Mar 31 2016
investing in optimization

How to Invest in Optimization

Developing an optimization strategy requires more work than making room in the budget for an optimization tool. Still, you rarely hear tales of remorse from those that have gone down the path of optimization. Your goals and your traffic will determine how extensive your program should be. With that information, you’ll be able to decide whether you’ll be bringing on new team members, hiring an agency, or attempting to test all by your lonesome. Of course, deciding how many team members or what kind of agency will not be an easy decision.

For a point of reference, Optimizely’s benchmark survey found that 29% of surveyed participants hire multiple full-time or part-time employees dedicated to optimization. In the same survey, 23% of respondents said they would have to hire at least one full-time employee for optimization.

The Cost of Good People

But how much does an optimization employee cost? In most cities, the average annual salary of an experienced optimization employee is $95,000. To compete with the type of program you would find at a typical agency, you would need a team of at least six people. Multiply that by the average annual salary, and you’re spending $570,000, plus the annual five-figure cost of a testing tool. That’s one reason why many mid- to large-sized companies hire an agency, and why many more don’t invest in optimization at all. Instead, they spend their budgets on advertising to drive traffic, but they retain the same conversion rates. The big question is, who is right?

Budgeting for Optimization vs. Advertising

Advertising budgets increase every year. In the U.S., ad spend will reach more than $200 billion in 2016. However, a Monetate study predicted that U.S.eCommerce sites will see an average conversion rate between a meager 2.9% and 3.69% and add-to-cart rate ranges between 9.49% and 10.97%. So while ad budgets increase, organizations experience more lost opportunity than ever as the majority of site traffic does not convert. By investing in optimization, you can improve upon these industry averages.

For the vast majority of organizations, optimization works. An Optimizely survey showed 52% of respondents will increase their optimization budget this year, 43% will retain the same budget, and only 4% will decrease their budget.

Forget Low-Hanging Fruit

Marketers live and breathe change. Each year, new platforms are released, Google adjusts its algorithm, and old platforms are phased out. However, even though change is constant for marketers, one thing will always remain the same: the need for testing and analyzing data.

A/B testing has a reputation as an easy way to drive revenue. That’s true, but ultimately your customers want a personalized experience. While short-term wins abound from optimization testing, a long-term strategy adjusts in parallel to the needs of your customers. For more on this subject, I spoke with Blue Acorn’s Director of Ecommerce Optimization, Jay Atkinson.

“Newcomers to optimization often think of testing as a way to find low-hanging fruit for quick revenue. It’s not a sound optimization strategy. Quick wins and low hanging fruit fix what’s broken, but don’t optimize the experience. By comparison, doctors might treat your symptoms, but they don’t ignore the disease,” said Atkinson.

Getting the Most Out of Your Investment

As with any project, typically one team takes ownership of strategy and execution. According to Optimizely’s benchmark study, in most cases marketing (32%) owns the optimization project, followed by the eCommerce team (14%), and then either the UI or product team (12%). However, even if a single team owns the overall project, it’s a company-wide effort. Just like a website redesign requires input from everyone on the team, the same goes for optimization.

The reason your entire company invests in optimization and gets involved is that every change can be tested and tracked. One day you might be optimizing the conversion of a new product, the next you might test to see if the addition of a social media widget creates a distraction to users and customers. “If you are testing colors and fonts, you can do that with plenty of other tools. However, if you want to go beyond testing colors and shapes, and instead test the entire experience, you need good people, a good strategy, and the right platform for your business,” said Atkinson.

Be The Change Maker

In order to get your entire organization to invest in optimization, someone needs to lead the charge. Beyond your typical stakeholders, optimization only becomes a priority and an effective resource when you achieve buy-in. The cost per dedicated optimization team member can add up quickly, and the relevant platforms can be costly for sites with a higher volume of traffic. By creating a change management plan and getting your team invested in optimization, the budget will follow.

If that sounds daunting, we understand. Getting your whole team on your side is difficult, but anything worth doing is. Of course, we wouldn’t be a very good resource if we left you hanging. So look for a future blog post from us on getting organizational buy-in. Or, if you can’t wait, feel free to contact us. We’d love to supply you with the ammunition you need to start optimizing today.

Matthew Rickerby

Head of Marketing

Matt began his career in ecommerce at Blue Acorn over five years ago. His areas of expertise include persona development, account-based marketing, and content marketing. He has co-written speaking sessions for Bronto Summit, DIG South, GIANT, and Revolve, and received multiple awards for videography, blogging, and copywriting.

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