The Price Of Perfection

A few years back, I wrote a column about a common worry people express when they use analytics to inform their optimization testing plans.

Somehow they figure that the simpler tools on the market (such as Google’s free Content Experiments tool) won’t be able to handle their site. A more expensive tool, mistakenly, is assumed to yield more effective insight for testing, thereby “reducing” the risk of testing.

This may even get fed this line by consultants who  guide their clients to overly complex tools — why? no one is certain — claiming that the excellent free tools aren’t useful for a complex database-driven site.

First, everyone thinks their own site is complexEveryone. Just like everyone thinks their kid is cute enough to be a model for Gap Kids. But ecommerce sites are pretty similar — and simple. It goes something like this:

  • Get customer to site
  • Display product to customer
  • Help customer decide to buy
  • Accept her money with a thank you
  • Ship out the goods
  • Repeat

Customers don’t care if what we have behind-the-scenes is simple or complex. All the customer cares about is how simple and enjoyable — or not — the experience is for them.

Embrace The Wrong

Now, on to the issue of perfectionism. This fear of taking an incremental step lest it turn out wrong, even if the step is toward improvement, seems to evoke fear, dread and a certain “deer in the headlights” mentality.

Ever hear the adage, “Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong”? It’s a great way to think about testing and improvement of any kind, because it deals with the fact that the first step toward improvement always “feels” the hardest. It speaks to the moment when you’re most susceptible to false objections like “It’s too complex!” or “That’s inefficient!”

Let’s get those first steps out of the way. Let’s embrace being wrong, because we will almost surely learn some way to improve. The fact that the improvement won’t be immediate or perfect just isn’t a viable reason not to try. Asking for it to be perfect first and always is a perfect recipe for “never”.

If your company sells, for example, $5m/yr online and you can raise the conversion rate from 4% to 5% (a 20% lift) because of your testing with any testing tool you just added $1 million ($5m x 20%) to the bottom line.

Put yourself in the shoes of a CEO who discovers that waiting for so-called perfection before acting was costing $1m/yr in lost revenues, plus employee salaries. Don’t you think you could find less expensive, less “perfect” employees?

“Perfect” = Soon Out Of A Job

I wonder just how many companies out there are paying millions of dollars a year for perfectionism? And how many imperfect employees, freed from this apotheosis, consistently deliver better results for their companies and their customers?

The best thing about testing and optimizing is that it’s win-win. When you come up with something better, you win because you and your company make more money for the same relative effort. Your dollar efficiency goes up.

When you “lose” — which is to say, your testing efforts come up a bit short in terms of not performing better than what you already had — you still win, because you just learned what not to test. Your knowledge efficiency goes up.  And so your next attempts will be that much more informed.

Great testing results come from a serious of bad test results. Embrace test failures as the necessary tilling of the soil that leads to a much expanded harvest in the future.

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

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | Google: Analytics


About The Author: is one of the inventors of Persuasion Architecture and regularly combats innumeracy among marketers in his popular "Math for Marketers" series. John's 2008 best-seller, "Always Be Testing", written with business partner Bryan Eisenberg, has been the standard reference for conversion optimization through testing since its release and has been used for the basis of both academic coursework as well as corporate training.

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  • tom

    Great article – if I had a dollar every time I had to do an update to a site which was updated for the “seat of the pants” style design…I’d have a million bucks!  :)

  • Kasi

    Very true, testing and failing at something should be looked at as an opprtunity to scale. You just have to be aware of everything that you are doing in the process. I think that your testing efforts vary on experience. It’s advisable to document everything that you are doing.


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