Today I learned where the slang term “limey” (used to describe someone originating from the United Kingdom) came from and it was surprisingly not from my England-born grandmother. This bit of insight actually came from the Microsoft study about not listening to the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), in which they described a 17th century ship captain looking to help his nation’s navy overcome the scourge of scurvy. To find out why his nation’s seamen were so prone to getting this debilitating disease when compared to the navy of Mediterranean countries, he risked half of his crew in a controlled experiment. One half was given limes in addition to their daily rations, and the other half of his crew was left unchanged. The half given limes had shown a considerable decrease in the disease. The fact that he was willing to risk half of his crew shows just how important controlled experiments can be, especially when that experiment is looking at challenging the status quo. If he did not conduct this experiment, he could have very well lost his entire crew to scurvy.
The same mindset can be applied to digital marketing in today’s world. Say, for example a company is doing just well, but they are wondering if changing the look or layout of their website would result in more sales. The HiPPO in most cases might not want to conduct any type of experiment, because they are worried that anything other than the way they have been conducting business would drive away customers. The beauty of today’s modern world is that the company would not have to sacrifice those potential customers because they would be able to retain their current website as a control variable, and then introduce the new and improved website, perhaps to a new market. This type of testing would give the HiPPO definitive evidence on whether the new look helps or hurts business.
This type of hypothesis testing, often referred to as A/B testing, is a small but very important slice of the website optimization pie. With the countless sources of input on the Internet, battling for our attention, clicks and money, an aesthetically pleasing website can make all the difference in the world. The right layout, font choice and even color palette can be the deciding factor in grasping a customer’s attention, as internet users tend to make snap judgments of websites they visit in a fraction of a second. Even the color of the checkout button on a shopping website can make a difference in sales as certain colors will trigger responses in the mind of the consumer. For example, a red button might drive away sales due to the color’s association with stopping and danger. A green button could provide the exact opposite response. The only way to know which website design works the best, is through A/B testing, which would give empirical evidence to the HiPPO that says “hey, maybe change isn’t so bad after all.” The key to a successful website is through evolution of it’s design, as trends change, so should your website.