Note: This post originally appeared as a NextStage Global Case Study
A three year old software development firm based in southern NH came to NextStage because some key website metrics (visitor time on site, visitor time on page and visitor site penetration) had changed for the worse over a seven month period. The client asked NextStage to evaluate their situation and, if possible, offer some suggestions for bringing in new business.
Prior to this change in website metrics the company was experiencing growth and good press. Although there was a lag between the negative change in website metrics and a stalling of their growth and visibility, principals in the company believed the two were related. Specifically, their thinking was that the website had grown stale and was failing to attract new business. Their thinking contradicted studies conducted by their internal web group and an independent marketing company, both of which indicated a high rate of acceptance and usability of the existing website among customers.
NextStage consultants reviewed the findings of the client’s marketing company and web team. It was noted that the majority of visitors interviewed were either long-time customers or “power-users”. Both user sets knew the existing website very well and didn’t need to navigate long or hard in order to find things. These visitors often “forgave” the website for the company’s sake (a case of “don’t shoot the messenger”).
NextStage consultants asked the VP of Sales and the client’s web team to provide some basic metrics:
- length of the sales cycle
- length of the product release cycle
- how often the site was updated
- monthly averages for visitor time on site
- monthly averages for visitor time on page
- monthly averages for visitor site penetration
- quarterly changes in sales volume since the company started
- percentage of all sales which can be traced back to their website
This information was matched against NextStage OnSite Tool‘s findings. From this it was learned that the product release and site update cycles were synchronized at three months; every three months the client released either updates or new versions of their products. A product update release coincided with a recontenting of a portion of the homepage and products page. A release of a new version coincided with a complete rebuild of the site to mirror the new version’s packaging.
Further, NextStage consultants were able to directly link a decline in website metrics and web-traceable sales to this combined deployment schedule. It was quickly realized that the majority of website visitors were being debranded each time a new version was released.
Debranding occurs on websites when enough of the website is changed so that acquired navigation patterns no longer apply because, on the web, your interface is your brand much more than your brand is your brand. Debranding, which happens when website visitors find it easier to shop elsewhere than continue on a site they were previously loyal to, often happens when a website is changed without alerting previously loyal visitors to changes before they occur.
Consider this example; About once every few months you take a drive in the country to a favorite destination (perhaps a good restaurant that you don’t go to often but which is at the end of a relaxing drive, so the trip is worth it once in a while). You get the family in the car and start out on the drive and about half way there you discover they’ve changed the roads. They aren’t just in the process of doing road maintenance, they’ve removed the roads, moved the towns…you know the restaurant’s still out there, somewhere, but your landmarks are gone, your travel plans are gone, and very quickly your interest in getting there is gone and you decide to go somewhere else.
In a very similar way it was discovered that visitors were being debranded by the very thing the client had been told they should do; redesign the website to correspond with major product releases.
NextStage consultants recognized that it was necessary to migrate existing site users to the redesigned website while encouraging new users to explore whatever interface they were greeted with. In addition, a metric needed to be introduced which would provide the marketing, web and management teams a better feel for when redesigns needed to occur rather than incurring the cost of a complete redesign or rebuild tied to the product release cycle. The following modifications were introduced into the website redesign process:
- Migration Item – Create a “What’s Coming” section on the home page. The “What’s Coming” section highlights future changes to the website and offers interested visitors a chance to become beta testers of the next product release.
- Migration Item – The “What’s Coming” section links to a “What’s Coming” page which goes into detail of design changes and to a beta tester sign up page. Beta testers have the opportunity to buy-in to the beta process for a discount on the full release and have direct access to the design and technical support teams.
- New User Item – Use NextStage’s TargetTrack tool to embed a “Stay with me” message into the website, encouraging visitors to remain loyal rather than seek out the products of a competitor.
- Site ReDesign Metric – Track the weblogs to determine when the average visitor’s time on page became roughly 1/3 of what it originally was then redesign the website.
The above creates a visitor-based redesign schedule:
- Publish a version of the site
- Pick a time interval (day, week, month)
- Multiply the number of visitors during that time interval by the average time on a page
- Label the answer V0
- At the end of the next time interval do the same arithmetic.
- Repeat the above for each new time interval. Label each new value V1, V2, …, Vn
- It’s time for a new site design when Vn = V0/3
Note that NextStage’s suggestions do not conflict with either the marketing group’s suggestions or the web team’s efforts. In fact, NextStage’s suggestions augment and increase the need for both groups to remain active in the web development process.
Time on site increased four-fold in a three month period, site penetration doubled in the same time frame, site satisfaction increased (as determined by interviews with selected customers who volunteered to be contacted during their navigation of the site) and most importantly web-traceable conversions increased 55% in the first six months and have remained within 10% of the higher number since invoking NextStage’s suggestions and barring seasonal aberrations. The client continues to use the NextStage OnSite tool and other Evolution Technology products in their site design efforts and has extended the use of The NextStage Sentiment Analysis Tool to help with such diverse requirements as product package design, improving the understandability and targeting of their collateral material. Further, the client has suggested NextStage to their partners and has made NextStage an element in their strategic planning process.