Startup and Small Business Marketing: Website Optimization Mistakes Ross Kimbarovsky | October 19th, 2010

Conversion rate math is simple: by doubling your conversion rate, you double the effectiveness of every future marketing dollar.

But while the math is simple, conversion optimization is not. There are many optimization pitfalls that can easily cripple startup/small business growth (if you’re interested in how crowdSPRING optimizes, I recommend you read Increasing Conversions Using Google Website Optimizer and fora good post on ways to improve conversions, I recommend you read Ten Easy Ways To Improve Your Landing Page Conversions). Here are five of the most common optimization mistakes – and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Optimizing Prematurely. Most startups and small businesses want to optimize the path users take to reach certain core transaction points on your site. For example, crowdSPRING, among other things, optimizes to move more people from our homepage to the first step of our post-a-project page. Another company might optimize to increase the number of people that register on their site.

Although it’s tempting to market and attract visitors who are interested in buying your product or service – you should be careful not to optimize prematurely. Make sure your product/service experience is solid before you worry about optimization. If your product is still rough around the edges, you run the risk of creating a poor user experience and leaving your potential customers dissatisfied. This can be fatal because customer referrals often represent a substantial source of business for startups and small businesses.

There is at least one exception to this: some startups and small businesses benefit from the “network effect” – having lots and lots of people try their service (even if the service isn’t yet perfect). For example, the growth of social networks depends on many people trying out the service and so it’s important to optimize from the beginning if your product or service requires broad acceptance.

2. Ad Hoc Optimization. It’s easy to forget that when you optimize your landing and conversion pages, you should be sensitive to all interactions with users on your site (and off your site), not just the interactions on the pages you’re trying to optimize.That doesn’t mean you should run all your optimization tests at once (you should not do that). It does mean that you should consider and plan in advance how your pages will interact with one another and the extended web that leads to your site.

This becomes especially important when you’re developing a funnel through which you want to move users on your site. For example, most of your users might start on your homepage, then move to a page that describes how your service works, then move to a pricing page. You might not be optimizing all of the funnel pages at once, but you should consider the content on all of those pages to make sure that you don’t confuse your users with different or contradictory content.

3. Forgetting Your Core Users. When you optimize your site, you should consider how your most important users interact with your site. Optimizing for new traffic for example, might cause you to change pages that are important to your existing users – and may negatively impact the experience of our existing customers.

Before you run your optimization experiments, evaluate the areas of your site that are heavily used by your core users – and the ways in which they use those areas. As you start experimenting with pages and funnels, be sensitive whenever you touch those areas (unless your experiments are designed to improve conversions for that group of users).

4. Poorly Written Content. Most optimization guides will talk about colors, images, buttons and layout. Those are important when you’re looking to optimize your pages. But don’t forget content! Content can be far more important on some pages and you often can get far better results by focusing on optimizing your content rather than colors and buttons.

5. Poor Overall Design. Optimization is both a science (qualitative and quantitative research and systematic approach) and an art. Keep your overall design aesthetic in mind as you optimize areas on your site and make sure that you’re not sacrificing the overall design when you’re testing optimization theories.

For example, crowdSPRING is currently testing a number of homepage variations. One variation uses a different top section of the homepage (to the left) than our traditional design. We didn’t want to design the entire page – we wanted only to test a few theories and so we designed the top section to fit the rest of the design – but most people can tell that the design is a bit different. We accept this difference as a cost of being able to test more quickly and more often, but we are sensitive to make sure that the overall design is still presentable and professional.

Do you have questions about website optimization or about how crowdSPRING optimizes? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

image credit: Greg Gaskill

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