There are a lot of really cool things online – tools, services, and techniques that other entrepreneurs and businesses are using to create incredible experiences for their prospects and customers.
When I see someone doing something new and exciting I take note – literally. I have a Notebook in Evernote filled with all the awesome stuff I see and notes on how I might be able to implement the same tactic, and sometimes make it better.
But I rarely make it back to that list.
It exists and if I ever need a shot in the arm for a project, there’s a big list somewhere with enough ideas to launch a half dozen startups in stealthy, creative ways. Here’s the thing, though. Rarely, if ever, is such a thing needed.
Here’s why. Nine times out of ten, there are fundamental things that can be optimized, improved or implemented easier and faster than one of those shiny new things.
Avoiding the Single Basket Mistake
Whether due to budget constraints, a lack of time, or an oversight in the past, I’ve never worked on a project that was fundamentally perfect – where all the landing pages converted as well as they could or every email was pulling an above average click rate. I could fill a calendar year with optimization and fine tuning that almost always outperforms the big, exciting, crazy stuff that we frequently distract ourselves with.
The problem with my mindset, at least from those marketers’ perspective (and occasionally the client’s) is that it’s boring. I don’t disagree. I am a boring marketer, and I’m proud of it. I rarely have the flashiest or most creative idea in the room, but it’s for good reason. I’m wary of putting everything into a single basket on the off chance that it will work. Sure, if it does it could be a tremendous win for me and my client, but if it doesn’t, everyone looks bad.
When you frequently go back to the drawing board on a project – especially if you inherited it from another team – there are always opportunities to improve. Unless you’re working with a large company and its 7 or 8 figure marketing budget, I guarantee you’ll find things you can adjust and improve. No small marketing team is perfect. This is industry of highly educated guessing – refine and revise your guesses to uncover mistakes and ensure you’re getting the best results.
And when I find those mistakes, the missing CTAs, the duplicate landing page content, the stock photography, the poorly written headlines – those are the things that excite me. I get excited because I know a handful of very well placed changes can result in massive improvements to a website. When those items are fixed, the opportunity to put some icing on the cake with a new promotional channel or a test in a new visual platform is that much more rewarding.
The Tiniest Changes Make the Biggest Differences
Everyone wants a big, sexy breakthrough with their marketing. Launching a video campaign or a new eBook that drives hundreds of leads gets attention and makes you look good. But is it really more effective than carefully fine tuning what’s already there?
Here’s a prime example of a website I worked on several years ago in the education technology field and the list of changes we made. First, the results after 9 months:
- Traffic increased by 145%
- Site conversion rate increased from 0.9% to 2.2%
- Total leads per month increased by 265%
Awesome, right? Those numbers would make almost any client happy. But I almost lost the contract, because halfway in, the client was looking at our monthly reports and didn’t understand what we were doing with his money.
Sure there were plenty of tactical actions being taken, but where was the big, sexy splash? The massive launch that would fill his pipeline with more leads than he knew what to do with? Where was the Fortune 500 style mega-campaign he thought he’d paid for?
Here’s what we actually did to create this shift:
- Identified 21 pages that had “thin” content and wrote 300+ words for each
- Deleted and redirected 12 pages that were duplicates of other pages
- Launched a blog and posted to it weekly, with targeted backlinks from industry directories and news sites.
- Created two lead magnets and placed two CTA buttons on every page of the site
- Tested the copy on each landing page three times (every 2 months) and refined to increase conversions)
- Rebuilt the PPC campaign from the ground up to target and work in tandem with the new landing pages
- Revised headlines on each of the site pages to correspond with the conversion actions we were targeting
- Replaced images with action-oriented shots and original photography
There was more. The SEO campaign was robust and there were off-site links being generated with content and other efforts, but this list, while long, wasn’t sexy. There wasn’t a video or software tool or app, or anything else that a lot of clients want to see when they bring on a monthly retainer.
But it worked, and after months 5 and 6 when the results really started pouring in at orders of magnitude, the client came around and was incredibly happy.
The Lesson for New Digital Marketers
The technology behind what we do changes constantly. There are new tools almost every week and other companies are almost always using a more complicated, more robust solution to the same problems.
But in the majority of cases, the best use of your clients’ investment is to stay the course, refine your efforts, and tweak what’s already there. Once a website is optimized to perform, there is a LOT you can do to continuously improve that performance and get more out of it.
The difference between 0.9% and 2.2% looks small. It’s only a 1.3% bump, right? But when that kind of shift happens, it means we’re generating 144% more conversions from the same site. No big investments, no huge campaigns – just good fundamental conversion rate optimization to get exactly what the client is paying for.
Should you completely avoid the fun, new stuff? No. I love trying new things as much as the next person. But it should be a measured part of your strategy. Carve out a percentage of time and budget to try new things; don’t use new ideas as Hail Mary passes that may or may not work when it’s already too late to do the rest.
Marketing is not a game of craps – you don’t wait for the big hit. You play the odds and make smart moves for incremental benefits, building up enough credit to try something new and exciting every now and then as the icing on top, not the core of your strategy.
Also published on Medium.