optimization practice calendar

What to Focus on at Each Stage of Your Optimization Practice

Wondering if it is the right time to say "yes" to optimization? The question and the answer are more complex than you might think. This article gets into all the nuances.

Recently we spoke with a potential client who was in the middle of a full site redesign. They asked us if they should sign on with us now or wait until after launching the new site.

Basically, the client was concerned that they would build something suboptimal that we would just change later. Why not build it properly the first time, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. No optimizer can look at an unfinished site and definitively say, “No, that isn’t right; do it this way.

That’s because your optimization program should operate differently at different times. How you approach optimization depends on where you are in the maturity of your organization.

This means some activities won’t feel like optimization (such as building a data foundation) but are actually critical to the process.

That begs the question: What does optimization look like at each stage? How do you know what to focus on?

New Thinking: The Competencies of Successful Digital Brands

Before we start plotting optimization activities along a timeline, let’s first understand what optimization actually looks like. Many people think optimization is as simple as testing button colors and stock photos, but it’s quite deeper than that.

After studying hundreds of optimization experts at some of the biggest companies, we identified five competencies that influence the success of digital products. We call it the 5-Factors Scorecard™. Here are those competencies:

5 factors spider chart optimization program timing
  • Data Foundations: Goals, ownership, and good data form the backbone.
  • User-Centered Approach: A comprehensive roadmap and a high-context approach.
  • Resourcing: Resources support adequate capabilities and pace.
  • Toolkit: A variety of tools for planning, measurement, and protocols.
  • Impact & Buy-In: Tools and practices increase relevance and perceived efficacy.

Teams that excel in these 5 Factors are 60% more likely to meet their annual performance targets and twice as likely to rank “excellent” in a Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Essentially, if you have these five competencies, you stand a good chance of meeting your optimization goals.

Want to know if your organization exhibits these 5 Factors? Take the 7-minute quiz to get your 5-Factors Scorecard™ and learn where to invest to improve your digital experience.

What to Focus on During Your Optimization Program

Now you’re probably wondering when you should invest in those competencies or when the best time would be to build these competencies. Well, it depends on your position in the optimization program.

If you’re just starting optimization for the first time, your activities will be radically different than if you were six years into the process.

Let’s look at what optimization means at different points in your journey.

Early in Your Optimization Process: Build Data Foundations & Adopt A User-Centered Approach

As you first start to take optimization seriously, you should be focused on problem identification. Your goal is to uncover where users find friction in their experience with your site or app.

Identifying and eliminating obvious moments of friction is one of the easiest ways to improve the user experience and boost conversions. It’s also the quickest.

We address this in two ways:

  1. Building a solid data foundation. You need advanced analytics that come from an accurate source of truth you can trust. Your data should be hygienic, meaning it’s tracked properly and accessible at will to whoever needs it.
  2. Adopting a user-centered approach. It’s important to place the needs, preferences, and abilities of users at the forefront of the optimization processes. Work to understand their perspective, behaviors, and goals so you can design a product that’s intuitive and enjoyable to use.

In fact, you can start thinking about data collection and the user-friendliness of your digital property before you start designing.

As you consider features for your site or app, ask yourself how you’ll collect and report the data. Then be sure to configure your features to support a good user experience (unless that makes things harder for your internal operations).

Midway Through the Optimization Process: Expand Your Toolkit

Once the foundation of your optimization program is ready, it’s time to expand your toolkit. This requires three critical elements: Prioritization, research, and experimentation.


First, you’ll need a prioritization framework. There are a lot of options here, but most optimizers use frameworks like RICE, ICE, or PIE. There is no best prioritization framework. The right framework for you depends on your culture.


Second, you’ll need to start conducting a lot of research. You’ll need to perform generative research (to understand your audience) and evaluative research (to understand the effectiveness of your proposed optimizations).


Finally, you’ll need two kinds of experimentation.

On-site experiments take the form of A/B tests. This kind of testing is powerful but complex to execute and requires a significant volume of traffic and conversions. It’s also not great at comparing radically different changes.

Off-site testing methods are important as well, such as card sorting, preference testing, tree testing, and first-click testing. These tools are efficient and often more appropriate than on-site testing. For instance, suppose you want to drastically change your menu. It usually makes more sense to run a tree test offline than to try to A/B test it.

Later in the Optimization Process: Measure Impact & Improve Buy-In

As you conduct experiments and start to get results, you’ll need to measure impact and use your optimizations as evidence to get ongoing leadership buy-in. Teams with strong buy-in from their leadership tend to foster a culture of optimization, get better budgets, and have the best results.

This may not seem like optimization work, but without active participation from your leadership and an organization-wide culture of optimization, there’s no optimization program at all, so it needs to be taken seriously.

Optimization at Specific Moments

Now that you see how your optimization work changes depending on the maturity of your optimization process, let’s look at some specific moments in your organization’s journey. This will help you understand how those different competencies apply to different stages.

Designing or Launching a Digital Property

During the launch phase and immediately after launch, leverage optimization to validate or invalidate your ideas before they go into development. This saves time and money and helps set you up for greater success when you launch.

At this time, it’s smart to conduct interviews with potential users. Ask them about their needs and preferences. If possible, show them options for elements of your site to gauge their future usage.

Rebranding or Redesigning

During a rebrand or redesign, you’ll want to conduct user research and testing. Have real people use your site to discover its flaws and give their feedback. You might also find it helpful to have them use both versions of your site (the old and the redesign) to tell you which they prefer.

It’s also a good time to study your competitors. What features and systems work well for their digital properties? Their success doesn’t guarantee success for you (even if your audiences overlap perfectly), but it can be a good starting point.

It’s also the right moment to ensure your data foundation and toolkit are up to par. Do you have the right resources in place to run a thorough optimization program on the new design?

At Specific Times or Seasons

Depending on your industry or niche, there may be certain times of the year that make sense to dig deep into optimization.

In ecommerce, for example, brands tend to juggle their optimization program around the holiday season. Some brands prefer to take their foot off the optimization pedal during Q4 in order to focus on holiday campaigns and then pick things up again once the madness wanes.

In our opinion, however, Q4 is a great time to optimize for ecommerce. You have more sessions and data than normal, your site is full of high-intent visitors, and you get a broader group of shoppers (not just your usual audience).

Non-ecommerce brands often have similar “seasons” as well. A newspaper gets more visitors during an election cycle. A wedding planning app sees more sales in the summer. A SaaS brand gets more signups after a big industry convention.

Furthermore, you may have to consider internal politics. If your department gets its funding in July, that may be the right time to kick off a yearly optimization plan. If your company is in the middle of a hiring boom, it might be best to wait until you know who’s on your team before getting ambitious with optimization.

When to Bring in an Optimization Team

As you can see, true optimization is a foundational process that starts early and digs into several areas of your organization. So when is the right time to bring in an external optimization team?

Let’s return to those five competencies. If you have them, there’s a good chance your optimization work will move the needle for your brand. But you probably don’t have all of them…

It’s smart to bring in a digital experience optimization team for the competencies you lack. For instance, you may have the skills to build a data foundation but aren’t sure how to prioritize experiments. In this case, you would set up your data collection process on your own and then bring someone in to develop a prioritization approach that you carry forward.

Can you hire an optimization team to provide all five competencies? Yes, and it’s best to bring in a team to provide the tools you need to carry your optimization program forward.

Custom Optimization for Your Company

Every digital experience is different, and so every optimization program will be different. How you approach optimization depends on where your company is in its lifecycle.

If you want to maximize user engagement and revenue, you must consider the entire digital experience—from the way you collect data to how you prioritize and run experiments to the very culture of your organization. We call this Digital Experience Optimization (DXO).

DXO brings the pieces you need to complete an optimization puzzle and build a better digital product. Our team can amplify your impact with the tools, techniques, and expertise that you just can’t find in a single hire. Together, we’ll build a strategy and tactical roadmap that will set you on the path toward a well-optimized digital experience that delights users and serves your goals.

Learn more about our Digital Experience Optimization Program™.

Find out what stands between your company and digital excellence with a custom 5-Factors Scorecard™.

About the Author

Katie Encabo

Katie Encabo is the Customer Success Manager at The Good. She focuses on supporting and improving the experience of top-performing ecommerce and SaaS growth teams as they optimize the digital experience for their users.