Optimization's a Natural Online

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Optimization is a strategy that is sometimes overlooked and almost always underused, but it is one of the most effective tools in our online arsenal, and we should be using it. It is quick and relatively easy to optimize online compared with other media. Perhaps more importantly, the online audience seems to welcome and respond well to frequent changes.


In an early eyescream interactive campaign for Cyberian Outpost (now Outpost.com), we swapped 10 creative assets among 10 sites, swapping banners daily for a period of time to see how it would affect response rates. Upon the first change, conversion increased by 50 percent and stayed at that rate for the remainder of the campaign.


Lesson learned: Sites have repeat visitors, and while one creative approach may appeal to certain elements of the site's audience, others may prefer a different flavor.


Any campaign worth its salt has two objectives: a hard return-on-investment goal; and the more nebulous, but equally important, desire to establish brand and increase recall and positive response to that brand. Good optimization can help the agency and client discover which advertising efforts generate the strongest results in either category -- or both.


To measure and optimize effectively, take a page from the direct marketer's book. Test various aspects of the campaign to devise the most effective combination of elements to meet your client's objectives:


o Test differing creative assets -- banners, buttons, badges, etc. Compare overall approaches, but think small, too. In some versions, change just one simple element -- color, photo or a couple of words. You may be surprised by the difference it makes.


o Test differing media buys, not just site vs. site, but banner buys vs. text ads vs. sponsorships. For a given client and target audience, one type of approach may far outperform others. Gear the creative to those buys, speak directly to the audience and their interests, and you'll have some real optimization.


o Test differing landing pages. The response rate on a page with an array of information and choices versus one that presents a more straightforward call-to-action can be huge.


The combinations don't need to be outlandishly complicated. A simple A-B split on one element has the potential to show you valuable information. A slightly more complex trial provides exponential results. Testing just 10 different creative assets on 10 sites yields 100 combinations, and those results will yield knowledge you can use.


This leads to the most important question to a marketer in a knowledge-based economy: How will you use the raw information? Whatever you have discovered, analyze the results. Don't be satisfied with knowing which combinations outperformed the others -- know why.


What conclusions can be drawn to benefit this and future campaigns? Was color choice or verbiage a key factor? Did one landing page far outperform the others? Of course, you will use the most successful page, but take the optimization one step further. Can the winning elements of the successful page be made even stronger?


Use this information to explore and deepen other recommendations to your company or client. Share the information with the whole advertising and marketing team. Apply it to future campaigns. The value of optimizing shows in your results.


•Mark Grimes is president/CEO of online advertising agency eyescream interactive inc., Portland, OR. Reach him at Grimes@eyescream.com.
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