Matt Althauser
Matt Althauser 2 April 2014

4 ways to get the most from your optimisation team

Testing should not be testing

By Matt Althauser, European GM of website optimisation software platform Optimizely


It’s a phrase that’s turned into cliché. “Curiosity killed the cat” itself is a common warning about the dangers of unnecessary experimentation and the perils of the unknown. Its rejoinder is less well-known, though – the full quote is often heard as, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” For business leaders and marketers looking to improve their websites’ conversion rates, the extended phrase holds true.


“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein


Testing is a powerful tool for advancing your business because of the data it provides. Every test is an experiment that will either support or contradict a hypothesis about your website, your customers, your audience, and their preferences.

We have found that in key industries, companies using a testing platform have discovered site improvements that led to 29% more page views for media sites, 21% more revenue for e-commerce companies, and 17% more customer engagement for software companies.

With testing, you can take professional development steps toward becoming more data-oriented and informed in your day-to-day business decisions. Choosing data sources and incorporating a balance of qualitative and quantitative data points into decisions is an invaluable skill that will inform how you approach problems on the web, in a product, or in marketing in general.


“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.”

Samuel Johnson


The impact of data on your organisation depends on your current aptitude for it. Teams already in the practice of incorporating data into their decision-making processes adopt optimisation more easily than those making decisions based on gut instinct or ‘industry experience’.


Building a testing culture means building a team replete with the relevant curiosity and skills to drive optimisation through the business. There is no one best way to build an optimisation team though. There are many considerations and stakeholders that will affect the best way to scale your efforts.


  1.     The team of one

We’ve heard over and over from customers that, no matter how large or small the team of people performing experiments is, at least one person has to live, breathe and evangelise optimisation.


For most organisations it is realistic to have one person serve as the appointed conversion rate optimiser (CRO), where testing is not their only responsibility but supporting their other day-to-day responsibilities.

However, your CRO won’t be effective in isolation. They will need allies across your marketing department as well as your engineering and product teams to be successful. Here are a few considerations for a testing hero acting alone:

  •          Start small and focus on the easiest and most straightforward tests first
  •          Share the first win(s) that show a lift in conversion to get others excited
  •          Focus on enablement through things like WYSIWYG editors and MVT tests if you’re not a web developer or designer
  •          Develop documentation to prepare the program to scale
  •          Test for your traffic – a low traffic site will only require a test every couple of weeks


  1.     The centralised team

The centralised team places the responsibility of testing in one CRO specialist, responsible for soliciting, brainstorming, prioritising and deploying all tests. They secure the resources needed from design and engineering and communicate wins to other team members and stakeholders.

Optimizely itself employs a centralised approach to testing, with many additional employees using the testing platform. The CRO sets the agenda for which tests will run and in which order, while also soliciting ideas and sharing successes or failures.

The benefit of the centralised team is that testing is a one stop shop and there are simple lines of responsibility for questions about the process. Similarly, developing a specialised competency in one person means they will become an expert. However, it does lead to potential for loss of knowledge through a single point of failure – whether that is by the individual becoming a bottleneck, showing a lack of scope, or leaving the organisation.


  1.     The decentralised team

The alternative method for scaling a single CRO into a wider optimisation effort is to build a decentralised testing structure where the CRO becomes one of a group, each with equal testing ownership and responsibility.

The key benefit of the decentralised model is that it allows a greater independence and reduces the potential for an organisational bottleneck. It grows the optimisation skillset throughout the organisation and allows for greater creative cross-pollination.


  1.     The combined centralised and decentralised approach

In this approach, a lead CRO coordinates among department-level appointed CROs, and owns a testing roadmap that spans the organisation. Everything is optimised and all teams are aware of and optimise for their department or product level conversion metrics. The lead CRO is responsible for balancing internal conflicts between conversions that are at odds.

This utopian approach to testing is only really appropriate for organisations with high volumes of traffic and many web properties or products. Here, there is a benefit to optimising all facets of the company’s online presence.


“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Walt Disney Company


These testing cultures are not easy or fast to instil. Making people excited about optimisation is the first step, but maintaining and expanding that excitement across the organisation in a process-driven way is tough. Communication and transparency are key, as is promoting data aptitude among team members.

And don’t forget testing should be fun. Remind your team of the interesting trends in the field from testing resources like the Optimizely blog or Which Test Won?, and encourage testing brainstorms to encourage creativity in the tests that are proposed.

Developing a robust optimisation programme has the power to improve your business in quantifiable terms and to unite a team behind a common goal that everyone can get excited about. You have the opportunity to develop not just one but many evangelists across your organisation. And, most importantly, curiosity may well kill the cat – but the results that curiosity can bring will provide the satisfaction to bring it back.

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