Talking Shop

As published in ERT Magazine (www.ertonline.co.uk) – October 2017 issue 

Alexa and her friends may be delighting users in the home with how they can make life easier, but some companies are taking the first bold steps into voice controlled e-commerce…

The smart-home revolution is in full swing.

The success of the Amazon Echo and its Alexa ‘skills’ platform and the launch of Google Home have taken the idea of voice control and voice-controlled e-commerce from a novelty concept to a legitimate potential revenue channel for retailers willing to take the risk.

Early brands to explore this opportunity include Uber and Just Eat, and earlier this summer Domino’s Pizza launched its Alexa skill in the UK after over a year of offering the same in the US. This allows you to order pizza with just a few words. We’ve yet to see data on how many sales these brands are generating through their voice-control channels, but the phased deployment from Domino’s certainly suggests they are seeing enough value to justify the investment.

Designing a successful voice-controlled experience isn’t going to be easy. Looking at this from a user experience and conversion rate perspective, voice control is a whole new touch-point and interaction type to understand. In traditional conversion rate optimisation for e-commerce sites, potential reasons why a user might abandon and not complete a purchase fall into two categories – usability and persuasion.

Usability issues would be anything that physically prevents the user from being able to complete their desired action – broken pages, links or problems with completing a form or online checkout.

As for persuasion – even a site with no usability issues wouldn’t convert 100 percent of its visitors. There will always be an element in the user’s decision-making process around persuasion. Have they been sufficiently convinced to purchase this product or service? Typical persuasion issues include failing to describe the benefits of a product.

So what does the future look like in a voice-controlled world?

In traditional e-commerce, the user is free to make their own journey through a website and we enable this freedom by displaying a range of content, products, deals and offers, navigation options and search functionality. With voice control, the possible journeys to purchase are far fewer and almost completely invisible to the user at the outset. So with an Alexa skill, the developer must define the possible trigger phrases that the user can use to take a certain set of defined actions.

Crucial 

Skill and experience in voice interaction design will emerge as a crucial requirement for any team looking to develop this channel. Collecting and analysing data on how users are invoking your app/skill, what exact words and phrases they’re using, how they’re describing your products and service and how they’re talking to your app through their journey, will be an essential part of experience optimisation.

Another area that will dominate user experience for voice control will be how the app responds to user mistakes. Frustration will be the worst enemy of voice-controlled services, far more so than it is with websites now. If you’ve been unlucky enough to have to call an automated helpline that uses voice control, you will know how quickly the frustration builds when something goes wrong.

On a website, if the user gets stuck or confused on their journey, it’s relatively easy for them to go back or to navigate away from the page and try again. With voice-control, this isn’t the case. If the user tries a command that isn’t recognised by the app, then it can only respond with a quick error response. Failure to re-engage the user and keep them trying will quickly result in frustration and even abandonment.

Persuade 

So how do you persuade a user to complete their purchase once they’ve started their voice-controlled interaction? How would you describe the benefits of a certain washing machine, laptop or TV when they can only be spoken, and spoken by a robotic voice at that?

The development of chatbots in the past couple of years has seen a lot of investment and progress on how to get an automated response to appear human and more engaging. But this development has all been in how to present text responses rather then voice responses. Voice responses are inherently more complex.

Will developments in Alexa’s AI allow her to improvise responses based on prior knowledge of the user? Personalisation within the voice space could allow Alexa to make tailored recommendations based on my purchase history.

“Alexa, look on Currys for a new kettle.”

“Ok Kyle. There’s a black Breville kettle that would look great with the Breville toaster you bought last month. It’s £39. Is that OK?”

“Sounds good.”

“You bought your last kettle 18 months ago. Shall I add the three-year warranty on this one for an extra £9.99?”

I’m sold.

 

 

Can you become a CRO expert in just 6 months?

A phrase you often hear at Conversion is “Testing is at the heart of what we do’’.

In that spirit, the team decided to ‘test’ their first ever Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) training scheme. The ambition is to equip individuals who have no previous CRO experience with the knowledge, skills and practical experience to become a ‘Conversion Consultant’ in just 6 months.

That’s where I come in. I joined Conversion as the first ever Associate Consultant on the training scheme, and over the past three months I’ve been the willing ‘guinea pig’ in this test. I’d like to share my experience to give an idea of what it’s like to join a fast-growing company in a brand new industry, and to learn an entirely new skill set in a relatively short amount of time. I can definitely say it’s been both exciting and rewarding.

The training phase

Throughout the recruitment process I was intrigued by the company, people and job role. A friendly team, great perks and quirky London office – what more could one want from a job? However what excited me most was the challenge of learning how a whole new industry works, while developing a shiny new skill set alongside it.

The 6 week training phase was well planned out from the beginning. Each week focused on a specific learning area such as usability and persuasion theory. I learnt the fundamentals of key insight tools such as Google Analytics, and key skills for conducting user-research such as effective survey design. The weeks were filled with training sessions and relevant practical tasks which helped the information to stick.

I began to look at websites in a completely new way, understanding how they work and why users behave the way they do. On top of this, I had a chance to collaborate with other team members – a huge company value. I joined client calls, meetings and internal ‘kick-offs’ where ideas for testing are discussed. To assess what I had learned, I delivered a mock client presentation to the heads of Strategy and Client Services, nicely bringing the training phase to a close.

Not only was I learning the ropes of CRO – but from my first week I took part in a range of social events – quiz nights, poker evenings and a scary movie “fright night”, to name but a few. I instantly felt encouraged to have fun and get to know my colleagues socially. I also had an amazing opportunity to kick off a monthly presentation group where team members have the chance to practice speaking in public and receive peer feedback. It was refreshing to be given this kind of autonomy and support so early on in my role.

The pod rotations

The next stage of the training scheme was the Pod rotations. I would spend a month in each ‘Pod’ i.e team of Developers, Designers, Consultants and Project Manager, to practically apply my newfound knowledge from training.

In my first Pod, I worked on an insights project for a client in the online health industry, while at the same time embracing ‘Pod Life’ and shadowing a senior consultant. This gave me a realistic view of the Pods – what went on day-to-day and the collaborative nature of the team. I felt my input and skills were truly valued, especially when presenting my insights project back to the team.

In my second and current Pod rotation, my area of focus is the testing process and how we take ideas, driven by insights, and bring them to life. Getting to grips with the Optimizely testing platform, practicing wireframing and learning the basics of coding are just a few of the latest skills I am adding to my CRO toolkit. I’m adjusting to a new way of ‘Pod Life’ and understanding an exciting new set of clients from industries such as online gambling and finance.

Looking towards the future, my third Pod rotation involves working towards pulling everything I’ve learned together to start building long-term optimisation strategies for clients. I’ll also progress to take over my first client, build relationships and become responsible for the clients’ insights research, strategy and testing process.

My story to date

After 3 months in the role, how would I sum it up? Did it meet my expectations? Honestly, yes, and so much more. I’ve felt supported, stretched and valued while learning everything there is to know about CRO along the way. I now feel confident evaluating the CRO opportunities for a client by conducting quantitative and qualitative research. I can turn insights into ideas for impactful A/B tests and I’m starting to look at CRO from a more strategic perspective as I gain more experience.

As with any learning curve, at times I wanted to bang my head against a brick wall and just ‘’get’’ a concept or method quicker. But those ‘’Ah-Ha!’’ moments certainly were worthwhile. Although I still have a lot to learn, the main goal to become a Conversion Consultant is getting closer each day. In the meantime I’ll continue developing my skillset in the fast paced, ever changing CRO industry.

If you’re looking to start a career in CRO, head over to our careers page to see our current open positions.

2016: Five predictions for the conversion optimization industry

Every January for the last five years, I’ve thought to myself: “This year is the one when conversion optimization will become mainstream.”

Not just another process that’s occasionally bolted on to marketing or web design – but a mindset that’s core to how every company operates and grows.

But it’s never quite worked out like that.

Conversion optimization has come a long way: data-driven companies like Facebook are leading the way, and more companies than ever are embracing testing. Conversion optimization has become huge business: not just for the brands who embrace a “test and learn” philosophy, but also the software and service companies that support them.

But there’s still a long way to go. Here are my predictions for the year ahead…

 

#1 There’ll be a high-profile web redesign disaster

“Most brands are still redesigning their websites on a 3–5 year cycle”

We’re not a fan of redesigns. They’re typically unfocused, unmeasured, “best practice”-riddled disasters – and the antithesis to the concept of continual improvement that we promote. (That’s why our creative team don’t do redesigns – they focus on tests instead.)

It’s been two years since Marks and Spencers famously botched their redesign. It cost them £150 million and lowered their sales 8%.

But they won’t be the last – most brands are still redesigning their websites on a 3–5 year cycle. Meanwhile a company like Amazon continually optimizes, tests, iterates – without ever really appearing to ”redesign”.

 

#2 Personalization will be the new battleground for websites and testing platforms

“Personalization can become a brand’s competitive advantage.”

I have a love/hate relationship with personalization.

It offers a huge opportunity to companies with a strong foundation of split-testing.

But if you don’t have this foundation – if you don’t know which user segments to target, what motivates them and what stops them – then you risk forking your website and creating multiple suboptimal experiences.

But personalization can and should be huge – both for brands and the software vendors that support them.

For brands with a mature testing program, personalization offers a way to drive even more value from every visitor. They already know from their A/B tests that their visitors behave differently: some will respond positively to a test, while others may be neutral or negative. Personalization offers a way to fix this – and opens up huge new opportunities for growth.

Most importantly, it can become a brand’s competitive advantage: while a competitor may be able to learn from or copy your website’s testing, they can never fully discover your personalization strategy.

Likewise for the testing platforms themselves, they will live or die by the success of their personalization offering. A/B testing platforms are all based on the same premise – and it’s easy to switch out one with another.

But personalization offers a huge opportunity for software vendors. They can differentiate with the sophistication of their platform, its ease of use, and potentially the AI that supports it.

And most importantly for software vendors, it’s difficult to swap one personalization setup for another: the more data they collect, the more complex the setup, the more value they add, the harder it’ll be to move away from – and the more they can charge.

 

#3 Google’s new optimization platform will disrupt the market

“Google’s biggest opportunity is to create a full-funnel testing platform.”

Some time in 2016, Google will publicly launch a testing platform that will disrupt the market.

It was ten years ago that they launched Google Website Optimizer – allowing anyone to A/B test, without a five-figure monthly pricetag. GWO has since been retired – replaced by a much weaker product, Content Experiments – but all that is set to change.

Google’s new testing platform is rumored to be in beta, and its release is set to disrupt the market. At minimum, it’ll bring a huge amount of interest and attention as more people discover the opportunities for optimization.

But we don’t know yet whether it’ll be a “me too” product – possibly with some additional features (like Content Experiments’ multi-armed bandit model) – or whether it’ll be a game changer like GWO was ten years ago.

Google’s biggest opportunity is to create a full-funnel testing platform: spanning acquisition, conversion and analytics. They have a huge competitive advantage – Google has the market share on analytics and online advertising. With two-way integrations for both, they can not only bring more people to testing, they can also bring the rigor and theory of optimization and testing to online advertising.

Right now, conversion optimization and testing is focused on websites – but brands are spending 99x as much bringing traffic to their website as they are on optimising the website itself. Google is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this.

 

#4 Testing will spread outside of website optimization

“There are opportunities throughout the funnel: from advertising through to CRM.

The concept of testing and continual improvement isn’t unique to conversion optimization. What’s interesting is how conversion is starting to have an impact on complementary disciplines – like SEO and PPC.

This has already started. In January 2015, Pinterest posted about their success with split-testing for SEO. Then in December, Distilled announced a server-side solution for companies looking to split-test their SEO strategy. Meanwhile in PPC, Brainlabs have developed A/B Labs, allowing you to split-test campaign structures, bidding software and even different PPC agencies.

In 2016, this will gather pace. There are opportunities throughout the funnel:

  • At the top of the funnel, advertisers can leverage the insight and process of website optimization. By analysing the same qualitative data that informs testing on the website – as well as the content that is proven to motivate users – advertisers can create more appealing, persuasive creative. Then, they can increase the sophistication of their ad testing: not just in PPC, but even TV and outdoor – traditionally untested campaigns that would fall into the category of “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
  • At the bottom of the funnel, brands can increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and lifetime value by again leveraging the insight and process of website optimization. By understanding the principles that motivate users to become customers – and by applying principles of testing to CRM – brands can test and optimise every customer touchpoint.  

 

#5 A testing/personalization vendor will IPO

“Optimizely have the market share in optimization, and the investment to push heavily on personalization.”

If the predicted “softening” of the tech market allows, we’ll see one of the pureplay testing and personalization vendors preparing to IPO.

The prime contender is Optimizely. They have the market share in optimization, and the investment to push heavily on personalization.

There’s a chance they could be an acquisition target instead. Interestingly, as of October 2015, Salesforce Ventures is hedging its bets with investments in both Optimizely and Qubit. (It’s only been a few months since Maxymiser was acquired by Oracle in August 2015.)

Any IPO or acquisition will depend on the success of either company’s personalization offering – as above, their monthly recurring revenue can increase exponentially if they get it right.

 

If you want to make these ideas a reality – and help brands exploit the potential of optimization and personalization – please look at our careers page!

 

We don’t hire developers. We hire hackers. And here’s why.

When building experiments through any testing platform, our developers have to think differently to most front end developers, and sometimes, they need to get creative. Like us, there are other companies which don’t have access to the clients’ source code, but have to ensure that their code snippets aren’t going to break anything. Products like Optimizely, Qubit and Qualaroo work in this way, for example. Our developers have to create a robust and modular code that can be applied to any website and run smoothly without causing any issues.

When it comes to us at Conversion.com, we effectively create our experiments on top of our clients’ websites. Through selectors in jQuery and CSS, we apply the desired new look (and sometimes functionality) for our tests. Of course, things can often be more complicated than that – we might have to rewrite an existing Ajax call (or hook our snippet on an existing Ajax call). Or we might have to manipulate what a form submits and how it invalidates – all without having access to any file in our clients’ server.

You could say we are in a way, a new kind of developer. There are Back End developers and Front End developers and then there is us, somewhere in between, placing a layer on top of the existing website in order to make our experiments work the way they are intended.

Here are some tips that we have found to be the most useful when developing A/B tests for our clients at Conversion.com.

1. How to handle CSS

1.1 Injecting CSS

Starting with CSS, we inject our document, minified, at the head of the document using Javascript. At Conversion.com, we have a special plugin for that, but you could always link to an external file you have with the following code:

$('head').append('<link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" type="text/css" />');

1.2 Wrapper ID

You might not want your CSS to overwrite any existing CSS that isn’t impacted by your experiment. Having the same names for classes can sometimes happen, so it’s advised to wrap your content with a unique ID and simply point your CSS towards that ID and its children. For example, if you wrap your content with:

<div id=”conversion01”><div class=”content”></div></div>

then simply calling:

#conversion01 .content

would ensure that you don’t change something that you don’t want to change.

1.3. Sometimes you really do need to overwrite CSS

Even though we neatly wrapped our content with our unique ID, you might actually need to alter existing elements across the website. This often means that there will be a conflict of CSS rules between what you are trying to do and what is already there. You can either overwrite those rules by being more specific than the original CSS (e.g. body > .container > .paragraph instead of just .paragraph) or use

1.4 important!

I know! Using !important is reprehensible in a normal project. Unfortunately, we might need it a lot. !important is a quick way to make the changes we need so we can get the test live sooner. We can write better code once the test has proven successful and it’s worth the extra effort.

1.5 Not everything is always tidy

Unfortunately, sometimes the HTML structure of some websites is not really tidy. There have been cases where some websites had tables and nested tables, with only a class given at the parent level.  Certain CSS changes had to be done two or three children below. In times like these, your only option would be to use a vague nth-child().

On the other hand, if you do so, you should be careful in case the client changes something on their website (e.g. adds a new column in said table), since the previously selected element might no longer be represented by the number you chose in nth-child().

2. Content

Most of the time, new content is needed for our experiments. In order to inject this new content we use the following jQuery functions:

append(), prepend(), after(), before(). 

By locating where our content should be, we use one of the functions from above appropriately. These functions also help to wrap our new content with the styles of the existing website. That’s really important when a client’s website uses a framework (e.g. Bootstrap CSS) and all we have to do is place our content within the already defined Bootstrap elements.

(e.g. <div class=”.col-md-1”></div>).

There are also scenarios where an external script is needed in order to help with the development of a project. One example would be using fancybox.js in order to create a lightbox. At the top of the document, we include the CSS of fancybox and point to the images accordingly, and once we need to use it, we call

$.getScript('js/jquery.fancybox.pack.js', function() {
    $(".fancybox").fancybox();
});

3. Forms

There are cases in which we need to alter an existing form or create a new one that would still submit some of the old form’s information. Sometimes hiding certain fields is enough, but there are also more complex scenarios than that.

The way we handle this is by copying the information that is typed into the new fields to the hidden form, usually on keyup. We use keyup because we usually have a dynamic field validation as well, so having everything within one function is tidier. Our code would look something like this:

$(‘#newinput’).keyup(function() {
    $(‘#oldinput’).val($(‘#newinput’).val());
});

and if there is a new submit button you .submit() the form when the new button is clicked.

4. Handling elements that are not there

Some websites have elements that might be loaded through Ajax due to a framework or plugin that the client is using. If we need to change that element then we might need to wait for it to exist first, and then do the necessary alterations.

var checkElement = setInterval(function() {
    if($(‘.element’).length){
        //do stuff
        clearInterval(checkElement);
    }
}, 50);

Finally, if you have a more complicated problem that needs a more advanced solution, you could always hook up the existing Ajax call and create your changes accordingly.

As I said before, these are the 4 main tips that we have typically found to be most useful when developing A/B and multivariate tests for our clients here at Conversion.com. There are many other techniques out there that you may find useful when developing under this new paradigm, which is effectively a layer in front of traditional front end development. If you have any of your own tips to share, or any thoughts on any of ours, we would love to hear from you – so be sure to leave your comments in the box below.

Thanks for reading!