May 29, 2014
Event Wrap-up

Web Optimization Summit 2014 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways to improve your testing and optimization

SUMMARY: One week ago today, marketers joined us in Midtown Manhattan to thrive, learn and share in the spirit of Web Optimization Summit 2014. Our two-day agenda was saturated with inspiring sessions, stocked with everything from e-commerce and subscription case studies to featured speakers hailing from Harvard Business School and Denmark.

But if you couldn't sink your teeth into the Big Apple with us last week, don't fret – simply read on.

We've compiled our top five takeaways from Web Optimization Summit for you in this wrap-up article so you can capitalize on valuable testing insights.
by Allison Banko, Reporter

We held this year's MarketingSherpa MarketingExperiments Web Optimization Summit where content is king. The TimesCenter is nestled in The New York Times building, sharing a sky-high roof with one of the most respected news hubs of our time. For Web Optimization Summit 2014, we rose to the occasion by dishing out some killer content of our own.

In arguably our chicest venue yet, attendees soaked in testing and optimization sessions from the comforts of plush red velvet seats.

However, you can still get the top takeaways from the cushion of your office roller chair. This wrap-up article illustrates key takeaways from two jam-packed days of testing and optimization teachings. If you'd like short snippets straight from the fingers of our attendees, check out #WebOpt14 on Twitter — there was plenty to tweet about.

Takeaway #1. Small changes to the right elements can garner big results

Dressed dapper in his tailored vest, Michael Aagaard stood off to the side of The TimesCenter stage, eagerly waiting to begin his presentation. From the moment his polished, chestnut shoes took the stage, the audience could instantly experience his energy.

This is impressive given that Aagaard, Founder,, had to endure a 4,000-mile trip from his homeland of Denmark to get to NYC.

It wasn't his first time in the states by any means. Aagaard had been to MarketingSherpa events before — as an attendee and presenter. Years ago, he told the audience, he remembers sitting down for dinner with the MarketingSherpa team.

"This is an intimate secret of mine," he admitted, "But during that dinner, I was blown away."

Right then, he made it his goal to keynote a MarketingSherpa event and that dream came true the moment he stepped on stage for his session, "How, When and Why Minor Changes Have a Major Impact on Conversions."

He explained small changes have a major impact:
  • When they address critical friction in the conversion process.

  • When they are made strategically to prominent and/or mission-critical elements that directly impact the decision-making process of the prospect.

However, the impact is dependent on the motivation of your visitors. He showcased a motivation spectrum, illustrating, "if motivation is very high or very low, it's difficult to impact the decision-making process."


Aagaard said he likes to think of friction as "anything that doesn't accelerate the decision-making process."

A common source of friction, he said, is when there's a disconnect between two steps (for example, between messaging, design or imagery). Another example is the transition between campaign material and the corresponding landing page.

To demonstrate, he outlined headline test for Fitness World. The control read, "You work out smarter at Fitness World."

Aagaard admitted he loved this headline — "It's sexy and sounds great; plus it's easy to take in. But to be honest," he added, "I have no clue what that means to me."

The team performed a test with a treatment headline that read, "Group training & fitness at your local gym."

Aagaard was candid, saying that he thought this headline was "lame." But he's glad they tested it, because the treatment resulted in a 38.46% lift in sign-ups.

"Simple change, very large lift," Aagaard said.

Mission-critical elements

Mission-critical elements are those elements you can't avoid to get to the next step. Buttons and email subject lines are some examples.

"I've been called the 'Button Man' by MarketingSherpa," Aagaard said. "I spend a lot of time testing buttons — buttons are absolutely critical."

He showed a test between the control button, "Get your membership" against the treatment button, "Find your gym & get membership." The treatment resulted in a 213.16% higher clickthrough rate.

Again, small change, large lift.

Focusing on mission-critical elements as well as where friction exists in the conversion process is key to ensuring your small changes pack a punch, keeping in mind that motivation of the customer matters, too.

Tim Kachuriak, Founder and Chief Innovation & Optimization Officer, Next After, honed in on this in his featured session as well in his presentation, "Selling the Intangible: How e-commerce and subscription-based companies can learn to sell intangible value like a nonprofit organization."

Kachuriak unveiled the very first experiment he performed, inspired by MECLABS teachings. The test was conducted on an email donor acquisition campaign for the George W. Bush Presidential Center with the objective of increasing clickthrough and revenue.

In a single-factorial A/B split test, he challenged the control, "Please accept this invitation to stand with President and Mrs. Bush by making a tax-deductible online contribution now," against the optimized treatment, "Please accept this invitation to become a Charter Member of the George W. Bush Presidential Center." The treatment produced a 141.3% increase in clickthrough rate and a 38% lift in revenue.

Kachuriak's takeaway: Small changes to the right elements can produce dramatic results. In the case of the George W. Bush Presidential Center test, increasing the force of the value proposition inspired more clicks and more donations.

As Aagaard said, "It's not about making extensive changes, it's about making the right changes."

Takeaway #2. Show your work to win over your customers

Your middle school math teacher may have been onto something. Turn in your homework without showing your work and prepare to earn only half credit. Believe it or not, this practice isn't something that's exclusive to algebra class. In fact, it's something we're seeing — and can benefit from — in marketing.

Featured speaker and Harvard Business School Associate Professor Michael Norton proved this in his session, "Trust Through Transparency."

He opened by diving into Domino's Pizza Tracker. (Hey, you know you can't go wrong when you start with pizza.) The Pizza Tracker allows customers to follow the status of their Domino's order online, from when the order is placed to steps including prep, bake, box and delivery. Domino's is showing its work — and customers love it.

"We like to see people working on our behalf," Norton explained.
In Domino's case, customers can actually see the work being put into their pepperoni pizzas as if they were couture. Being transparent with your customers builds trust, and it's a strategy we can, and should be, capitalizing on.

Norton also discussed the success popular dating sites are experiencing by "showing their work." Of course, these sites run on algorithms. Algorithms don't "work hard," but customers like to see that they are — even if it translates into more time to receive their search results.

For example, these sites can spit out hundreds of matches for your dating preferences in mere seconds. But customers (in this case, those looking for matchable mates) like to see how the site comes up with their matches. Instead of showing results in seconds with no work, sites resonate better with customers by taking more time to show the customer the "process" it's going through to reach those results.

For example, while a dating site is "looking" for matches, the company can show profiles being "sifted" through, illustrating items such as "now we're finding people of the age you like" or "now we're finding people of the religion you like" before displaying matches.

Just seeing something being done is better than nothing, Norton explained. Showing the work helps people over telling them nothing at all.

"There's something about showing labor that is so powerful, that even when the labor isn't great, it still seems to resonate with people," he said.

Think about all the ways you can show the work that you're doing to garner credit in various aspects of your life. You can use the trick of transparency to:
  • Get more credit from your partner

  • Get more credit from your coworkers

  • Help your customers understand all of the services you provide them

With your coworkers, this can be seen through utilizing Microsoft Word's "Track Changes" tool. Even though it's the same document, the version with tracked changes tends to be valued more in the workplace. We like seeing the work.

Norton's point: Perception is greater than reality. Customers need to feel like you're doing work for them. If you show this, they'll feel like they owe you a purchase.

How can you "show your work" to your customers to raise your credibility and attract their buy?

Takeaway #3. Testing? Be prepared to fail (and then learn)

Just as Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, said in his presentation, "If you're the marketer who's trying to get it right all the time, you'll never learn."

This was exemplified in plenty of sessions presented on the sun-lit Summit stage.

In "The Nuts and Bolts: How one company implements an entire testing strategy every day," we learned that VacationRoost failed not one, but four times in one of its tests.

Ryan Hutchings, Director of Marketing, VacationRoost, outlined tests the team performed on its lead forms that time after time resulted in no lifts. Though the team worked to refine treatments, modifying variables such as security seals, a shorter form and the option to call, the team still didn't throw in the testing towel when they didn't immediately experience success.

Eventually, VacationRoost applied the MECLABS Conversion Heuristic to develop a test that produced a 19% lift. But just because the team didn't achieve gains on the first try, it didn't mean it was the end-all, be-all.

Hutchings even likened testing to an all-too-familiar, frustrating game for most of us — golf. When you fail (or continually whiff the ball or plunk it into sand traps), you may ask yourself why do I play this game? But when you eventually sink that putt, you're thinking, "I love this game!"

Takeaway #4. Isolate your testing elements

Upper management doesn't want to talk about when you made par, they want to talk about your awful shank — your fail.

In "Offer Page Transformation: From one-size-fits-all to customized experience," two members of the team shared their frustrations in explaining failure.

If a test wins, it's no questions asked. If a test loses? Inquiring minds want to know why.

In's case, the team saw a 7.5% decrease in conversion on a new template design they tested. But because so many changes were made, the team was at a loss for the reason.

"When we failed, we didn't know why we failed," explained Emily Titcomb, Senior Manager, Product Marketing, hadn't isolated its testing elements, so the team couldn't isolate why the test failed. So they took another stab at the template, but this time, the team examined three different factors to attempt to unearth why the treatment wasn't working.

The team isolated:
  • Button size (standard vs. large)

  • Price placement (near CTA vs. far from CTA)

  • Imagery placement (side vs. top)

After performing a nine-cell, full-factorial test around those elements, the team realized price placement was the most influential element on conversion. With this insight, the team had their answer.

Titcomb and's Senior Interactive Art Director Julia Babiarz honed in on the importance of isolating your testing elements so you can discover what influences and motivates your customers.

Takeaway #5. Use marketing insights to transform the entire enterprise

Peter Doucette is no stranger to our Summits. As The Boston Globe's Vice President of Consumer Sales & Marketing, he's already shared his story on how The Globe used landing page optimization to understand its customers and create an effective value proposition in previous Summits. In true Red Sox spirit, Doucette even shared "The Boston Globe testing scorecard":
  • 16 experiments

  • 7 winning treatments

  • .438 batting average (On Twitter, one attendee pointed out that The Globe has a better batting average than that famed Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who finished his career at .344.)

  • $2.6 million revenue

But now, The Boston Globe is thinking even bigger by taking optimization beyond its marketing function to transform the entire business.

"We're trying to build on the success we've had and apply it in a much broader way," Doucette said.

While The Globe seeks to apply testing and optimization to areas including product UX, operations, organizational structure and micro-markets for print circulation, Doucette dove into how The Globe has moved its testing into the newsroom with headline testing.

Because The Boston Globe has millions of readers, there are tests that can often validate within minutes. The Web Optimization Summit audience was able to see this firsthand by participating in a live headline test, voting between the two headlines:
  1. Police Allege Sex Assault in Walpole Not Reported

  2. Did School Run by State Contractor Fail to Report Rape?

By the end of the 30-minute session, option B was leading. Through this testing, The Boston Globe can see which headline attracts more readers and can optimize them to perform better.

Take a page from The Boston Globe and think outside of the box with your testing and optimization strategy. Can you apply a testing culture outside the confines of your company's marketing department? Dare to dream — and then go do it.

A takeaway on takeaways

The very spine of MarketingSherpa is to provide you with the keys to unlock your own successes. From key takeaways to key principles, we want to ensure your brain is brimming with valuable insights and actionable items.

But during the close of his session, featured speaker Kachuriak challenged the audience when it came to furiously scribbling notes on those items from their Web Optimization Summit schedules.

"If we fixate on the takeaways, I think we miss the other reason why we're supposed to be here," he said.

The other reason? Helping others. Of course, our nonprofit-based speaker could see Summit through this lens. Kachuriak requested the audience to find ways to give away during Web Optimization Summit, not just take away.

"You may hold the key that unlocks the breakthrough for someone else," Kachuriak said.

As a marketer, remember to not just take advice, but also share your knowledge.

"Giving is the key to everything," Kachuriak said. "When we give, we always, always receive."

Tune into our webinar "Marketing Mashup: Top Takeaways from Web Opt Summit 2014," on Wednesday, June 4, from 2:00-2:30 p.m. EDT.

Creative Samples

  1. Motivation spectrum

  2. Fitness World headline test

  3. Button test

  4. George W. Bush Presidential Center control vs. treatment

  5. VacationRoost lead form test — security seals

  6. VacationRoost lead form test — shorter form

  7. VacationRoost lead form test — option to call

  8. template design

  9. template design with isolated elements

  10.'s full-factorial test results

  11. The Boston Globe testing scorecard


Michael Norton

Next After


The Boston Globe

Related Resources

Web Optimization: How one company implements an entire testing strategy every day — Watch the on demand video replay of Hutchings' MarketingSherpa webinar, presented at Web Optimization Summit 2014

Web Optimization: Can you repeat your test results?

Customer-centric Marketing: How transparency translates into trust

Web Optimization: improves conversion 20% by reducing choice barriers

Web Optimization: VacationRoost implements 2 testing methodologies to boost total conversion rates by 12%

The Boston Globe: Discovering and optimizing a value proposition for content — Peter Doucette’s session at Optimization Summit 2013

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