Why Companies Struggle to Implement A/B Testing in Their Digital Marketing

A/B (split) testing is the most popular and often most effective way of testing multiple versions of an app, email, or webpage to see which version produces better results. However only 27% – 38% of companies actively do split testing. Of the companies that actively do split testing, almost half claim they do it infrequently or inaccurately. So if A/B tests offer the best opportunity to objectively improve digital marketing conversions, why do so many companies skip it entirely?  Split testing often presents technical or resource challenges that smaller companies struggle to overcome.

There are three common limiting factors that prevent trainers, consultants, and professional coaches from successfully implementing and executing A/B tests:

Time

Marketing is often done at a frenzied pace for many smaller firms.  If a marketing campaign is being done rapidly, or worse yet as a fire drill, it’s difficult to consistently produce communications and meet deadlines.  Making time to take on an additional burden of creating a separate version of a communication and reviewing the analytics to glean valuable insight is simply unrealistic.

A/B Testing Tools

There are valuable tools available to facilitate A/B testing.  Some are built in to digital marketing platforms where others can be added on to your existing platform.  However, inclusive platforms or add on components can be technically challenging to implement and incur additional cost.  Increasing the marketing budget or meeting the requirements to leverage the testing tool is often an unsurmountable barrier for smaller firms.

Sample Size

Accurate A/B testing relies on a sufficient sample size.  If a smaller firm’s website traffic or email recipients don’t generate enough raw data then the A/B test will be flawed and runs the risk of providing inaccurate results.

If you are in the majority of companies that don’t do split testing, is it because of a legitimate limitation to execute them?  If so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t objectively assess your digital marketing but it likely does mean that you will need to go about it in a more gradual way. In our next post, we will cover a less robust form of split testing that relies on an evolving digital marketing campaign.

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?Step one of updating our blog (and the site) is complete with a new theme.  The next step is to finish our theme customization and launch the layout site wide.  We don’t update our site layout as often as we should so it provides a clear illustration in how technology has evolved over the last few years.  The options, sophistication, and ease of an upgrade makes significant advances in such a relatively short amount of time.  But do these advances make us spoiled and lazy?  If you aren’t putting in the effort to meet your desired result, then yes. It’s your responsibility to provide the resources necessary to professionally deliver your digital marketing.

As we weighed themes and what base layout we’d like to establish for our upgrade, I browsed reviews for user feedback.  I happened across this review with some very specific requests for a “boring” theme. I happen to agree with the poster that many themes are over-designed and create additional work hiding elements that aren’t necessary.  I thought the rest of the post suggesting that developers should strive for the specific set of features that the poster desired was absurd.

I’m a home improvement DIY person. Most projects go fine . . . some don’t.  Recently, I falsely believed that replacing my gas dryer was going to be a simple process.  I knew the steps involved and had all the materials, however I wasn’t prepared for the gas hose to be corroded onto the gas line.  Since I was already a bit wary of working on gas, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and called a plumber.  It was a simple job for the plumber who had a giant wrench and a particular technique to unscrew the hose from the pipe.

Sometimes an easy job for a professional is an impossible job for a less experienced person.  Imagine if I had asked the plumber to bring his giant wrench to my house and walk me through separating the hose from the pipe.  Most people would agree that’s ridiculous yet here’s a post asking for almost the same thing from a theme developer.

WordPress themes are typically built on a series of CSS and PHP files.  All the code that drives that theme is accessible which means with some work it can be customized to whatever layout you want.  Furthermore, many themes will document those files to make it simpler to make the edits for customization.  It’s not the theme developers responsibility to spoon feed it to you.

As technology becomes all pervasive there seems to be a feeling of entitlement that users should be able to do anything without putting in the effort or resources to achieve it.  Just because some things offer simple point and click or drag and drop, doesn’t mean that all things can or should.

Let’s be grateful to the theme developers that typically provide a solid foundation for site builds. If you need functional or layout customization beyond that, it’s your responsibility to seek out the resources or professionals to do so.  Don’t be lazy about how you implement the technology because it’s extremely unlikely that the perfect solution will fall into your lap.  Take responsibility for implementing your own perfect solution.

Anticipate the Summer Slow Down

Acknowledging headwinds is the first step to overcoming them.  Most trainers, consultants and professional coaches experience a slowdown in their digital marketing over the summer months. Anticipating and preparing for that three month lull is critical to ensure that you meet your marketing targets.

Hope is not a strategy.  Almost every training and consulting market will be less available in the summer months. Unless your business is growing rapidly, chances are you have fewer visitors or a percent slow down compared to previous months due to traditional summer slowdowns.

You shouldn’t panic because of digital marketing performance drops during vacation season. Instead prepare for it in one of two ways:

  1. Pad Performance
    If you’ve experienced a summer slowdown in the past, you’re probably going to again next summer. Plan for the slowdown in your annual marketing goals.  The other seasons need to produce enough leads or sales to overcome the anticipated summer deficiency.Rather than setting a standard monthly target, compare year over year statistics to identify what a typical summer slowdown has been for your digital marketing campaigns. Then build a lower summer conversion into your plan and set benchmarks to pad performance. If summer happens to stay consistent then it’s a great opportunity to outperform annual goals.
  2. Increase Activity
    If you have the time or resources, you can increase your digital marketing activity. Essentially this is casting a wider net or increasing marketing frequency to improve your odds of connecting with those prospects that are available in the summer.  Make sure that the increased activity isn’t overbearing. There’s no benefit to alienating good prospects in an effort to keep summer numbers consistent.

Don’t panic when the summer slowdown hits. As long as you maintain your processes and activity, it won’t be depressed for long.

Digital Marketing Campaign Examples: Inspiration or Exaggeration

There is no shortage of great ideas for improving your digital marketing.  Looking to other campaigns is often a valuable resource to see how others are leveraging tactics and technology to optimize their efforts.  However, it’s important for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to weight the source of the information and think critically about whether a digital marketing strategy makes sense for their firm.

Beware “get rich quick” digital marketing ideas.  These tend to be simplistic suggestions with promises of unbelievable returns.  Digital marketing can be rewarding but it takes focus and consistency to see results.  Any promises that circumvent the need for dedicated work are unlikely to see reliable returns.

It’s often easy to spot exaggerated claims when the motivations for making them are obvious.  If someone is promoting or selling a tool, we often tend to be skeptical of that information.  But what about times when the motivation for exaggerating digital marketing results is less clear?  It’s easier to get caught up in claims of wild success if the source seems unbiased.

Years ago, I encountered this situation with a sales training firm that I work with.  The owner of the firm had attended a conference where the owner of another firm claimed to be running events twice a month, would fill the room each time, and would close eighty percent of attendees right there.  The success of this program was attributed to a digital marketing promotional campaign and a registration process that pre-screened applicants.

My client was blown away by the results he was hearing and wanted to emulate the campaign exactly.  He proposed scrapping an event schedule that we had been running with consistent success and going to the twice a month plan.  Based on the numbers shared at the conference, we could effectively double the amount of leads from events that we were generating from the current event schedule. I set up a digital marketing campaign modeled after the examples we were provided. After three months we found that we started strong but attendance dwindled after the first couple events.  Worse yet we had half as much closed business as we had averaged doing an event every six months.

As you’d expect, we returned to the original examples to see what mistakes we had made.  I was concerned about list exhaustion offering events so rapidly so reviewed the materials and contacted the owner that claimed to have stellar results. He agreed that our campaign seemed to have all the same critical elements that his did and was at a loss to explain why we would experience such significantly different results. So I asked for some metrics on the other owner’s digital marketing campaigns to compare individual elements to see where we might be off base.  The other owner’s helpfulness ended there and he was unwilling to provide anything other than high-level general information.

My client and I tried to work backwards through the analytics to see if there was an obvious deficiency and in the process we started adding up numbers.  Based on the high level metrics that the other owner had delivered, we estimated his firm would be bringing in over $20 million a year just on this one digital marketing campaign.  The problem with that was that the conference was for small/mid-size businesses and capped attending firms at $5 million in revenue.

That caused us to look into the other firm and their digital marketing which reveled additional discrepencies with what had been shared. In short, the other owner was unaware or directly lying about his level of success. I never followed up after we found the discrepancies so I don’t know for sure what motivated him to exaggerate the results.  I doubt it was malicious. I suspect it was simply looking like an expert at the conference and the accolades that brought.

The point was that my client and I had wasted a lot of time and effort migrating to a model that appeared to be more productive but actually cost conversions.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Other organizations digital marketing can be a great source of inspiration but think critically about any claims of wild success.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You can waste a lot of time, money and effort chasing those exaggerations.

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Over or Under Qualifying Leads

Ease of conversion is a common goal in digital marketing but is it at odds with your sales process?  There is a balancing act in allowing users to easily access offers while not overburdening the sales or delivery team with a lot of qualification requirements.

Years ago I was confronted by a sales person after leads came back from a direct mail campaign.  After making calls from his lead list he grew frustrated from lackluster results and said, “Why do I get all of the goofy ass leads!?” While I think that the leads were only one part of the problem, he brought up a fair point.  If a lead is not a viable prospect, does it have any value?

It’s frustrating for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to be fed “leads” that are poorly suited to their services.  However, the entire purpose of marketing is eroded if attempts to qualify leads drastically reduce marketing conversions.

To get the balancing act right, it’s important to first verify that you are working on the right side of the problem.  Lead qualification is often unduly blamed for a poor sales system or lacking an effective approach call process.

If you analyze your leads and find that there is a consistent problem with the quality then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your marketing communications going to the right group of people?
    After all if you haven’t evaluated your audience and it’s made up of people that would be bad leads, it’s a sure bet that lead quality will be poor.
  • Is critical qualification data being omitted from the conversion process?
    If you need critical information for an offer’s conversion then it’s advisable to add it. For example, if you have an event that’s only for a particular industry then collecting industry information on the registration is a god screen to make sure the lead is viable. If there is any opportunity to populate that data from other sources (rather than requiring data entry from users) it’s a good option to keep conversion friction down.
  • Can ancillary qualification steps be added after conversion?
    Rather than trying to place all of the qualification on the user during conversion, it is often possible to do additional qualification after conversion. Using the industry specific event as an example, a survey might be triggered after registration asking people that registered to check off common problems that they would like to hear addressed at the event.  This ensures that attendees have compelling reasons to attend and provides you with some hot button issues that the group is dealing with. If you find that attendees are struggling to identify problems then they might be directed to a more suitable offer or perhaps the event is not a well targeted.

Digital marketing drip campaigns allow for even poor leads to be nurtured into good leads.  Over qualification deprives you of the opportunity of staying engaged with those people that don’t currently make a good client, even though they might become a good client in the future. Doing too much qualification on the front end can severely hinder a digital marketing campaign because the flow of leads into the ongoing marketing campaign is constricted and restrictive conversions limit your ability to analyze whether offers are broadly resonating with your audience.

The Copying and Pasting Checklist

Copying and pasting is probably my favorite command on a computer. What’s not to love? It saves so much time when you can use a past communication, setting, or tool on a new project.

I didn’t realize my dependence on copying and pasting ran so deep until doing a demo on a web platform with the vendor. As I explored the functionality I asked, “How do I make a copy of this page?” The vendor told me that they eliminated the copy function because they found that administrators were overusing it and repetitive data and tags were creeping into sites.  As a “best practice” they required admins to start pages from scratch.  While my impression of the platform was not great to that point, that remark ensured I was not going to implement it.

How can a function that saves so much time be a bad habit? While I don’t agree that eliminating copying and pasting from a platform or marketing processes is appropriate, I have to admit that there is a grain of truth in what the vendor was saying. Duplicating content does require diligence to ensure that all the appropriate settings are updated to prevent outdated or inaccurate information being placed in updated communications.

Let’s use an event webpage as an example. When copying and pasting an old event, obvious changes like updating the graphics and text are rarely missed but the entire user experience should be reviewed to make sure that all the information they receive is correct.

Graphics – Have the promotional or speaker images been updated?
Text – Has all the appropriate text been changed? Pay attention to minor text mentions for things like specials or length of the event.
Meta Tags – Has the page’s header information been refreshed so that the people searching for the event are able to find it and land on the right page?
Form – If you are not using an automated app, is the form saving to the right database? Do the data fields need updated?
Landing Page – Does the confirmation for the event’s landing page need updated with logistic info or other instructions?
Email Confirmation – Has the automated email been updated with logistic info or other instructions?
Event Surveys – If you survey attendees before the event, has the content and/or the link been updated so that they are surveyed on the appropriate topic?

This checklist shows that something as simple as duplicating a page requires verification on many aspects of the user experience. This checklist might only be a starting point for more complex digital marketing activities. Use this example to customize your own copying and pasting processes. These checklists will ensure that you get all the benefits from copying and pasting without it becoming a bad habit.

All Leads Are Not Created Equal

There is value to every lead. Even a simple download or follow that includes a specific request not to be contacted is at least a validation of the value your marketing is bringing to your target audience.  It’s also a reaffirmation that you still hold that prospect’s attention and will get future opportunities to convert them to a proper lead.  Having said that, this is an example of a low level lead that can turn into something but doesn’t warrant a lot of time spent in immediate conversion.  It’s important to be honest about the quality of a lead so that they can be prioritized into categories for appropriate next steps.

The most common way to categorize leads is through a temperature system from cold to hot. Below are some basic descriptions and an example of appropriate next steps.

Quality

Description

Next Step

Cold A simple download, newsletter sign up, or follow that requests no follow up.
  1. Make sure that the prospect receives what they requested.
  2. Include the prospect in your marketing communications matrix.
Cool A simple download, newsletter sign up, or follow that is neutral to a follow up.
  1. Make sure that the prospect receives what they requested.
  2. Respond with a systematized and/or individual email or call.
Warm A download, sign up, or social follow that specifically requests a follow up (Priority given if it includes some potential problem indicators that your product or service can solve).
  1. Make sure that the prospect receives what they requested.
  2. Respond with a systematized and/or individual email or call (Unless the prospect can buy directly online, then a individualized email or call should be placed even if a systematized response is available).
Hot Attendance at an event or registration for a tool / trial account (Especially if it includes some potential problem indicators that your product or service can solve).
  1. Make sure that the prospect receives what they requested.
  2. Complete any systematized communication that the request requires.
  3. Respond with an individualized phone call or email (Even if the product or service can be bought online it’s prudent to make an individualized connection).

 

Now that we have a gauge of quality, why does it matter? In a perfect world, with unlimited resources, it wouldn’t.  Every marketing lead could be treated with the same priority.  However, most trainers, consultant, and professional coaches don’t have the luxury of infinite resources.

Ranking the quality lets you design responses, either in person or systematized, that a lead warrants. This prevents wasting too much time or effort on a low quality lead and ensures that high quality opportunities are addressed in a timely manner. It can also help prioritize calls to action if your marketing matrix can only support a limited number of offers.

Of course, quality is often a bit of a judgment call. Some leads might blur the lines a bit.  However, it’s important to let the prospect’s request gauge the quality rather than how we perceive the person.  For example, many times trainers, consultants, or professional coaches place a priority on a person from a big name company with not much stated interest over a person from a smaller company who is expressing more need because they perceive greater potential opportunity.  It’s impossible to know that before engaging a lead so it’s best to prioritize by what we know rather than what we hope/suspect.

Lead quality forms an important bridge between marketing and sales and having a realistic interpretation with suitable responses helps both function better.

Calls-to-Action Dilution

Every digital marketing campaign should drive toward a call-to-action.  Even communications that are primarily educational or informational should have some method of pointing people to a next step.  There’s often a fear that a call to action will get stale. That can be a valid fear if your audience no longer values what is being offered. However, that fear can drive digital marketers to over-produce and under-promote their calls-to-action. Focus on making a quality call-to-action and promoting it thoroughly so that your target audience is given a sufficient opportunity to take advantage of the offer.

Technology keeps accelerating the pace of digital marketing.  This rapid pace often shifts focus to what’s new rather than what’s good.   Something new will often get attention but something good will get a conversion. Effective digital marketing is built on quality calls-to-action not just something new.

We work with a client that has had success offering whitepapers.  Their conversion rates were so good in fact that it encouraged them to create more whitepapers.  After all if one whitepaper can create dozens of leads, then two whitepapers can produce hundreds, right?

When conversion rates started to slip on subsequent whitepapers they sped up production.  Producing the whitepapers strained their ability to research and analyze data on the featured topic so the depth of the content within the whitepaper eroded.  To combat that they started producing short reports based on presentations or articles they had previously released.

The reports were not well received so they started creating them more frequently hoping to cover specific topics that would appeal to their different target audiences.  But since the content was not robust and the segments within their list found little value in them. This led to the middle of last year when they were releasing a report every 2 to 4 weeks, doing a blitz promotion of it for several weeks, and then moving on to the next one.

Trying to keep that breakneck pace was exhausting their resources and killing conversion rates. It was a lot more work to offer something new with very few extra leads to show for it.

So why weren’t leads increasing as they offered more calls-to-action? Unfortunately direct scaling doesn’t often happen on calls-to-action unless the call to action is as strong as the first and appeals to an equal number of non-duplicated people. Instead of scaling there is a dilution effect where the same people convert repetitively, poorer quality offerings drop the overall conversion rate, or both. This is further compounded when the call-to-action is not given sufficient time for promotion.

If you find that you’re rapidly releasing calls-to-action but are not getting sufficient leads or sales to justify the effort, then you have either misidentified what has value to your audience or you are suffering from over-production and the call-to-action dilution effect.

Digital Marketing: Is Doing Nothing an Option?

Getting started with digital marketing is often the hardest step to take.  We speak with many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that know they need to do something but there’s always one more thing to square away before launching their digital marketing plan.  There will always be one extra element that could make digital marketing better but if it will cause an indeterminate delay in launching your digital marketing activity,  it’s best to take a few initial steps and build on that rather than trying to craft a perfect scenario before getting started.

A marathon runner doesn’t wake up the day of the race and pound out 26.2 miles.  They work up to it via a training regimen.  The training regimen is often a result of just experimenting with running in general before discovering they had a passion or talent for it. In other words, they had to try out the activity before they started becoming proficient at it.

Digital marketing beginners should have a similar path.  If you’re starting from scratch, get a basic lead generation mechanism (like a website, social media page, or affiliate form) established. Then start experimenting with channels to drive traffic to that lead mechanism.  Will the implementation be perfect?  Absolutely not, but it will provide some baseline discoveries to guide you into what digital marketing activities have the most value for your business.  Furthermore, some early progress and results will motivate you to get other digital marketing elements together and launched.

The same guideline applies when contracting out digital marketing services.  If you can meet a pre-requisite list for a particular digital marketing activity but not others, start there and then build up to others.  For instance, we have a client that wanted SEO, website lead generation landing pages, email marketing, and social media to be in their digital marketing plan.  However, they didn’t have a sufficient database of contacts to launch an email marketing campaign and content for SEO was in a state of disarray.  Instead of hitting the brakes on everything we started out by updating the website and setting up landing pages, starting social media posting, and set up a temporary pay per click campaign while the SEO elements were being developed.  In this way the foundations were started and the elements with missing pieces could be develped using data and insights from the iniatial digital marketing.

Procrastination in launching digital marketing efforts is often a smokescreen for being overwhelmed or unorganized.  The volume of information about digital marketing can make a launch seem like a more daunting task then it needs to be. Doing nothing ensures that you will fall further behind and gives the competition even more time to fortify their position as market leader. Take a simple first step with your digital marketing and build from there.  Otherwise doing nothing might be a permanent decision.

Is Your Call to Action Still Valuable to Your Target Market?

yawning young manager on an isolated background

When testing and analyzing digital marketing data, the focus is often on the content or creative elements.  While these elements certainly factor into digital marketing success, it’s important not to overlook the foundational elements that the content and creative is built on.  This is especially important in reviewing the target audience and calls to action that have been effective but no longer convert well. Many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches settle on a call to action that they are comfortable with or have experienced past success.  The problem arises when this call to action becomes a monotonous staple that the audience no longer values.

Can there be too much of a good thing?  In digital marketing there certainly can.  If an offer is repeated too frequently, even a great offer, it begins to be ignored or become valueless.

A common offer for trainers, consultants, or professional coaches is an event or webinar.  Often the presenter invests a fair amount of time polishing the presentation so that it is engaging and dynamic.  This creates a valuable call to action that is often well received and well attended.  Since the investment in honing the event’s content is already made there is a temptation to repeat the offer.  And in doses, clever timing, or effective marketing communication, it is often just as well received for subsequent events.

However, there is only so many ways to frame or package the same product. The target audience becomes exhausted with the offer and perpetually procrastinate in attending or become dubious about the value.  It’s a similar effect to perpetual sale ads at a store where people believe it’s not actually a discount or that they will get the same sale next week.

Luckily, refreshing an offer doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul. There are two ways to freshen up a call to action.

  • Revamp It – It’s a smart move to get every drop of value out of the investment in creating a call to action. An event can be modified to target a specific group or updated with related topics so that the proven content lays the groundwork but complimentary content redefines it. In this way the call to action goes through an evolution process that keeps it relevant.
  • Pull it from Rotation – Digital marketing campaigns should have a series of calls to action that appeal to different target audiences. If a call to action has been overused or no longer converts well then it can be removed for a period of time.  This doesn’t mean that it’s archived forever but rather let the audience have some recovery time before making it an active offer again. Often the call to action will be reinvigorated as it’s re-introduced to the audience.

If a call to action stops converting well its worth evaluating whether it’s still a valued offer.  Rather than retooling the content or creative that communicates the offer, it might be time to change or temporarily retire the call to action.

Image courtesy of  imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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