2014: The Year of Website Optimization

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
It's going to be a big year for harnessing the power of data to drive action. Here's what we can expect in 2014.

You heard it here first: Website optimization will define marketing in 2014.

During the 2008 Obama campaign where I served as the Director of Analytics, we experimented with changes to elements of the campaign splash page, and as a result, we were able to help raise an additional $57 million in campaign donations. Emerging technologies are making these experiments available to businesses of all sizes with little to no technical resources.

The guiding principles that made the presidential campaign website successful are no different from approaches online businesses are adopting. With retailers delivering personalized experiences to customers, and publishers optimizing their paywalls to maximize revenue, it's going to be a big year for harnessing the power of data to drive action.

Here's what we can expect in 2014:

Business will unlock growth opportunities through website testing.

Thousands of companies will adopt real-time testing to identify what's not working well, and in turn, validate that a new design or element will increase conversion. Marketers to designers to engineers will be running experiments to better cater to the wants and needs of their customers and deliver targeted Web experiences based on customer insights such as browsing history, geography, or particular interests. The low market penetration of A/B testing-currently, just 5 percent-means that there is still plenty of room for expansion.

Retailers will be the biggest group adopting Web optimization next year, as they will use it to boost sales and consumer engagement well beyond the holidays.

Research from Optimizely has found retailers engaging in testing see an average 13 percent increase in customer engagement and a significant 21 percent increase in revenue - important figures for businesses that are serious about ensuring results do not plummet once the holiday's end.

Online businesses will look and feel more like Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook.

Businesses don't actually need a team as large as Amazon or Facebook to be able to connect with their customers using data. Crafting a strong targeting and segmentation strategy (different web pages for different geographies, or previous visitors etc.) is possible through simple yet powerful optimization. Knowing customers is the key.

A recent customer survey by Optimizely found about half of respondents said they have already divided their website visitors into meaningful audiences or segments. Of the half who hasn't yet done this, 95 percent are "Very" or "Somewhat Interested" in doing so.

Companies will adopt an aggressive mobile strategy or fear getting left behind.

The rate of smartphone users across the globe is growing rapidly. Each form factor, smartphone, tablets or desktops, presents different challenges and needs to be optimized in different ways. In 2013, Optimizely saw mobile traffic to its own site double. In the coming year, companies will be unable to decide which devices their visitors are coming from. Hence, it is their responsibility to deliver seamless and unified user experiences to their audiences across different devices, or risk losing them.

Jobs in optimization will be "a thing." No matter what size your company is, you'll need at least one person to manage your optimization efforts. Whether they're called Chief Testing Officer or testing program managers, the people in this role will coordinate with marketing, customer experience, and product development teams to prioritize test order, coordinate resources, understand how to interpret test results and ensure those with buy-in have regular and timely updates on test results.

Testing experts are already working at both startups and well-established companies. Their appearance reflects the fact companies are now wrestling with new needs, driven by testing and data, which will demand the right human resources to handle it.

Marketers emerge with "superpowers." Previously, the A/B tests required to optimize a website could take weeks of planning, building, and implementing. This drain on resources limited the number of tests marketers could run. Today, however, technologies are enabling marketers with consumer-like platforms, further breaking down barriers to adoption. They're easy to use and don't have the hefty price tags of the legacy technologies that preceded them. What's more, they make it possible to take the guesswork out of your customers and what they want