B testing is a technique. A formalized conversion optimization process can advance somewhat like this:

  1. Tracking metrics and identifying what parts of the conversion funnel need fixing
  2. Analyzing why visitors are doing what they are doing
  3. Creating and Planning your hypotheses for optimization
  4. Testing the hypotheses against the existing version of the website
  5. Learning from the tests and applying the learning to the subsequent tests

(red is mine)

The entire process, as it is laid above, relies on the testing. No way around it. You track and analyze in order to hypothesize something to test, go over the results and test again. Even though it doesn’t say so, I assume that steps 4 and 5 relate to A/B testing; testing against something is the literal definition of A/B testing.

What’s missing though, is that A/B testing shouldn’t be the main building block of on-site CRO. Here’s why.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

You get your message up on your site and as most of us, you get a 5% conversion rate, more or less. You want more, and rightfully so – how the hell did we become content with a 5% conversion rate? – so you start working on consolidating your message – you focus it.

Focusing it on what? On a certain persona. Think about it: the main thing we have going for us regarding those anonymous website visitors, those potential audiences out there roaming the online, is their personas. We know who we target in our marketing efforts, we know who is supposed to buy our product, because we sold to folks just like them before.

Every marketing department creates more than one persona to target, be it the various decision makers in a company, different companies from different industries and so on. The first take of a website’s message tries to aim to as many buying personas as possible. When we start to optimize, using A/B testing, we are basically tweaking it to ring even truer with our most responsive persona.

It makes sense, intuitively. I scored the highest with this specific persona so I’m going to squeeze this lemon for every drop of conversion that I can.

Here is the before and after of optimization process:

Yes, you do manage to get more conversions from your main-target persona, but while you’re at it, you are losing ground with other personas. Because when you optimize in order to address more specific needs of a more specific group, other groups find you less relevant, or appealing.

Proactive Content Approach for Websites

I want to suggest a paradigm shift when it comes to how we think about our website visitors. Instead of trying to optimize the way we try to make them convert, how about devoting ourselves to two things:

  1. Figuring out what they want; not in life, but specifically the want that brought them to your website (food for thought: search, ads, referrals)
  2. Giving it to them

Obviously, this isn’t a single lane road. Different wants brought different visitors to your website. So you need to understand what each one wants, and then find a way to make it accessible to them. Even more than that, you need to light the road for them and if Muhammad doesn’t find the mountain, so yes, most def, recommend the mountain to Muhammad (just to be 100% clear: Muhammad = website visitor / Mountin = sought after content.)

I’m liking this allegory, so let’s continue with it.

No two Muhammads are alike, and there are many mountains in the valley of the website. But, and here’s where it gets magical, every Muhammad has a mountain that will make him want to climb it (climbing a mountain = converting.)

The original tale of Francis Bacon was that Muhammad doesn’t make a big deal of the fact that the mountain is disobeying him (Muhammad called the mountain to come to him) and says whatever, I will go to the mountain (it was actually a hill, but that’s really not important.) If we switch characters to website visitors, and content, it fits perfectly to the prevailing situation online:

Website visitors find it hard to reach the most relevant content for them, so the best solution is to serve them that content.

That’s as nifty as I can get it to.

That’s how, I think, a website should operate – adopt a proactive content approach. Not wait, hope, expect or wish for visitors to find the content that is right for them, but recommend each and every visitor the most relevant content, according to available data: what search term they arrived on, content they have consumed already on the site and past crowd behavior.

Well, this is how we do it at least. If you’ve got a better way, we’d love to hear it.

There’s More to Conversion Than Just Your Website

Here is another point I believe was missed in the VWO blog post: on your website, you need to be able to address as many pain points as you can, and the way to do that isn’t focusing all your optimization power on conversion. Because if you’re optimizing just for conversion, if you are looking only at your CPL, let me save you some time:

Food for thought: what’s your sales team gonna do with all these “leads”.

You can’t look holistically at conversion optimization, you need to look at conversion optimization as one step in a long road. More importantly, you need to look down the funnel as a way to optimize your on-site conversion process. Your leads are only as good as the percentage of them that turn into MQLs, that make it to opportunities, that bring it home to closed-won.

Down the funnel from where you’re looking, there are loads of human and technical interactions waiting to happen. That’s where you should focus your optimization energy. It is backed by simple logic: the vast majority (and I’m being very gentle here) of leads will evaporate and won’t be won. These are people (I never get tired of saying it – leads are people too!) that showed an interest in your company, that spent time on your site and didn’t bounce and finally left their contact details, knowing full hand you will contact them.

It’s a fragile point to make, but I’ll make it anyway:

You don’t want to treat your website as a lead gen machine, but you do need to optimize on-site conversion as a stepping stone to the rest of the funnel, not as a stand-alone goal.

There is a slight dissonance here, and that’s exactly the reason why websites are a long way from being perfect in any way. At least we have a goal.