The Great Exaggeration: Optimization

One of the so-called standard operating procedures we digital marketers espouse most vehemently is “optimization.” We believe we’ve got this practice nailed.

Search practitioners coined the term and drove the movement from the earliest days — wielding a love for data, crude original campaign management systems, Excel-based testing matrices and a belief that optimization was the birthright of search marketers, and by extension, all digital marketers. Therefore, it’s long been a constant for anyone in the business.

But, unfortunately, the industry started to take this capability for granted. Amid nearly-universal emphasis on optimization, we started to lose perspective on how widespread this capability actually was within the digital marketing community at large — and that’s the community that matters.

Are digital marketers fully optimized to, well… optimize? In data analytics, systems and options have continued to evolve within the industry in so many areas that we are just going through the motions. We’ve exaggerated our own state of optimization.

Opportunity Assessments

Our delusion often starts early in the process. Whether you’re part of a specialized search agency or general agency — or the resident search expert — we set out to evaluate our opportunity, our universe of potential keyword demand.

This is usually done through a combination of history, hunch, page analysis, competitive analysis and outright keyword research. The resulting keyword portfolio is where we start.

We intend to optimize our operating list based on performance of campaigns, categories, compartments and sweet-spots within this master list. This means expanding upon what’s working — delivering the most profitable conversion volumes — and gradually optimizing off the buy that’s failing us.

But, even today, this process may remain largely manual, depending on the tools and solutions in which we are willing to invest. So, how long before we start taking short cuts or getting lazy and operating in a sub-optimal state? How long until we turn our attention to the next initiative? It happens a lot in good organizations everywhere.

Campaign Construction & Optimization Planning

Our good intentions apply to creative, path-to-conversion and landing pages themselves, as well. We always say we are going to optimize these. But, do we have the right testing matrix, a properly stocked arsenal of creative, and the right tool set and levels of automation to authentically execute on our intentions?

Do we have the resources devoted to facilitating key changes to the digital or commerce or merchandized environment, based on the magnitude of findings? If you have been talking the talk of optimization in these areas, ask yourself and your team these questions. And, get them answered.

Corporate Culture

Assuring a true commitment to optimization as an operating principle requires making optimization part of the culture throughout the organization. That’s how it finds its way into every strategy, plan and execution.

It has to permeate the way teams engage and work together — the basic workflow. The Adobe 2012 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey Results Report found that optimization is poorly institutionalized. Taking site or environment optimization as one example,  prioritization and responsibility for optimization are out of whack. This despite the known impact optimization can have on a company’s business performance.

Here’s how the Adobe research report put it:

Despite the importance of digital optimization to conversion and marketing investment returns, survey results demonstrate that 81% of respondents allocate 15% or less of their marketing budget to on-site optimization efforts — up only 1% from our 2009 survey. While the digital marketing landscape has continued to evolve to meet customers’ high expectations, there has been little change in investment to meet the demand with marketing spend that really counts. Research shows that marketers spend $92 to acquire traffic and $1 to optimize it. Greater balance in investment between acquisition and optimization is needed to drive higher returns.

While often slow to gain momentum initially, prioritizing optimization within an organization can make a huge impact to the top- and bottom-line revenues. As industry analyst John Lovett notes, it’s not uncommon to see double-digit lifts in conversion as a result of pragmatic conversion optimization achieved through several small initiatives—for example, subtle adjustments in placement and messaging—not a large overhaul. This process is especially true for organizations that are new to conversion optimization and for initiatives that typically debut on inconsequential pages deep within the site. As these optimization initiatives have demonstrable results of success, they begin to appear on more and more prominent pages. Companies that embrace conversion optimization through small wins, combined optimization tactics, and acute focus are attaining more conversions, establishing deeper customer loyalties, and asserting competitive advantage over their peers.”

There you go. It’s not enough to espouse the principle of optimization and then let go of the wheel or pretend to have the levels of systems and automation into which you have not yet invested. But also, you cannot stop attending to small measures. Those small measures — tested, studied, learned and applied — can roll up to larger-scale optimizations that impact the greater business.

Everyone in your company should be mindful of their part in optimization. The pretense of optimization will squander every true opportunity a company has to improve upon itself and its performance in the marketplace.


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: serves numerous media and data technology clients for WIT Strategy as a Senior Associate in corporate affairs and media relations, as her primary engagement. She also runs collaborative pursuits through her company, Influence Collective, LLC. -- advising and supporting media and tech entrepreneurs in cooperation with other trusted partners and firm principals.

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