The Optimization Trap

October 17, 2014Comments Off on The Optimization Trap

Picture the newcomer to regular process as a conversion funnel.

You can optimize every stage of it. 

Awareness > Visit > Browse > Registration > Confirmation e-mail > Confirmation > First contribution.

I once hired someone with a great copywriting background to look at a client’s newcomer to regular conversion funnel. He would be paid a fixed amount for every % he increased that funnel by (without reducing traffic).

He did a terrific job. He reduced the churn and increased the number of people making a first contribution by a double-digit percentage.

Can you guess how he did it?

By asking questions and offering incentives.

He provoked curiosity to visit the next page. He reduced the number of places a prospective member could click, and effectively deployed the many great tools of the copywriting trade. 

But participation dropped. More people made a first contribution, but far fewer made a second.

When challenged to get members to 10 contributions, he wasn't able to do it. 

There is a right and wrong way to optimize the conversion funnel. The right way is to align the benefit with a specific motivation and balance the need to optimize each stage of the process with the long-term need to socialize members in the community.

The wrong way is to offer short-term rewards for participation. This is why split a/b testing rarely works well for communities. The same tools you use to get people to click on the next page are often the antithesis to getting members to become regular, active, members. 

Be careful about optimizing. You may get better results (at least for limited, short-term, participation), but it might perform worse over the long-term. 

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