Optimization and A/B Testing: Why words matter (for more than just SEO)


What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

William Shakespeare lived in what can only be defined as the pre-Google era. Sure, Juliet didn’t care what a rose was called. She wasn’t searching for rose vendors since she chose a guy from the other side of the tracks and would never have a proper wedding. And she certainly wasn’t selling roses online with a site that relied on organic traffic for two-thirds of its revenue.

However, names do matter if you’re searching for optimization or A/B testing vendors, or if you’re offering those services yourself. Even more important, words matter because they hint at the approach you’re taking to your marketing efforts. That’s why I was so intrigued by two marketing research charts in Boris Grinkot’s 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report

Chart: Popularity of terms describing landing page optimization in 2011
Q. 59.0 – Which of the following terms do you use primarily in reference to efforts directed at improving the performance of various pages on your website?
optimization etymology
The etymology of recognized industry terms can be an interesting thing. We need these terms to make sure we’re all on the same page, talking about (and searching for) the same topic. Terms like “marketing automation” and “restless legs syndrome” were likely generated by vendors to describe something that people didn’t necessarily talk about before. I’m pretty sure I’ve also read that marketing automation is also a solution for restless legs syndrome along with…bad leads, no leads, no problem.

OK, I jest. But my point is that these terms are specifically created by marketing minds to invoke the need for a solution. After all, who wants to claim they practice boring, old-fashioned manual marketing?

Other terms come about organically, like Search Engine Optimization. The only reason I know this is because the term was coined by one of the keynote speakers for our upcoming Optimization Summit, Bob Heyman. The birth of the term SEO is a pretty interesting story that involves, I kid you not, Jefferson Starship.

But more important than how words are birthed is how they are adopted. In the end, it’s not the savvy marketing campaign or the creative origin story that decides what something is called. It’s you. And your peers. Mass adoption is the only way to enter the vernacular. D’oh!

So how are your peers describing landing page optimization (LPO) in 2011? Most simply called it optimization—which makes sense. After all, LPO is about more than just landing pages. You want to optimize the channels that lead to your landing pages (such as email or PPC ads) as well as the steps that come after your landing pages (like a shopping cart).

(So we named today’s Web clinic based on how you describe this practice by simply calling it Optimization Researched. If you’d like to attend, Boris will be joining me for today’s Web clinic (4 p.m. EDT) to discuss his optimization findings.)

Are you focused on style or substance?

However, while optimization was the most popular description, it only garnered 27% of the vote…far from becoming the de facto industry term. While there were many terms used, most marketers broke out into two camps:

  • Performance-focused terms: Using words like optimization, landing page optimization, conversion optimization, and conversion rate optimization (CRO), some marketers look at LPO as something bigger, a way to improve the overall performance of how their pages interact with potential customers as they travel through the marketing funnel.
  • Appearance-focused terms: Using words like Web redesign, usability, UX/UI (referring to the user experience and the user interface), other marketers see the landing page as a simple piece of infrastructure that needs to work well from a technological perspective.

In fairness, optimization is still a fairly new marketing process – and certainly less established than, say, email marketing. As my colleague, Adam Lapp, said, “If I talked to any of my friends and said that my title was Associate Director of Optimization and Research, they wouldn’t know what optimization was,” Adam said.

And the problem is, like any newish marketing buzzword, people are more focused on the hype than the nitty gritty…

“Most people get confused by the optimization process. The process of optimization is through testing,” Adam said. “There’s no such thing as optimizing a page, exclusive of testing. How do you know it’s optimized? That gap between optimization in terms of making a page look better, versus optimization in terms of seeing if the page actually perform better is the gap I see people having the biggest difficulty with.”

So if testing is an integral part of optimization, how do people describe testing efforts of Web pages and processes? Conveniently enough, that was Boris’s next chart in the Benchmark Report. Here’s what he found…

  • A/B testing – 24%
  • Landing page testing – 19%
  • Testing – 18%
  • Conversion rate testing – 15%
  • Usability testing – 13%
  • Split testing – 6%
  • UX/UI testing – 2%

Words matter. Objectives matter more.

In the end, I would have to agree with the guy that’s trying to optimize an entire nation, President Obama. “Words matter,” he said. “What our leaders say matters, because the American people need to know we’re saying what we mean and we mean what we say.”

If you’re engaging in “A/B testing” with your “optimization efforts,” you are much more likely to improve your marketing performance than if you are “usability testing” your “Web design.” Because behind those words is your true objective – form or function.

Related Resources:

Web Clinic: Optimization Researched: Latest findings about effective LPO practices based on data from 2,673 marketers — Today at 4:00 PM EDT

The 2011 LPO Benchmark Report

Landing Page Optimization: Crowdsource my baby

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  1. Ryan Nagy says

    Hi Daniel – This is a great one thanks. I have fallen into the trap of calling what I do “Landing Page Optimization” simply because that’s what it “is” to me. Based on what you wrote above, I may start using some new terms online to grab the attention of customers and the search engines.

    Many of my optimization customers are small business under 1 million per year in revenue. And to be perfectly blunt, many of them don’t have any idea of what I am doing and sure as heck aren’t online looking for “optimization”. Many small business are aware of SEO and online marketing and so that’s where I end up starting. The education about landing page optimization comes much later.

    – Ryan

  2. Samara Hart says

    @Ryan Nagy It’s funny, I was about to write something similar. A large portion of our clients are small business under 1mil as well. They are so bombarded from day-to-day with “do this” “do that”, that it’s really quite difficult to explain just how valuable LPO is – It’s just another “buzz word”.

  3. Stephanie Hunt says

    I have been struggling with the terminology lately as SEO did not traditionally include many of the tasks I find myself now doing.

    I tried out Search Marketing and Optimisation for a while 0 but what a mouthfull!

    So I’ve changed to Search Optimisation (SEO) still using the acronym because this is what people are now familiar with.

    LPO is taking it too far for many of my clients – they dont want to know what Im doing – only need to know enough to know they need it done.

    They understand optimisation – so keeping it simple works for me.

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