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Meet Cara Harshman, a Versatile A/B Testing Expert


By Goran Bogunovic, March 14, 2017

If you’re a marketer, you’re certainly familiar with the exciting rush that comes with continuous efforts to be ahead of the competition. The constant chase to offer something better and more authentic to users and turn them into loyal customers is basically in the job description. But how do you actually achieve that?

There is no universal formula but there are many different hypothesis regarding the path to success. We can all agree that personalization is the future of marketing because let’s face it – all of us crave for experiences that are specifically tailored to match our interests and needs.


Cara HarshmanThere’s a really huge opportunity to add another channel to your personalization strategy that many people are ignoring today. That channel is your website. Your website is this really massive asset you have that’s going underutilized when it comes to personalization.Cara Harshman

In addition to the fact we all like to be treated like special snowflakes, there are at least another two reasons why we enjoy the customized experience: according to a research conducted by the University of Texas, we feel the need for control and we are often overwhelmed with the amount of information online. When we encounter a website that’s been personalized for us (based on our previous behavior and browsing), we feel like we’re in control and we engage in a different manner. We are not drowning in the pool of irrelevant information but we interact with the exact type of content we’re interested in.

Now, let’s get back to the adventure that’s called being a marketer. You might have great theoretic knowledge, maybe you’ve read dozens of case studies about the ways of maintaining great relationships with your customers and achieving conversions but the truth is – the magic lies in the trial and error.

Nobody knows that better than the incredible Cara Harshman whose versatility and unusual career path helped her to become an expert in A/B testing.

From African Culture to Data-driven Marketing

Cara is a journalist by training who slowly gravitated towards the world of content marketing. Before Silicon Valley, she was studying African languages and culture and became fluent in Yoruba language. It seems as if every step she made in her career helped her become an amazing educator and a go-to expert in the world of A/B testing and personalization.

When Cara participated as a speaker on the MozCon in 2015, she actually pointed out how awesome Yoruba people (from the Southwestern part of Nigeria) are at personalization. They have unique greetings not just for different times of day but for a variety of contexts: for instance, there is a special greet used when a person is sitting down. This certainly makes the communication more intimate and authentic as it draws the interlocutors closer, making every participant of the conversation feel important.

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The same goes for your interaction with your customers. The big question is: how do you create the best user experience and achieve conversions?

This is where the A/B testing steps in: it is sometimes called split testing and it’s basically comparing two web pages (i.e. two variants of the same page, A and B) simultaneously, to visitors of similar profile. The version that gets more conversions wins as a better solution for your website. So, if you’re looking to monetize your website presence (whether you own an e-commerce or run your own business), A/B testing helps you create that perfect user experience that will make the visitor say: YES, I indeed would like to make a purchase!

In 2012, Cara started working as a Content Marketing Manager for Optimizely where she shared conclusions from her case studies and various types of impressive content in the field of A/B testing and personalizing digital experiences. She even wrote a book on A/B testing on the behalf of Optimizely founders.

The Huge Potential of A/B Testing

Did you know that the average conversion rate across the web is only 2%? A petty figure compared to the 98% of the visitors who don’t end up as your customers. You certainly want more from your traffic but what can you do about it?

Test different versions of your page. Try and fail. Then try again and fail less. See what works with your target audience. Experiment! Every part of your website can affect visitors’ behavior so you can test anything from headlines, subheadlines, and paragraph text to testimonials, images, and media mentions. In the past, many shied away from testing because they were afraid of damaging their SEO effort.

Average conversion rate across the web is only 2%: a petty figure compared to the 98% of the visitors who don’t end up as your customers.

Luckily, Google Webmasters helped in solving that dilemma: good guy Google will give you a thumbs up for wanting to ensure the most pleasant experience for users. There’s nothing wrong with A/B testing, on the contrary. You just have to keep in mind some of the guidelines:

 

  • No cloaking: Don’t try to outsmart Google or disobey the rules. Showing one type of content to your visitors and the other one to the Googlebot is a direct violation of the guidelines. We’re guessing your final goal is not to disappear from the results page?
  • Use rel=“canonical”: If you’re running an A/B test with multiple URLs, it’s advisable to use rel=“canonical” link attribute on all of your alternate URLs to make it clear the original URL is the preferred version. Some make a mistake here using noindex meta tag which can create confusion and treat the wrong URLs as duplicates.
  • Use 302 redirect: With this type of redirection, you’re telling the search engines you’re running an experiment. On the other hand, a 301 redirect is used for domain migration, i.e. it’s a permanent redirection.
  • Take your time but don’t push it: Of course, you need a certain amount of time to estimate the behavior of your visitors and decide what type of page works better. However, if you run the experiment for too long, Google might suspect there’s something fishy going on and that you’re trying to trick the search engines.

If you keep these things in mind, you won’t experience any dropped rankings or they will be really insignificant.

Figuring out what page version might be the best is all about observing visitors’ behavior based on which you build a certain hypothesis. A hypothesis is basically an assumption you want to test: will changing the order of page elements have any effects? Is a different call to action better for your target group? How do you approach those who visit your website for the first time and how do you target those who are already your customers? It’s all about paving your own way.

As Cara pointed out, personalization is something we all experience online. If you take a look at Amazon and Netflix, you’ll see they are doing an amazing job of personalizing experience for each individual visitor.

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According to a study by Swirl, 88% of customers on Amazon are willing to make a purchase if the retailer offers them personalized and connected cross-channel experience. However, don’t get fooled thinking it’s enough to make changes that one time and you’re done optimizing your website for the users forever. On the contrary, users change behavior constantly and you need to keep up in order to build trustworthiness. Embrace the perks of data-driven marketing and listen closely to what your audience needs.

The Power of Your Personal Website

One glance at Cara’s career and you can see her great ability to connect the dots and come up with a way to implement different kinds of knowledge in order to create something innovative. And where can you look into all of her accomplishments so far? That’s right: on her personal website, caraharshman.me, which she uses as her personal portfolio.


Erik DevaneyPersonalization is like someone giving you a fitted baseball cap with your favorite team’s logo on the front and your initials stitched in on the side.Erik Devaney, Content Strategist, HubSpot

Having a personal website helps you create and control your online identity, under your own terms. Domain .ME has been recognized as the powerful tool for personal branding, making your achievements visible and crystal clear to anyone who comes around to check it out. It enables you to set a desirable image for yourself and initiate communication with your audience.

On the mentioned MozCon in 2015, Cara pointed out how personal websites often fall out of the equation when it comes to personalization in marketing even though they make an extremely valuable channel. We all know about the importance of personalized e-mail campaigns, and we simply leave the website’s homepage generic. However, the one-size-fits-all websites are dead and those who ignore the fact can’t expect any success coming from their online presence.

Learn a lesson from Cara: every personalization is a three step process:

  • You have to identify who you are targeting and slice them in the ways – contextual, demographical, and behavioral
  • You need to determine what you’re trying to communicate to them and what your end goal is
  • The last piece of the puzzle is the how to prioritize, where you assess the potential business impact, the technical effort that’s needed to execute your plan, and the ways to maintain your success. Here, you can rely on the tools such as Google Analytics in order to get a better idea of the different profiles visiting your website.

Optimizing your website in order to adapt to users is a must so you can get more out of your traffic, make users stay longer on your website, and nurture the existing relationships you’ve managed to build.

Personalization is all about focusing on the two Rs: relevance (i.e. delivering relevant content to your target audience) and revenue (i.e. converting them into customers). As Cara pointed out, the power of it lies in the way you wield it. If you’re thinking about creating your personal website, choose a trustworthy domain that fits perfectly: we at Domain.me are happy to support your online venture!


Author:

Goran Bogunovic

Now, you're probably wondering how I got here! Running a marketing agency, educating people about branding, and helping you to develop your own presence online. To understand, you’ll need to follow me @Domain.Me

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