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In an era of integrated channels, website optimisation has been somewhat left behind. When companies are wrestling with hard business decisions, why are so many organisations still considering website optimisation in isolation, asks Nick Keating, vice president (EMEA) for Maxymiser. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

When real time optimisation techniques, from multivariate testing to segmentation and personalisation, can provide immediate insight into the real response of thousands of customers to significant business changes, why are some companies still just focused on testing different versions of landing pages and playing around with visual content?

As most organisations openly admit that there is no such thing as a "single channel strategy" any more, Keating suggests that optimisation is far less about tactical improvements to the website and far more about optimising and improving business performance across the board.

"Tactical website optimisation has had its day," said Keating. "While there is no doubt that over the past few years organisations have gained measurable benefits from the ability to improve customer acquisition or increase conversions, these activities have a very narrow focus."

Improving the landing page image or messaging made sense when organisations were experimenting with the online channel and assessing the on-going value of digital to the business. But the business model has moved on. Enterprise organisations today are highly integrated across every channel; they are dynamic, complicated and demand high levels of innovative, well focused investment to remain competitive.

To put it into perspective, would it make sense to concentrate website optimisation on sales conversion alone if the business also has a pressing and expensive problem with returns? Businesses have any number of objectives over and above a blunt 'increase sales'; from minimising logistics costs to driving customers in-store or onto the mobile channel, and increasing cross-sell across product categories. They want to explore challenging and innovative new business ideas, such as introducing 'virtual fitting rooms' and the digital business is just one aspect of the overall customer experience.

It is therefore time for organisations to consider online performance as an essential component of the end to end business picture - not a distinct, stand-alone aspect of the business. And that means taking a different approach to website optimisation; an approach that moves beyond tactical visual and messaging improvements to 'strategic optimisation'. Organisations need to tackle a range of online business challenges, increasingly provide customers with a more personal experience and measure the impact on business performance of these changes.

Forward-looking organisations are now beginning to attain long term value by aligning optimisation activities with these business objectives, rather than simply focusing on the basics of the web experience. Furthermore, they also recognise the power of the online channel to explore and measure customer response to new ideas and opportunities both on- and offline. But rather than rely on the somewhat unscientific and slow to process results of a focus group, these companies are using online optimisation techniques, such as segmentation, personalisation or multivariate testing, to gain instant feedback from the response of thousands of customers in real time.

Validating a new business hypothesis in this way online before it is rolled out to the wider organisation is a far more effective way of understanding the potential impact of the strategy across the business. For example, an airline considering the value of introducing allocated seating was able to assess the business impact of hundreds of different online sales funnel permutations. This not only revealed the most effective way of achieving the strategic objective of maximising ancillary sales revenue but also provided key feedback into customers' perceived value of this new ancillary option.

By working in close collaboration with optimisation partners and building stronger links between key business leaders and the optimisation team, these organisations are identifying those critical business ideas that can be assessed rapidly online. Take, for example, the car hire company that achieved a 7% increase in total bookings as a result of redesigning its delivery and collection service offering. By improving the way in which its personalised delivery and collection offer was presented to customers, the company boosted its ancillary sales of this added-value service by an extraordinary 87%.

A leading international retailer used the online channel to explore customer attitudes to the look of models in order to not only boost sales but also measure the different image costs against performance. Rather than rely on the traditional focus group, the company presented its online customers with different images, including the use of body-only shots, which are less expensive than full shots. The result was a significantly better performance without the headshot, leading to an 11% sales uplift but also a saving in imaging costs and a new insight into customer attitudes that is relevant across the board, from online to in-store.

"In this dynamic, highly integrated, multi-channel business model, the ability to hypothesise, optimise and personalise the end to end customer experience, from content to multiple funnels and check out options, is changing the game," concluded Keating.

The days of the one-off tactical improvement to some or other aspect of the website are over. It is those businesses actively embarking on a continual programme of 'strategic optimisation' activity that are achieving quantifiable improvements in business performance not only online but across the board.