By: Neil Sniffen

Date: November 16, 2016

That first step onto the casino floor is like walking into a world of possibilities. So many options, so many different ways to win. The noise of the games and the crowds all create the aura of excitement that does an amazing job at dulling the sense of risk and potential loss each game represents.

As any reliable investor will say, casino and lottery games are not wise investments. They represent massive risks with little opportunity for a return. Instead, the conventional wisdom is to build a strong investment portfolio by diversifying investments. This allows for gains in some investments to mitigate losses in others. The net result is an overall gain.

Investing in a website is no different. For many brands, they treat their website as if it were a casino bet. Every two or three years they make a massive bet on a redesign with the hope that the glitzy new site will do what the old site failed to do. They place all their hope in parallax, bigger logos, endless carousels, and trendy design fads then sit back and pray for the site to work. Sometimes the new site performs better, more often the redesign gamble does not pay off and the brand is left with a worse performing website and the prospect of another expensive redesign.

There is a better website investment strategy.

100,000 Little Bets

Instead of making the biennial redesign gamble, brands should invest in making many small improvements to optimize the website they already have. This strategy allows brands to minimize their risk while improving their existing website and seeing a greater return on their investment.

Table stakes

Before diving into this approach, there are some minimal table stakes.

  • The brand’s website must be responsive. Responsive design was actually table stakes years ago, but with every new improvement to Google’s algorithm and increased adoption of smartphones, having a responsive website is, at a minimum, the least a brand must do to be competitive. Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update has essentially made all non-responsive websites unfindable.
  • The brand’s website must have an SSL certificate. Google now looks for this security certificate as a part of its search ranking. Not only does this help with a brand’s search ranking, it validates in the customer’s eye a brand’s commitment to keeping customer data secure.
  • The brand’s website must have a website content strategy that is rooted in stakeholder agreement about the business and brand platform: mission, values, audience, brand messaging. All of this needs to be clarified and agreed upon, and then translated into a clear content strategy for the website in order for it to be a successful component of a larger marketing mix.

Adopting the 100,000 little bets strategy starts within the brand organization. This strategy is a change in the way that marketing and business is done. It is an approach that asks brands to think of their website (and digital marketing) not as a static entity, but as an evolving business unit capable of becoming exactly what the brand needs through experimentation and testing. Call it an optimization mindset.

Creating an optimization mindset within the brand is freeing. No longer is the website a source of tension and consternation. No longer does “the website sucks” mentality reign. Instead, the website is slowly refined into a successful business unit. Ideas and suggestions for improving the site can be tested and proved right (or wrong). It liberates decision making because it no longer requires a $100,000 or more gamble on a site redesign.

This sounds too good to be true.

The reality of adopting an optimization mindset is just like adopting a diversified investment portfolio, there will be many wins and there will be losses. Not every optimization experiment will result in a massive improvement to conversion rate, there will be no silver bullet. But by investing in small, incremental experiments and changes the site will improve. These small investments will pay off and in the end and the brand will be in a stronger position.

Often, investment into optimization can have immediate, dramatic effects. Brands that have adopted this mindset have found that within a short timeframe, their website’s conversion rate, average order value, revenue and leads all improve.

Getting Started

Not every brand is ready to adopt an optimization mindset. There are many brands that are content with their existing redesign schedule and don’t mind the gamble. But for brands that are tired of riding on the redesign roulette wheel, adopting an optimization mindset can be a simple as conducting a small user test of a common task and watching the results.

Too often the barrier for adoption is an unclear view of how exactly the brand’s website is being used by its audience. Watching how actual customers use the site can often be enough to convert even the most stubborn of brand executives.

Once a brand decides that making 100,000 small bets is a better strategy than one large $100,000 bet, there are a couple of ways to get started down the path to optimization.

Internally manage

Creating an internal team, staffed with optimization experts who can manage the optimization program and champion the optimization mindset is a viable solution for brands that already have the internal infrastructure in place to manage an optimization program. This includes having an optimization platform expert, a designer and web developer.

Obviously, if a brand lacks this infrastructure, running an optimization program can become problematic when trying to make website updates based upon optimization experiment results. It can also be expensive to hire optimization experts to run the program.

Agency partner

Hiring an agency to manage is the most common approach. With this approach, the brand provides a champion who helps promote the optimization mindset within the company and is the point person for signing off on experiments and testing. The agency provides an overall testing and optimization strategy, implements experiments and tests, monitors and reports on results, and makes recommendations for website updates based upon testing data (often making the updates to the site as well).

The Long Game

The difference between gambling and investing is a matter of approach. Gambling rides on the thrill of the moment—the anticipation of a new website launch and the hope that it succeeds. This often explains the letdown after a website redesign launches and doesn’t have immediate success.

Investing’s reward is seeing a return on the investment. By making incremental changes and investing in the refinement of a website brands see a steady return on their investment, often surpassing their original investment.

There is a reason why casinos are so big, the house always wins. Gambling will always offer the allure of a massive reward, but it rarely happens. The smart investor plays the long game and stays away from the allure of a high-risk reward.

Optimization is playing the long game. It is the smart investment.