conversion rate optimization agencies

How To Evaluate An Optimization Team

Here are the things you should be asking an optimization team to determine if they are the right fit for you and your company.

Your conversion rates are dwindling, or maybe they’ve been stagnant for a while. You’re keen to change that by improving your digital experience, but you have limited internal resources or know-how. What’s the solution?

Leveraging an external optimization team can provide the expertise, clarity, and consistency you need to break out of your plateau.

Optimization is a process involving specific disciplines, steps, tools, and methods. You can’t wing it or rely on creative ingenuity. This is why it’s crucial to choose the right optimization team for you.

Aside from finding a firm that’s respected for what they do, you want to team up with one that’s got your best interests at heart and can pivot to meet your unique needs. Here’s how we suggest evaluating an optimization team.

The Importance of Optimizing in Generating Sales and Revenue

Customer experience is everything.

Fierce competition and changing consumer expectations mean shoppers today will only engage with companies that make it easy to do so with an enjoyable customer experience. Companies that invest in CX outperform others, and optimization is a key piece in that puzzle.

Take a household name such as Airbnb, crediting its focus on user experience as one of the key strategies that propelled a $10 billion valuation.

Choosing the right optimization team to work with plays a big part in leveling up your user experience and, in turn, your success and results.

Lots of full-service marketing firms say they do conversion rate optimization, but how do you determine if they really know what they’re talking about or if it’s just a bullet point on their website?

7 Practical Steps to Evaluating An Optimization Team

So, how can you know whether you’re hiring a best-in-class optimization firm? Here are 7 ways to evaluate before you sign on the dotted line.

Step 1: Figure Out Your Goals

Before you join forces with any outside partner, it’s important to know what you want to get out of it.

Of course, it’d be nice to double, triple, and quadruple your conversion rates, but you need to be realistic. Consider your budget, the resources you already have available, and what you’d like to achieve in the next three months, the next six months, the next year, and beyond.

What can an optimization firm help you with?

  • Better understand your users: At the end of the day, the best optimization firms will keep your users front and center. They’ll uncover insights from your real users to help guide your strategies. When your users are happy, your KPIs increase.
  • Improve conversion rates (and other KPIs): If you’re getting a decent amount of traffic but are struggling to turn visitors into sales, the right team can help identify friction points and implement an optimization strategy to help you improve.
  • Increase your testing cadence: If you struggle to keep a consistent test cadence or want to ramp up your optimization efforts, a great optimization team can be on hand to plan and execute tests and implement the findings.
  • Cut through internal politics: If you are confident your site needs improvement (most do, so good on you), but higher-ups aren’t bought in, a team of external experts can provide the data, intel, and assurance needed to get them on board.

There are plenty more, but these are a few examples to help you set goals from the outset.

Your goals will determine what level of service or input you need from an optimization firm.

Step 2: Do Your Research

There are tons of agencies, firms, and consultancies out there. Some are better than others, and some are more suited to your needs.

When choosing the best optimization team for you, you must do your due diligence.

Understanding your goals will put you in a good position to know what you want and need, but don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the vetting process. Make sure you understand their methodology and what drives their processes. Yes, it may take longer to find the right optimization team for you, but it’s worth it.

Here are some questions to pull from the running and make a final shortlist.

#1 – How User-Centered Is Your Approach?

The user is at the very heart of digital experience optimization. After all, the goal is to convert more visitors into customers. Achieving this goal involves studying users and your target audience, analyzing their behavior, doing focus groups with them, soliciting their feedback, and a host of other user-centered activities.

If an agency doesn’t involve your customers (customer insights, customer feedback, etc), there’s simply no way they can truly optimize your site. They need to be able to get a clear picture of how people are currently using your site if they’re going to identify and solve problems.

#2 – What Guides Your Decision Making?

There’s a myth, perpetuated by shows like Mad Men, that real marketers are creative geniuses who rely on hunches and gut feelings. They get sudden flashes of inspiration that lead to an epic marketing strategy or campaign.

In reality, the more you rely on marketing hunches and “inspiration”, the worse results you get.

The best optimization teams are those who firmly attach themselves to the data, research, and experience, shying away from intuition. A foundation in decision-driven data analysis helps.

They know that the only optimizations worth implementing are those that are validated. If the data doesn’t back up an idea, it shouldn’t be implemented, no matter how strongly someone feels about it.

Bottom line: every recommendation should be validated by your users. If you don’t have the internal capacity to validate recommendations from an external optimization team, it’s important that it is included in their scope of work.

#3 – What Kind Of Visibility Will I Have Into Your Process?

Truly effective iterative improvement always relies on a defined process. The company should be able to lay out its basic optimization process step-by-step.

In some ways, it’s like a recipe. Even the best chefs rely on proven recipes to produce their dishes. A chef who randomly throws together new ingredients each time he cooks – or is doing it for the first time – probably won’t be particularly successful.

The same goes for an agency selling CRO services. If their approach is limited to conducting random tests based on their experiences, you’re going to get poor results. What worked for one client won’t necessarily work for you.

Rather, you want a team that has a systematic and iterative process to ensure that you get consistent, incremental, and sustainable growth.

#4 – How Do You Begin The Optimization Process?

An optimization process that doesn’t start with an audit of your current experience, including a deep look at your data, is like an army going into battle with no knowledge of the enemy. It’s a recipe for disaster.

An effective optimization process always, always, always starts with a deep dive into your data to understand where the problems are.  It involves studying, for example, Google Analytics to understand where customers are getting stuck, what bottlenecks are occurring, where carts are being abandoned, and a host of other problems.

A quote attributed to Einstein goes, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

The same goes for optimizing your digital experience. Before you can start implementing solutions, you need a well-informed roadmap. How do you get this roadmap? From the data and research.

If an agency’s first step isn’t looking at your existing data, something is amiss.

#5 – Do You Use Vendor Lock-In?

When done properly, several tools (analytics, heatmaps, etc.) are used to improve the overall conversion process. Companies should be able to recommend the best tools to you while managing the vendor relationship when preferred.

Depending on your preference, the team should be able to help you establish your own accounts with data collection tools or allow you to access their accounts.

Why does this matter?

Because if you don’t have the offer of independent access to the tools, the firm could be aiming to put you back at square one when you leave.

A good firm can – and should – manage tools as part of the engagement, but ultimately, you should have the option to own the data and have a relationship with the vendors.

#6 – Do You Leverage My Internal Development Resources?

Your developer may get pulled into your optimization process if you run A/B tests as a validation tactic.

A good optimization team should be able to create and run tests within their toolset without needing to involve your developer much at all. In other words, they shouldn’t require your developer to make significant changes to how they do things, to run A/B tests, or to split test.

When a winning test is determined, the external team should provide your developer with all the assets necessary to implement that test into your site’s source code. This should include all the details of how and where the test should be implemented, text, colors, new buttons, layout instructions, etc.

Your developer shouldn’t be required to put in more than a few hours per month implementing these winning tests into your site’s source code.

The best part about this? You should end up saving both time and money on development resources with an optimization team. As you validate changes before implementing, you aren’t wasting resources on changes that don’t improve (or even worsen) your on-site experience.

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#7 – Do You Focus On Long-Term Or Short-Term Results?

Ultimately, true optimization is about focusing on long-term results. Quick fixes that produce small jolts to your revenue are good, but ultimately, you’re after long-term, significant results.

This means at least two things for the optimization firm you choose:

They will focus on the highest impact areas first. In other words, they’ll identify the areas that have the most potential to produce revenue and then systematically work to improve those areas. There may be areas that could produce a quick uptick in conversions that aren’t the areas of highest impact, but these will be initially deprioritized to focus on the areas of your site that matter most.

They will devote enough time to each test to ensure that it will produce significantly positive results for you. It can be tempting for an external partner to jump the gun and implement changes before the tests achieve statistical significance. They want to deliver results, and if something seems like it might work, they move quickly to implement it. This is a mistake called peeking.

Optimization requires that a certain amount of traffic and conversions occur before reaching conclusions – otherwise, you risk implementing false positives and hurting your site performance.

You should be playing the long game when it comes to optimization. That’s how you truly unlock its power.

#8 – How Do You Circulate Learnings With Our Team?

It’s crucial that the research, hypotheses, and learnings from experiments are shared across your organization.

When an optimization team works in a silo, it’s tough to get buy-in from your stakeholders and showcase all of the incredible improvements you’ve made to your user experience.

Converse with a prospective optimization firm about the cadence of meetings, dashboards for sharing results, and additional upskilling resources they offer to get your whole organization more aligned.

Step 3: Find Proof of Their Process

Any old company can claim they’re optimization specialists by sticking in their menu, but the proof is in the pudding. If you want to see what they can do for you, check out the results they’ve garnered for past clients.

The easiest way to do this is to find case studies they have published and identify brands they’ve worked with that are closely aligned with what you do and who you do it for. If they work with brands close to yours and can prove they have generated impressive results (and have a solid track record), you’re on to a winner.

When optimization is done properly, there is always a trail of evidence. The initial data is documented, hypotheses are formed, tests are done, and the results are documented. This cycle repeats again and again, with the new data being recorded each time.

If a firm doesn’t have evidence of successful campaigns, it should be a red flag.

Step 4: Book an Initial Consultation

You might find an optimization team that looks great on paper, but when you start working together, you quickly realize you aren’t a great fit. Maybe the process isn’t quite what you expected, or they aren’t as hands-on as you’d hoped (or maybe they’re too hands-on). Either way, an initial consultation will help iron out any of these potential problems.

A good prospect should hop on the phone with you to talk through your goals and vision. This will give you a chance to see the process they use and whether it aligns with your unique needs. It’s also a good opportunity to discover whether you’d be a good fit–something that’s critically important if you’re going to be working closely with an agency for an extended time.

You’ve Picked An Agency – Now What?

Step 5: Map Out Your Timeline Together

At this point, you’ve picked the right optimization team for you and are ready to get started. Before things kick off, iron out a timeline so everyone knows what to expect and when they can expect it.

This is the perfect time to determine what resources you need to bring to the table and set expectations from the get-go.

Step 6: Assemble Your Internal Team

Even if you’ve brought an optimization team on board to carry out every part of the process, you’ll need a team member or two to be points of contact. Make sure you’re clear about their roles, how they can communicate with the agency, and what their goals should be with the project.

Step 7: Measure Long-Term Success

This is an iterative process that requires improvements based on the ever-changing needs and behaviors of your users.

If you’re working with an optimization team over an extended time, you must regularly check in and measure the results. This will help you see how well the collaboration is going and whether you’re reaching the goals you set out at the start.

As well as measuring obvious KPIs like conversion rates, track other internal metrics like how long you spend communicating with the agency and what other departments benefit from your improved digital experience.

Why Evaluating Optimization Teams is Important

Marketing agencies are taking shortcuts to try and develop an optimization arm of their business. Maybe they read a few articles, go to a conference, or take an online course. They want to be able to advertise conversion rate optimization as one of their many services.

Unfortunately, the result is that many agencies have a half-baked understanding of optimization and don’t have the internal resources or expertise on the required skill sets to deliver you an optimization program that works.

This lack of understanding and subsequent mistakes hurt you.

Bottom line: if you want the best results, the best experience, and to do right by your users, you need to do some quality comparison of potential optimization teams before signing a contract.

Make sure you hire a rockstar optimization team instead of a cover band.

Is The Good Your Ideal Optimization Firm?

The Good optimizes digital experiences with user-centered insights and data-driven roadmaps for product marketing and ecommerce teams.

We work with digital leaders who want to make the internet a better place. Our process is geared toward your unique needs and combines a variety of expert disciplines to build an optimization program that plugs in where you need it.

If you want to explore what that looks like for your company, get in touch.

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Jon MacDonald smiling at the camera for The Good

About the Author

Jon MacDonald

Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a digital experience optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest companies including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc.