According to a study by eMarketer, conversion optimization is a top priority for many businesses. Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of businesses naming conversions as their number one priority rose from 34 to 39%. I anticipate that we’ll continue to see similar growth in the year ahead. Yet conversion optimization is quickly becoming a more sophisticated discipline. Better technologies and testing methodologies are evolving every day, which allow us to gather more data on any subject than we could ever use. 2014 will be the year where conversion optimization becomes imbedded in the DNA of companies, where it connects meaningfully with trends in the content marketing and mobile spaces, and when companies get ahead through structured testing and lean analysis. Here’s a closer look at what trends I expect to see in conversion optimization in 2014.

Conversion Optimization

Image source: Emarketer

Content Driven Brand Redesigns Will Employ More Multivariate A/B and Other Testing Strategies

2013 was arguably the year of content marketing. But publishing content that doesn’t convert isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. As the initial infatuation with content marketing fades, marketers are left demanding more out of their content marketing programs. Many brands are moving toward site redesigns and even rebranding efforts that take advantage of inbound marketing’s key strengths.

But website redesigns aren’t just an opportunity to develop great visuals and a beautiful website. It’s also a time to look closely at flow, user experience, and conversions. Brands are demanding more from their agency partners. Multiple concepts are being developed and tested before one is chosen, and selected designs are then tested extensively to maximize conversions through A/B testing and other approaches. This is true at a macro-level, as well as refining the designs of secondary pages.

Heat Testing

Image source: KIssMetrics

If you’re undertaking a brand redesign and need some baseline tools to help you get started, here are a few to consider:

A/B Testing Tools

Concept Testing Tools

Attention, Click and Heatmap Testing Tools

“Always Be Testing” Evolves to “Always Do Structured Testing”

“Always be testing” has become a cliché is the business world. It underscores an important point: don’t just trust your gut or your intuition when making critical business decisions. Use your instincts to formulate hypotheses and ideas. But always test these to make sure they resonate, and then test more to optimize for conversion. What often happens is isolated testing that’s not prioritized, well-structured, or systematically implemented. The results from scattered testing have a limited impact.

But this approach lacks the potential for the ongoing incremental improvements and continuous optimization that can dramatically impact a business’s bottom line. In 2014, we expect to hear more discussions about the importance of structured testing and analytics plans. Structured conversion optimization testing has numerous benefits:

  • It’s possible to capture efficiencies across an entire site, in a systematic manner.
  • You can retest specific pages or variables to increase your conversions on critical action points, creating a cycle of continuous optimization.
  • A structured plan makes it easy for your team to execute on your plan, even in the midst of other obligations.
  • Structured testing helps you discern which tools give you data that impacts your business.
  • Structured testing ensures you’re aligning your testing with priority business goals.

So what does a structured testing plan look like? Here’s a quick template that can help you get started.

  • What are your business goals? Pick concrete, quantifiable, and measurable options.
  • What individual conversion points link to those goals? For example, if you’re focused on increasing revenue, you would want to focus on sales conversions. If you’re looking to foster deeper relationships with your most valuable customers, you want to focus on micro-conversions that get them more deeply connected to your business and taking action as a result.
  • What does an audit of your current analytics landscape reveal? These could include a closer look at Google Analytics, PPC Performance, Customer Feedback, and Content Analytics.
  • From the previous step, identify data gaps that need to be filled and determine what tools can help you best access that information.
  • Also from the previous step, identify critical conversion rates that tie to your business goals and are lagging or could be improved.
  • Use these two areas of opportunities to design and implement tests that help you improve these key business levers.
  • Implement feedback loops that help your team implement the findings of your testing, and document avenues for future inquiry.

Guru Tips Aren’t Trusted…They’re Tested

You’ve heard them all before. An SEO expert recommends structuring your URLs to look a specific way. Another social media guru says that 2014 is the year of X social media network. While expert opinions are helpful and can dramatically reduce your learning curve in specific areas, it’s important to look at the evidence. For the year ahead, this is important at two levels. First, 2014 will be a year where audiences demand more quality evidence from content producers to back up their claims. With the onslaught of content that’s hitting the web, proof will be more important than ever to building expertise.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that even if a strategy is objectively “good,” it may not be good for your business. Entrepreneurs laser focused on conversion optimization are less likely than ever to take suggestions at face value. Instead, all data will be viewed through the lens of “Is this a good input into forming a hypothesis that’s relevant to my business?” From there, the Guru tips will be tested and implemented or disregarded based on what the data says.

Marketing Plans Include Conversion Optimization Goals As a Priority and a Metric

As 2014 gets underway, many businesses are putting the final touches on their marketing plans for the year ahead or sitting down to draft them. One trend that I expect to see in the year ahead is a higher occurrence of businesses including conversion optimization goals in their marketing plans. These goals will include not just baseline conversion rates that they hope to reach, but incremental improvements for specific key performance indicators. More plans will articulate specific objectives such as:

  • Improve our newsletter subscriber purchase rates from 2 to 3 percent;
  • Convert traffic from X critical source’s buying rates at 1% higher than last year;
  • Increase our social sharing percentages from 5% to 7%;

By including conversion optimization metrics as part of your overall plan, you’ve created the right incentives for your team to stay on target. You’ve created accountability, and built in an assessment mechanism. By being specific, it’s possible to quantify the impact that conversion testing will have on your bottom line.

For example, you might be able to say “improving our email sales rate just one percent in the next year means an additional $25,000 in revenues, for an estimated investment of $2000 in testing.” This approach is persuasive in budget and human resource discussions, and it provides concrete motivations for moving forward with conversion optimization testing.

Mobile Optimization Priorities Dovetail with Overall Conversion Optimization Goals

Google's Hummingbird Update

Image Source: NYT Bit

The release of Google’s Hummingbird update has put mobile optimization front and center. In case you missed it, Hummingbird has added a mobile component to the search engine’s algorithm. As a result, businesses are getting serious about mobile. The timing is right, with the Pew Internet Center suggesting that more than half of Americans use smartphones and more than a third use tablets.

How does your site render on different devices? Is your content optimized for the mobile experience? Particularly for businesses that have shied away from or under invested in a mobile presence, many will take the challenge hand-in-hand with rolling out an overall conversion optimization program. Mobile strategies with a strong conversion optimization component will position businesses for success that goes well beyond 2014.

Conversion Optimization Focuses Bilateral: Usability and Content

Most discussions of conversion optimization prior to 12 months ago were usability driven. But with the rise of content marketing, conversion optimization has taken on a bilateral focus. A good conversion optimization program in 2014 will focus on both usability and content. It’s no longer enough to ask which layout works better, which color call to action button gets more clicks, or which color scheme induces visitors to spend.

It’s also important to ask the right questions, design and implement the right tests, and integrate your analysis into your content marketing strategy. Some hot areas in 2014 for content optimization are likely to include:

  • What content type improves conversions by device type – mobile vs. computer?
  • How does visual content (e.g. video, images, micro-video, infographics) impact my business and conversion rates?
  • Are my headlines as effective as they could be?
  • Which conversion points in my content cycle are driving sales?
  • Can micro-conversions in my lead nurturing process by eliminated to streamline or speed up the sales process, without losing brand equity or goodwill?

Balancing Conversion Optimization Experimentation with the Need for Smart Data

We’re at an inflection point in the conversion optimization space. Experts, business owners, and thought leaders in digital marketing know how critical conversion optimization is. It’s entering the broader online marketing and entrepreneurship discussion at a faster rate than ever. Practically speaking, conversion optimization is one of the best ways for plateaued businesses to grow.

Technologically, we’re in a better position to deliver data on any point that’s relevant to your business. But we’re also entering a time of data overload. So while it’s reasonable to experiment with expanding your data capture and analysis capabilities, it’s important to focus on a need for smarter data. A lean data approach is laser focused on your business goals, develops a structured testing plan, identifies your critical conversion points, and then executes on that data. Analysis is equally ruthless, cutting away all the fluff until you’re left with real insights and an actionable plan. Companies are going to struggle to balance conversion optimization experiments with truly valuable smart data in 2014. It’s a daunting task, but the companies that succeed will come out ahead.

What big conversion optimization trends do you anticipate in 2014? Let me know in the comments below.