Why 2016 is NOT the year of conversion optimization

Columnist Brian Massey says it's not yet time to declare this the year of conversion optimization, but with the bevy of tools and resources at our disposal, the industry is inching ever closer to it.

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optimization-keyboard-ss-1920This is the certificate I earned in November 2006 from completing the “Wizards of the Web” course put on by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg at an amazing business school called the Wizard Academy.

Who knew this seminar would have an impact on our industry?

Who knew this seminar would have an impact on our industry?

In their course, they gave UX researcher Jakob Nielsen credit for formulating the first thoughts that guided website optimization. Steve Krug had published “Don’t Make Me Think” in 2000. It made me think.

Steve Krug made me think.

Steve Krug made me think.

The whole course made me think — think about the practice of conversion optimization and its historical development.

The Eisenbergs had published the book, “Persuasive Online Copywriting,” in September 2002 and “Call to Action” in May 2005. Their Wizards of the Web teachings would eventually be detailed in their best-selling book, “Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?” That book appeared in June of 2006, and in December, I created my agency, Conversion Sciences.

Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg told us that words would lead our sites to success.

Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg told us that words would lead our sites to success.

That was nine years ago, and now I wonder where things are going in the next nine years. Will this marketplace evolve like the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) marketplace did, or will it take a different path, like generalized digital agencies have?

In 2010, I asked if that was the year of Conversion Optimization. I don’t think it was, though some momentous tools came on the scene. I really don’t know what year will be remembered as the year for conversion optimizers. This may be the year for chinchilla toilet bowls or titanium chopsticks, for all I know.

So I’m not going to declare 2016 the year of conversion optimization. But something’s definitely going on.

Google Trends shows growth in keywords "ab testing" and "conversion rate optimization". Clearly, "website optimization" has fallen out of favor.

Google Trends shows growth in keywords “ab testing” and “conversion rate optimization.” Clearly, “website optimization” has fallen out of favor.

Conversion optimization is known by the unfortunate acronym “CRO” for Conversion Rate Optimization. It is a set of disciplines in which data is used to increase the leads and sales generated by an online property or a website.

When a visitor becomes a lead or a customer online, we say they were converted to a lead or customer. Hence, we want to increase the rate at which visitors are converted.

The primary way to increase the conversion rate is to stop doing stupid things. The problem is that one website’s “stupid” is another’s “online genius.”

Success has come as we’ve gotten better at figuring out what is stupid and what is ingenious on the web. There are good reasons that we’ve gotten better at optimizing websites. Here are a few reasons why we’ve gotten to where we are today.

The availability of inexpensive tools

I’ve written before about the “Golden Age” of marketing tools that we are enjoying. Google has continually built out a very effective and full-featured analytics package. It is now found on tens of millions of websites. And, just last week, the internet giant announced beta testing of a free version of Optimize 360, a landing page testing and optimization tool that integrates directly with Google Analytics.

In 2010, we began using A/B testing tools in earnest at Conversion Sciences. These tools, among others, created the agency we are today. And we are not alone.

A/B testing tools are among the many enablers allowing individual marketing departments and new website optimization agencies to become data-driven. Our recent survey of CRO experts exposed the A/B testing and user experience tools that are making marketers and agencies very good at improving results.

In the near future, I think that machine learning algorithms are going to be available for businesses of all sizes. AI (artificial intelligence) testing will replace A/B testing — so says Sentient’s Jonathan Epstein. These personalization systems will be able to predict visitors’ preferences with amazing accuracy.

Mathy marketers

Marketers have begun to shake off the hangover left by Madison Avenue advertisers. We are no longer satisfied to be creative, humorous and pithy in our communications.

Marketers are picking up the slide rules of modern digital marketing: analytics, statistics and experimenting. They are asking the nagging question of conversion optimization. And they are building their chops on statistical analysis.

We call this “rigorous creativity,” the intersection of creative communications and a foundation of data on which to build.

There is still a long way to go, and this is why I say that 2016 isn’t the year of conversion optimization.


The playful and informative GrokDotCom blog was a hallmark of the conversion optimization industry.

The playful and informative GrokDotCom blog was a hallmark of the conversion optimization industry.

Since I started blogging about conversion optimization in 2006, a lot has changed. Thanks to the oversharing of blogs like the now-defunct GrokDotCom, the KISSMetrics blog, MarketingExperiments (now part of MECLABS), the Unbounce blog, GetElastic, and more recently, ConversionXL, the vocabulary and disciplines of conversion optimization have entered the marketing lexicon.

You’re welcome, internet.

The list of books from these brilliant minds has continued to grow as well.

Taken together, these components — the right tools, the right skills and the right educational resources —  bode well for the near-term growth of our industry. Already, acquisition and consolidation plans are being drawn.

Our goal is to make websites better for visitors and businesses alike. As an industry, we now have the tools and know-how to make that happen.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Brian Massey
Brian Massey is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Conversion Sciences specializes in A/B Testing of websites. Follow Brian on Twitter @bmassey

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