Jon MacDonald is passionate about ridding the web of bad eCommerce experiences until only the good remain. Beginning as a web designer/developer during the dot-com boom, he has worked with dozens of brands such as Autodesk, Apple, Columbia Sportswear, Comcast, Linksys/Cisco, General Electric, Harley-Davidson, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Nationwide Insurance, Nike, Nokia, Red Bull, UPS, Vodafone and Xerox.
Jon’s company, The Good, has turned online browsers into buyers for some of the biggest brands in business. The Good has become one of Oregon’s top 20 fastest growing private companies three years in a row, and its founder has been recognized with a Forty Under 40 Award.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Jon volunteers for several causes which affect the eCommerce community and the Pacific Northwest as a whole.
Today’s guest is Jon MacDonald, founder of The Good, a Conversion Rate Optimization firm. Beginning a decade ago, they have been collecting, analyzing and evaluating the data which goes into CRO since before CRO became a buzz term.
In this episode, Jon explains that while data gathered from site metrics and A/B Testing are vital, sometimes they do not tell the entire story of a company’s eCommerce presence. He demonstrates how business practices between the Brick and Mortar world and the eCommerce arena are even closer than they appear and shares how he has helped several traditional Brick and Mortar concerns to not only expand into eCommerce but to use connectivity to enhance the physical shopping experience.
This is The Lean Commerce Podcast.
How did you get involved in Conversion Optimization?
00:48 We started as a digital marketing firm, building eCommerce sites mainly. Most of our customers were not too concerned with how their site was built, technically, they were mainly concerned with making sure that site would perform after it launched.
01:45 We found we were winning contracts by adding a clause that we would be allowed to optimize the sites for three months after launch, while our competition was using a “launch and forget” model.
02:30 A few years later, we decided to pivot and focus exclusively on Conversion Rate Optimization. We found that there were dozens of firms who could develop sites for cheaper than us, and the clients never looked at the source code and didn’t care as long as it worked. Where we provided the most value was in optimizing the site.
Who are your clients in general?
03:20 We have worked with clients of all sizes but find that a minimum of 10,000 visitors/month is necessary for testing to provide a return on investment for the client. We’ve worked with Xerox, Adobe, The Economist, Nike, Swiss Gear, as well as some smaller brands that have a retail presence but maybe their online presence is not as big.
When I think of eCommerce I usually only think of pure-play eCommerce that does not have any retail presence, it is just a store that is digital. It seems that the brick and mortar retailers are getting much bigger in the eCommerce space to support retail rather than compete with retail.
04:50 One of the things about CRO that is coming down the line is Personalization and optimizing to have a more personalized site for your visitors. When you combine that with retail data, it’s like the perfect gold mine. You are able to track somebody in store in terms of what they purchase and what they like so that when they visit your website you already have a basis and foundation of information to build on. If you know that people in-store often buy a complementary product and they always like that product, you can serve the same on your website.
You can use the gains form online to help offline offers, it’s an easy testing environment.
06:20 Testing has become much easier over the years; the tool sets are much easier to work with. We often work with brands that have been doing their own testing for a year, have been trying A/B Testing on their website. Most people who I talk to about Conversion Optimization come to us knowing what it is. If there is one message, I can get across today, it is that everybody should be doing some form of A/B Testing, even if you do not have the traffic levels, you should be collecting data.
08:40: Consumers are only coming to your site for two reasons. The first is that they have a pain, or a need and they think that your product or service can solve that pain or need, so they are doing the research around that. They want to determine if there is a good mutual fit, and second, if there is, they want to convert. They want to buy your product and leave. It is interesting how much brands want to communicate that fall outside those two points. They are always trying to push some kind of content.
There is one main goal of every eCommerce website, to generate more revenue. What kind of approach do you take when there are so many things wrong that there isn’t time to A/B Test all of them?
12:46 We always want to start with the highest impact areas first, so we look at what is flat-out stopping people from conversion. While the goal is to get that conversion, we also believe that there are dozens of what we call micro-conversions, things that ultimately lead to that big purchase. The first thing we do is a comprehensive audit of a site to understand what those influencing factors are, and what percentage of people are falling off the funnel or Adding to Cart and completing a purchase. Once we have that data, then we can sort what areas we want to fix based on return on investment.
15:45 If you Google enough about Conversion Optimization there is one case study that is pretty famous, and in my point of view full of a lot of B.S., that they changed one button and it resulted in $10 million in additional sales. That’s just not true. It is unlikely that is going to happen, but that is the expectation. Think of it as a savings account, we want the small gains to compound from month to month.
Do you ever see a regression in the mean? Do you ever feel the need to retest after an improvement appears temporary or seasonal?
18:00 This is part of the reason we always start with a comprehensive audit, we want to look at things year over year, we want to look at trends. By tracking a year at a time, we can see seasonality. The amount of times we have gone back and retested something is fairly minimal, the reason being that we are usually moving on to some other area looking for that compounding effect.
Some of your clients have pretty high traffic numbers. What tactics have you pulled away from having a lot more traffic to test with?
20:05 That is where we get to start testing really small items. We are able to test things that are further down the funnel that have less traffic. For instance, the more traffic you have, the easier it is to test something in your Cart, changing your Cart layout or Check Out page. It also helps where we don’t have to run tests on groups of pages. We can really get down and focus on the page templates for the most popular products.
21:30 Working with Easton Baseball, parents would be faced with a page showing hundreds of bat models which all looked identical. The parents would have a good idea what kind of hitter their kids were, and the coaches would have mentioned some feature to look for. By testing and surveying, we were able to concentrate on the pages of the most popular bat models and translate that to the rest of the site, developing a language that parents would understand and avoiding technical speak.
What has been the biggest surprise your testing has revealed in the past year or two?
25:10 We find that there is always something surprising for us, part of that is because we want to always leave the doors open, we don’t want to come in with our vision clouded. When we were working with Xerox, we found that the company optimized selling the actual machines, but the more we optimized in that direction the more we were opening the site for people shopping for ink and supplies. So, we presented to the company that we should be optimizing more to help consumers find specific model numbers which needed supplies.
Customer Lifetime Value
27:45 It is interesting that we are in an industry call Conversion Rate Optimization, so people think that we are only interested in influencing conversion rates, but that is a short-sighted view. If we have to stick with C.R.O. as the acronym, I think it should be Continual Revenue Optimization. This takes the focus off a single metric and encourages thinking on how we can continuously and iteratively improve all these metrics over time.
29:45 That’s where I come in again with the comprehensive audit being the most helpful process. Starting with the data, collecting the right data and having that data to make decisions from is really imperative.
Working with the retailers who have an online and retail presence, what kind of things do you see that these highly successful businesses are bringing that those in the pure-play eCommerce world may be missing?
30:45 Usually what we are seeing in those instances is the importance of Search. Most of the time in these retail locations, people are going on their phone, bringing up products, and looking for more information about the product. This may be about technical specification of the product or simply available sizes not available at the retail site, but it can be a powerful tool to have shoppers on the store’s website.
33:50 I think that paying attention to the personas of the brands we work with is very important. We have worked with brands which are going after multiple personas, but they don’t have them defined, or they have too many defined. There is a danger of trying to be everything to everyone online which is extremely difficult, if not impossible to optimize for.
Complimentary Landing Page Assessments
Jon has offered LeanCommerce listeners a landing page assessment of their site over a fifteen-minute phone call. Just go the TheGood.com and push the button on the page.