It’s a cliché, but at least it’s a true one.

Conversion optimization is equal parts science and art.

So, what does that mean exactly? How can make sure you’ve got the right amount of science perfectly blended with the right amount of art?

It starts with art

Like any marketing endeavor, there is a fair amount of art involved in conversion optimization. You take all the available knowledge—like best practices, usability, your goals, your branding, etc—and merge that into something you expect will be compelling for your audience. You make judgement calls and educated guesses. You use your marketer’s intuition to formulate what feels like a sound strategy. You come up with big ideas. You take a step back from the pages you have created and think, ‘hmm, yes, this will work—this will convert the traffic into leads and sales”. You run your test ideas by your colleagues and they say, “Yes! Let’s test that—what an awesome idea.”

It all comes together into a plan because we are marketers, and that is what we do, right?

Let’s get scientifical

But the other side of that is the analytical view. You document your test plan—outlining in advance what you will test, why, what the anticipated outcome will be, the learning, the level of statistical confidence you will test to, etc. You analyze the results and crunch numbers. What visitor behaviors are driving conversion? What are visitors clicking on? What’s the conversion rate? The cost per conversion? The average revenue per transaction? Which traffic sources are delivering the most conversions? Does media need to be adjusted? What is the bounce rate of the various traffic sources? Why? Which segments are most likely to convert? What are the trends over time and what do they mean?

You ask the hard questions and put the data under a microscope to uncover conversion opportunities.

What happens if you are all art, and forget to add a dash of science?

  • It’s easy to forget what you tested, when, why and what the results were.
  • You end up repeating the same testing mistakes over and over again.
  • You miss the clues that lead to a boost in conversion.
  • One test doesn’t inform the next, so it’s like throwing spaghetti in the wall to see what sticks.
  • You jump to conclusions and don’t back it up with hard data.

And what happens if you are all science and neglect the art?

  • You neglect to see the conversion forest through the data trees.
  • It’s easy to end up on the optimization hamster wheel, running in place, never lifting conversions much.
  • You might spend so much time analyzing that you are left with little time to plan & strategize.
  • Your so consumed with little bits and bytes of data you forget to try out the big ideas.
  • Your data drives some assumptions and conclusions that may or may not actually be true.

So, just like anything in life, a great conversion program has a dash of science and a dash of art. What do you think? Have you had times you’ve erred on the side of either? I’ve learned some hard lessons by forgetting the science, and also backed myself into some funny conversion corners by spending too much time with the data. At the end of the day, all I really care about is getting results. But I know that documenting, planning and analyzing helps provide the guiderails for a well-managed program. These days, it’s all about striking a good balance.