What’s the Best Place to Start Website Optimization?

If you’re reading this post, congratulations! You’re already leaps and bounds ahead of many of your competitors because you recognize that simply creating a website is not enough. Whether you’re optimizing for the first time since your website launched 6 years ago or 6 months ago, it can be a very overwhelming process. There is simply so much that you can do, and deciding where to begin is often a stressful decision.

Many of you may be throwing things on the site and seeing what sticks, and while I must commend you for at least trying, chances are, you’re wasting time and money with this tactic.

Optimization Plan for Website

So, where to start? Planning. While it may not be as “glamorous” as testing or creating a new design for your site, setting up your optimization plan will help you budget accordingly and achieve your goals. Website optimization is much like fixing up your home – you can do a full gut or just paint a few rooms, but having a plan before you tear out that wall is critical to the success of the project.

First, decide how much time and what resources you are prepared to put into optimization. It’s very important to be realistic about your resources and constraints. If you’re a one-man shop, chances are expecting to dedicate 20 hours a week to optimization will translate into failure or disappointment. Believe it or not, I’ve worked with many smaller clients in the past that met the “one-man shop” criteria despite having several employees.

If you only have one person working on your marketing, you’re still in that category as far as optimization is concerned. You may be a little bit better off if that one person is 100 percent dedicated to your marketing, but they will still have lots on their plate in addition to optimization tasks. Remember that resources include both money AND time and that if you’ve never done more detailed work with Analytics, copy-writing, design and your website, many of your tasks will take longer than you expect.

Stop and Think for a Minute

Now, pause. Ask yourself: are the resources you’ve allocated realistic for the returns you seek? If you have allocated 10 hours each week and 1 copywriter, and expect to see a 20% increase in conversion, that may not be realistic. That is not to say that it’s impossible to achieve your goals; it’s important to understand that with optimization, what you put into your efforts is directly related to what you get out of them. I wrote a piece about that kind of thing earlier this year about how to set an optimization budget that is aligned with your current marketing efforts and goals.

When considering whether or not you’ve set aside enough resources to reach your goals, be sure to look at your business and your competitors. Is there space within your industry to gain a 20% increase in conversion rate, or is your market already flooded? Shoe sites are a great example of a flooded market. There are so many online these days that unless you can compete with a large retailer on price, shipping and availability, you may be able to achieve only a 3-10% increase in conversion rate with optimization efforts, because of the already saturated market. Read more about how to set an optimization budget.

Next determine what metrics you’ll use to gauge your success. While many clients focus mainly on conversation rate, it’s not uncommon for a particular business to gain a higher return on a particular type of item or service, so that increasing sales of that particular product or service is another marker of success.

Now that you’ve set your goals and allocated your resources, it’s time to look for opportunities; it’s time to go to the data. Sticking with our earlier example, you’ve already decided that you don’t have the time or money to invest in a developer or designer right now. So although the data may be showing a large drop off in your 5-step checkout, fixing this right now without a developer many not be in the cards.

Side note: It’s great to recognize larger projects when looking through your data, and while I’d urge you to make these a priority, I’m realistic about the financial burden larger projects like moving to a 1-page checkout present. Gaining small wins using current resources can help bankroll larger projects that need to be tackled. Still, it’s important to remember opportunity cost: is it worth driving more, well-qualified traffic to your shopping cart only to have them drop out?

Search for Optimization Opportunities

The two top places to begin looking for optimization opportunities are:

  • Areas of high abandonment. Areas of high abandonment are like red flags telling you that something isn’t working for your visitors. But that doesn’t always mean they are the best place to start your optimization. One notable exception is if you find an area or page with 100% bounce, but your traffic to the area is under 50 Unique Visitors per month. This IS NOT a good place to optimize. You want to find high traffic pages with a high abandonment rate.
  • The checkout process. The checkout process is a great place to start as well because it typically has a lot of “low hanging fruit”. You already know that “low hanging fruit” indicates areas of the site where making small changes can yield large returns. Visitors entering the checkout process have already determined that you have a solution that fits their needs, but often they encounter some type of barrier that is prevents them from checking out. For some personas the difference between converting and not may be as simple as reassurances on the checkout page, or shipping estimates within the cart, so it’s a great place to begin your efforts.

**(These may be one in the same.)**

Remember, that whether you have 20 hours or 20 minutes, optimization is possible. Just make sure you recognize this process is cyclical. You will never fully be done with optimizing your site because your visitors will never be static with the same needs, wants and expectations, and developing technology will keep moving their expectations forward. Continuous website optimization is key to a successful online business. Happy optimizing!