Are You Suffering From OCT (Obsessive-Compulsive Testing)?

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are you suffering from obsessive compulsive testing

Poor Ryan. He is a pay-per-click (PPC) professional who landed a big role managing paid search for a well-known brand. Being in charge of a large budget for PPC with serious performance goals tied to it was a sobering experience for him. He already knew there was more to conversion than just the paid search click, but never was it more apparent than now.

Ryan quickly moved beyond driving traffic in order to increase the site's return on investment (ROI). He assembled a small team within the company to lead the charge on conversion rate optimization (CRO). Once they started seeing results from landing page tests, Ryan became an even bigger asset to the company, as well as a CRO convert.

But something happened to Ryan over time. He became so obsessed with the idea of testing that he began to test things that had minimal impact on the company's bottom line.

Ryan was suffering from obsessive-compulsive testing (OCT): an irrational addiction to landing page testing that sends people on a continuous search for microscopic gains, while ignoring other areas of the site that could offer even greater conversion improvements.

This is not an uncommon scenario. At my company we often see online marketers, site owners, or whole conversion teams suffering from tunnel vision in a quest for perfection of their landing pages or whatever real estate they're testing.

The good news about OCT is that there is a cure. And knowing when to stop and how to do it is the first step.

What You Need to Know About Being "Done" Testing

Many of us have heard the "Testing is an ongoing activity, and you should never stop testing" line. So, let's talk about this idea of ever being "done" with regards to improving your user's experience. A website should never stop getting better, but obsessing over testing a particular page and its content is counterproductive.

There are two indicators that it's time to pull the plug on a particular test:

  1. The results consistently get worse.
  2. You start testing elements that were previously optimized.

If you conducted a test for improvements on a crappy page on your site, you'd of course expect to see a positive increase in conversions from what you learned and applied to that page. If you decided to repeat that same test but made a minor tweak, you can expect the lift will be a fraction of the first test. If this continues version after version and with minimal return, it's time to stop.

On that same note, if you become obsessed with testing the same element on a page, like a headline, and you're aimlessly testing changes of individual words just to see which one beat the other, it's time to move on.

There are two reasons for these diminishing returns. Not only are you seeing less of a lift each time you tweak the page (because the page keeps getting better), but the quality of your ideas is probably getting worse (because you have thought up all of the impactful ones already).

Add to that the fact that you're putting time and resources into something that should be called "done enough," and it's definitely not positively impacting ROI. There comes a time when good enough is best for the company.

Overcoming Obsessive-Compulsive Testing

If you find you or your team obsessing over testing every detail and your return is marginal, take these three steps to help cure that OCT addiction:

  1. Find other areas of the site you can focus on optimizing. You can identify this by following the economic value. How much value is running through that part of the site? How crappy is it? How easy is it to fix? Always prioritize your testing on what gives you the most value. It may not be the page you are fixated on currently.
  2. Get an outside perspective. Ask users to complete the task you are trying to test and get their feedback. This can give you new insights to consider (something you haven't thought of instead of testing that same old idea).
  3. Take a break from testing altogether. If you have other areas of marketing you can focus on for a while, do it. Spend some time in PPC campaigns, social media, or SEO, and you might come back to CRO with a fresh perspective and recharged batteries that help you to be more successful.

With a little support and direction, OCT can be cured. Once cured, you can engage in more strategic CRO activities in a much healthier manner - and know when enough is enough. You'll still be able to show positive ROI, but can also add efficiency, time savings, and maintaining personal sanity to your list of contributions.


This article originally appeared in Tim's ClickZ column August 6, 2013

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