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If Internet buzz is to be believed, lots of marketers are getting excited about this Conversion Optimization stuff.

If you’ve been reading about conversion optimization and are thinking about trying your hand at optimizing your company’s website, let me give you one tip that will save a lot of head-scratching and staring at the floor whilst being grilled by your boss:

Be aware of how your changes may affect the way users perceive and interact with the rest of your site.

In more technical terms, you need to consider how different treatments affect the interactions between your test variable, the rest of that page, and the rest of the website.

Adjust your focus

Many marketers like to think in terms of headlines, images, copy, buttons, layouts. It’s an easy way to approach conversion optimization, but the real power is in the interactions.

Interactions are the relationships between elements on your site that combine to shape customers’ perceptions of your business and products, and influence them to take certain actions consciously or subconsciously.

In order to understand interactions, you have to – brace for the cliché – put yourself in the customer’s shoes. You must be able to experience your own website through the filter of your customers’ experiences and knowledge.

Hypothetical scenario: SuperDuperComputers.com

Here’s what happens when marketers ignore interactions when making website changes:

SuperDuperComputers.com is rolling out a new tablet PC and wants to spread awareness of the product to all online visitors. So they whip up a big banner and stick it on the homepage, front and center. It’s the best product in the universe. The executive team forecasts an increase in online revenue of 50%.

To the dismay of the friendly folks at SDC, site revenue only jumps 5%. Upon closer inspection, the new tablet PC produced the revenue forecasted, so what happened?

The new homepage banner was so flashy and prominent that visitors who would have otherwise clicked through and bought other products were drawn in by the tablet PC banner, decided it wasn’t what they wanted and then abandoned the site.

The marketers involved in this admittedly oversimplified scenario failed to consider the effect that the new banner would have on their other products. The new product would appeal to some potential customers, but certainly not all. Overemphasizing the new product distracted shoppers from finding their ideal solution. Both the customer and company suffered as a result.

The Big Takeaway

How do you avoid making this potentially fatal mistake with your own website?

Look at the big picture. Examine a particular page within the entire context how users discover and interact with it. If changing a particular headline, image or layout a certain way would negatively impact its relevance within the entire funnel, you have three choices:

  1. Optimize the entire funnel – ads, inbound link sources (that you control, of course), and subsequent pages.
  2. Make less dramatic changes to preserve continuity in the funnel.
  3. Find something more flexible to test.

Have any of your tests produced big gains without disrupting vital interactions? Share them here!