Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Customer engagement is not a good metric

December 2, 2012 -- Gerry McGovern

The strategies of getting attention and engaging customers are often counter-productive on the Web.

Cleverstuff is an ecommerce site for eco-friendly and educational toys. They were worried that potential customers who arrived at the site for the first time would not understand what it was about. So, according to WhichTestWon, they decided to run a test. They tested two pages: one with just the products listed and one which had a big branding banner of images of children and text explaining what it did.

The products-only page “increased paid orders by 13.7%” according to WhichTestWon. But almost 70% of the marketers and other web professionals voted on the WhichTestWon website for the branding page. This happens all the time.

Traditional marketing is about engagement. It’s about visuals, images, moods, emotions, the unusual and the beautiful. Traditional marketing thinking serves a purpose offline but online it is often a distraction and irritation that drives the customer away.

Why? Because when someone arrives at your website they already know what they want. Cleverstuff didn’t need a huge wasteful branding banner because people had arrived after searching using phrases such as “eco-friendly toys” or “educational toys”. Traditional marketing is about getting attention but online marketing is about giving it. Help them find the right toys quickly.

Huge branding banners are generally counterproductive. Rotating homepage carousels may look cool but are highly irritating to most customers. As Lee Duddell of What Users Do puts it, “Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in Marketing/Senior Management that their latest idea is now on the Home Page. They are next to useless for users and are often "skipped" because they look like advertisements.”

A 2009 study for the Fidelity financial website found that using smiling faces with marketing copy reduced the trustworthiness of that copy. I saw results from a study of the Microsoft MSDN website where customers reacted extremely negatively to smiling faces with brand marketing copy like “No Hassle!”

I have come across multiple examples in testing where customers either totally ignore or get annoyed and frustrated by marketing that is trying to ‘engage’ them. Marketers often measure their success by the few people they get to click. But do they ever think of the huge numbers they are driving away, annoyed and frustrated?

Some marketers say that their customers want the website to be more exciting and fun. In the thousands of tests we have run with customers we rarely hear that. But we regularly hear customers complain about how the website is slow or how they can’t easily find what they’re looking for.

For a great many websites, engagement is a counterproductive metric. Normal people do not look forward to spending lots of time on company websites. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Looking at lots of pages and spending lots of time reading a particular page more often than not means that the website is badly organized, has too many pages and the pages themselves are full of waffle.

Telenor, a Scandinavian telecom company, deleted 90% of their pages and saw conversions rise dramatically. “When doing split tests,” conversion expert Brian Massey writes for Search Engine Land, “it is not unusual for us to see a decrease in engagement for the winning treatment. In situations like this, if we focused on increasing engagement, we would be driving the conversion rates lower and lower.”

 

Can You Really Increase Conversions By Decreasing Engagement?

2009 Fidelity study (and more)

Are carousels effective?