Brands that regard their websites as a primary revenue source have three very distinct priorities: give customers an optimal experience, create loyalty and convert potentially passive browsers into active buyers.

It’s not a coincidence that experience and loyalty precede sales in this short priority list; the relationship between exceptional customer experiences and revenue growth is fairly direct. The better your website speaks to your visitors, the more loyal they will become and the more sales you will generate.

The good news is that customers can (and should) be very active in the optimization process. The bad news is that they’re also very fickle.

But it’s up to marketers to fulfill their end of the bargain, which is really no more than a little active listening. Thanks in part to testing solutions, listening has become a lot easier, and our customers have become a lot more vocal, even if they don’t know it. Through their clicks, page views, bounces, reviews and purchases, our online customers are offering us helpful feedback about their online experiences, in real-time.

This type of data -- this wealth of knowledge about customer preferences, behaviors, needs, wants, habits, patterns and so forth -- is at the heart of a solid customer experience optimization (CXO) strategy.

How Can Your Customers Optimize Your Site For You?

Well, there’s a long and exhaustive answer and there’s a relatively shorter one. I’m going to offer the latter.

Things like low average order values, high bounce rates and sub-par click-through rates are your customers’ ways of letting you know that you’re not providing them with the experience they need to buy from you.

Alternatively, things like consistently increasing shopping cart sizes, content downloads, clicks on relevant offers, return visits, friend referrals and other signs of loyalty are your customers' ways of saying that you’re doing something right.

What Can You Do with all of this Data?

Begin Testing

Using A/B and Multivariate testing to discover your problem areas is a great first step. You’ll know what pages or elements they get stuck on, as well as start noticing negative patterns along the sales path.

No matter where you begin, whether it’s with shopping cart funnels, homepage bounce rates, search or call-to-actions, testing different variations of elements encountered along the path-to-purchase -- and deciding which ones produce the highest conversions -- will begin to paint a picture of what your visitors want and need. With this type of information at your disposal, you can begin to tweak your site accordingly.

By underestimating the impact of apparently subtle changes, a significant amount of benefit is lost. Multivariate testing on an ad-hoc basis simply does not generate the conversion increases that can be attained by knowing what to test, where and when based on a wealth of expertise and past experience. So test early, test often, test always.

Get Personal

Of course, not every customer will want the same things, and that’s where website personalization comes in.

With all the means of creating targeted web experiences for each individual customer, there is no reason your website shouldn’t speak directly to individual customer needs, wants and interests. The opportunity to increase their loyalty, individual conversion rates and even number of purchases ?at checkout is limitless.

At the moment, the term “personalization” is surrounded by confusion, mostly because it has evolved far beyond what it once was: product recommendations. It’s now much more sophisticated and can be automated to provide insight at the individual visitor level (which is obviously great for marketers), as well as can integrate CRM data with each visitor’s online experience, in real time.

In reality, every specific piece of information you can gain about your customer -- from search information to online behavior and purchases -- can be used to create a unique visitor persona profile. Which means that your approach to personalization can be as simple (using one or two collected insights) or complex (a detailed formula based on multiple insights) as you want it to be.

Three Approaches to Personalization

  1. Segmentation: You can create user profiles gleaned from multivariate testing insights that allow you to segment visitors into basic groups based on attributes such as repeat vs. new visitor, geography, time of day…the list goes on.

    This will help you start to create a more targeted experience from the moment a visitor lands on your site. Even the simplest categorizations allow for better customer engagement with content and offers that are more relevant, all with the end goal of improving sales.

  2. Product Recommendations: The collected insights from visitors and customers who have browsed and/or shopped with you before can be used to cross-sell and up-sell with targeted recommendations for future browsers.

    One application of this is “item affinity,” an approach made popular by Amazon, in which an e-Commerce site recommends items to visitors based on models such as ”visitors who bought this also bought that.”

    Visitor affinity, on the other hand, looks at a visitor’s product interest(s) compared with other visitors and recommends products based on the past habits of visitors with similar interests.

  3. Behavioral Targeting: Rather than making informed assumptions based on group patterns, behavioral targeting takes into account each individual customer’s known interests, attributes and history.

    Behavioral targeting, either rules-based or predictive model-based can help you move toward an online customer experience that’s so personalized it far exceeds anything that can be delivered in a physical store -- short of hiring a dedicated personal shopper. How? Predictive behavior targeting relies on a mathematical model that learns over time to dynamically adjust and predict the content displayed for each visitor based on their compounded profile and historical site activity.

All of this may seem like a lot to take in -- and it is -- but just remember that no matter what you think customers want or how you think they should interact with your site, they will ultimately engage with you exactly the way they want. Which means that you can either fight it, and try to channel customers into the experience you think they should have, or you can take the sensible path, and work with your customers.

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