Sitecore DMS: Optimizing Conversions with Multivariate A/B Tests

  • Mike Dolan
  • April 17, 2013

Sitecore’s Digital Marketing System (DMS) – part of the Sitecore Customer Engagement Platform (CEP) – enables marketers to create targeted and optimized campaigns with minimal effort.  This article provides some very simple steps to start realizing the power of Sitecore DMS by increasing conversions on your website.

Think of the journey towards conversion optimization as an exercise in reverse engineering.

We'll start by assessing high-level macro concepts and desired outcomes, which tend to be already known, or easier to define.  Don’t fall into the trap of trying to solve for every scenario and possibility up front.  Implementing optimization and personalization concepts on your website usually starts with generalization, not specificity.  Let’s get started.

1) Define the objective.

Start with the macro view and it will set a clear course for all of the more granular steps.  Before you can get specific, you need to start with a direction.  Is the goal to increase sales revenue?  Promote awareness?  Encourage advocacy?  Usually the top-level goal is something that’s tied to the bottom line of what keeps your organization in business.  Whatever it is, everyone involved needs to understand and agree with the ultimate objective you’re working towards. Otherwise you may find yourself starting over when you get to the finish line.

Example:
  • Business Objective 1:  Grow sales of Product XYZ by 20% over the next 12 months.
  • Business Objective 2: Increase online newsletter subscriptions by 15% over the next 6 months.

2) Identify the outcomes required to achieve the objectives.

This is the first step towards getting more specific, but we’re still at a generalized level.  We’re not yet concerned with the “how”, just the “why” and the “what”. What would need to happen in order to accomplish those objectives defined in step 1?  To increase revenue, perhaps you’ll need to sell more products, increase subscriptions, or generate more memberships. To promote advocacy, you might need users to sign-up for an event, download materials, or share content on social media.  Create a list of outcomes that correlate to the business goals and objectives.  Everything you do going forward will be connected in this fashion to ensure that you don’t lose sight of the big picture as we get further into the weeds.  Remember, we’re still not concerned with “how” we make it happen, we just want to identify “what” needs to happen.

Example:
  • Outcome 1: To grow revenue of product Line A by 20% in 12 months, we’ll need to increase conversions from 1 visitor out of 200 to 1 out of 150.
  • Outcome 2: To increase online subscriptions, we’ll need to increase sign-ups from 1 out of 100 visitors to 1 out of 75.

3) Determine the individual user actions required to produce the outcomes.

This is where we start getting specific.  Begin by laying out all of the steps that a user would need to go through to generate the outcomes defined in the prior step.  What content and calls to action are needed to guide the user to conversion?  Does the user need to be motivated or incentivized to take the next step?  How many steps are there, and can they be minimized?

Example:
  • Click a link to enter the online store
  • Apply filters to locate a product
  • Select product characteristics (size, color, quantity)
  • Add item to cart
  • Click on “view cart”
  • Fill out checkout form
  • Submit order

This concept can be taken even further by introducing the concept of “value”.  Each step in your process can be assigned a value score in Sitecore DMS, which allows you to track points accumulated by a user along the way.  Points may be assigned to each step in the conversion process to track progress and engagement.  Perhaps we observe that users with a high value score aren't converting at the final step.  We may need to motivate them to finish the task, so we could leverage DMS to generate personalized offers that are only presented to those with a value score above a certain threshold.  Or maybe we need to streamline the checkout process to make it easier for users.  There are no shortage of possibilities for how you can use the power of Sitecore DMS to refine your strategy and test outcomes.

4) Implement, observe, and refine.

Now that you have all of the leg work done, it’s time to execute.  Since we’ve defined all of the steps required for a conversion and assigned value scores, we can now sit back and monitor DMS analytics to observe user journeys and outcomes.  This process allows us to drill into each step and identify problem areas that may be preventing a user from advance towards the next step in the conversion process.

Example: Let’s assume that not enough users are getting past step 1 - you’re simply not getting enough traffic in the pipeline to start the conversion process in order to meet your goal.  Hit pause and take it offline to consider ideas that will drive more traffic into the store.  Perhaps you could try a campaign on the home page that features a discount code.  Maybe you can make the “shop” link more prominent.  You could consider running an email campaign targeting users that have purchased products in the past, to let them know about a new offering.  Continue this analysis across all of the steps, focusing on one step at a time.  Each problem should be a small one to solve. Resist the temptation to advance to the next step until you’ve satisfied the prior one.

Each problem area may need to be broken down into more granular steps.  For example, filling out the checkout form is one high-level step in the conversion process, but we could also drill further into each field on the form and determine the ones where most users drop off.  Maybe we’re asking for too much information, or maybe the form is frustrating to fill out.  By dissecting the user experience you might discover that a simple tweak to the navigation, a change in the wording of your marketing message or the visual design of a button can have a major impact on conversion rates.  Which brings us to another powerful concept of Sitecore DMS: Multivariate A/B testing.

Using Sitecore’s Multivariate A/B Testing Module to Optimize the Conversion Process

Once you have your conversion steps defined and implemented, it’s time to figure out what’s working well, and what can be improved.  Up until now, we’ve been operating under a lot of assumptions.  One way validate these is through Sitecore’s Multivariate A/B testing module.  Multivariate A/B testing can be applied to test and refine all of the conversion activities defined in Step 3 above.

In the example above, we observed that we needed to drive more traffic into the conversion pipeline in order to increase conversions and meet our revenue goal.  Let’s assume it was determined that the best way to do this was through a campaign on the home page that features a sale offer in the main carousel, encouraging users to enter the online store.  Now it’s time to experiment.

With Sitecore’s Multivariate A/B Testing Module, we can easily configure a few different campaigns, run them simultaneously, and then sit back and watch the results.

Example:
  • Campaign 1: A sale offer on the home page that provides an offer code to receive 20% off any order over $100.
  • Campaign 2: Free shipping on any order over $50.

We could start by adding both campaign slides to the home page carousel, and set them to be presented alternately to every other visitor that comes to the site.  So, roughly half of the visitors will see Campaign 1 when they view the home page, and the other half will see Campaign 2.  Depending on your level of patience, you can set this to be time based, or visit based.  Essentially you’ll just want to collect enough data to draw a meaningful conclusion on which campaign is proving to be more effective.

You can also apply this concept to other aspects of your conversion steps until you maximize the results.  The power of multivariate testing in Sitecore is that the system does all the heavy lifting and calculations, making your job much easier.  The “multivariate” part means that you can run multiple tests simultaneously, and Sitecore will figure out the optimal combination that yields the best results.

Example:
  • Home page promotion with offer code to receive 20% off any order over $100
  • Home page promotion offering free shipping on any order over $50
  • Banner headline that reads “Spring Sale”
  • Banner headline that reads “Get Free Shipping”
  • Call to action button in blue that reads “Shop Now”. 
  • Call to action button in red that reads “Shop Now”
  • Call to action button in blue that reads “Enter Store”
  • Call to action button in red that reads “Enter Store”

If we look at the above, there are many possible combinations to test.  Running tests on each of these individually would be a very manual and time consuming process.  With Sitecore DMS Multivariate A/B testing, you can simply configure all of them at once and let the system sort it out.  Instead of sitting in a conference room speculating about which campaign will be more effective, you can now use live user data to answer the question definitively.

Conclusion

In summary, here’s what you can to do to get started with Sitecore DMS for conversion optimization:

  • Define your business goals and objectives
  • Determine the outcomes required to accomplish the goals
  • Reverse engineer the steps users need to perform to achieve the outcome
  • Test and refine until you maximize conversions

With Sitecore DMS, you don’t need to shake up your whole site on day one – and you might never need to.  You may just need to refine the design of a button, change a color, or tweak some verbiage to start seeing an uptick in conversions. Don’t get paralyzed by trying to figure out all of the possibilities up front – dive right in, start small, and build up.  Before you know it, you’ll start seeing how Sitecore DMS can empower your marketing team to drive measurable results.