Faces of Optiverse: Sean Emmel, UI Developer at Blue Acorn

by Optimizely ‎03-10-2015 March 10, 2015 - edited ‎03-12-2015 March 12, 2015

Sean Emmel.jpg

Sean's contributions have been stellar. He is always participating in complex discussions and providing his developer expertise. On behalf on the community, I thank Sean for sharing his extensive knowledge with all of us. I interviewed Sean so we can all get to know him a little better. I encourage you to ask questions. 


Name: Sean Emmel

Title: UI Developer at Blue Acorn

Twitter/LinkedIn links: https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanemmel


  • Tell us about your journey to work in Conversion Rate Optimization. Did you mean to? Why/Why not?

Prior to working at Blue Acorn, I worked at a company specializing on the Shopify e-commerce platform. This platform attracts many smaller businesses due to the ease of setup, management, and hosting, and as such, I ended up working on well over 100 different stores. During that time, I started developing a sense as to what types of UI/UX enhancements seemed to really benefit the store owners by driving more traffic to their site, including repeat traffic, and engaging their customers more. I also saw what types of development didn’t work after seeing numerous businesses succeed while others crumbled. A coworker of mine ended up joining Blue Acorn, and I ended up joining the team as a front-end web developer (UI developer) shortly thereafter. Blue Acorn was looking to expand their Optimization team at the time and were in need of a developer with strong JavaScript skills. I have always had a passion for JavaScript, and so my role as a developer on the Optimization team came to fruition.


  • You’re a UI developer at Blue Acorn. What does your day to day look like when working on tests?

On my day-to-day, I work very closely with our conversion consultants to determine which testing ideas are practical to implement on any given client’s site and how we might approach setting up the tests. I spend most of my day writing JavaScript to actually develop the tests, but I am also always learning more about the technologies our conversion consultants use, including various analytics platforms. I’ve always been a math lover, so it’s very interesting to me to see the numbers and data behind the decisions we make and how this can benefit the client, and ultimately, the customers. To me, this really gives more meaning to the actual development process.


  • How important do you think front-end coding and developer skills are for CRO? Do you have recommendation of where to start for an aspiring Growth Manager hoping to become more technically savvy?

I think they are absolutely crucial. As it stands, most A/B testing platforms essentially inject JavaScript into the site to quickly modify the DOM and serve the appropriate variation/test. Therefore, in order to develop the majority of the more complex tests, one must have a thorough working knowledge of what is and isn’t possible on the client-side (i.e. front-end) and how to achieve the best results efficiently. I would say about 90% of my job is comprised of writing JavaScript, and as such, it needs to be efficient and reusable. Whether or not you are a developer in CRO, it still helps to know what the limitations are in today’s platforms and current web technology. Having even a basic working knowledge of HTML/CSS/JavaScript will really propel you into a higher league and enable you to make better, more informed decisions about what you want to test, why you want to test it, and how you might achieve your goals. As far as building up a working knowledge of these things goes--use the Internet! There are a vast number of resources, many free, devoted to teaching you the ins and outs of various web technologies, including optimization. Sites like Codecademy can help to get your foot in the door for basic web development technologies, and your city may have local communities devoted to teaching coding and spreading knowledge about the web. We are located here in Charleston, SC, and I actually teach two front-end development courses at one such community: Charleston Codecamp. You can see more about that here: http://www.chscodecamp.com/


  • What do you think are the biggest testing trends for e-commerce? What do you think every e-commerce company should be doing, but probably isn’t yet?

I think companies should really focus on learning how to engage their customers more. Repeat traffic on your site simply equates to more conversions, and your brand name could get some passive exposure while friends talk to friends/family about your site. A customer who is engaged will have a more memorable experience, so this will really help to drive recurring traffic and also potentially new, unexpected traffic. A lot of sites try and present their customers with too much information from the get-go, and as such, this can oftentimes be overwhelming, especially to first-time customers. I would recommend taking a more simplistic approach--removing clutter and making the site overall less “busy” seeming. Most of the time, when a customer gets to your site, he/she already has somewhat of an idea as to what he/she might be purchasing. Ensure that your product funnel is easily navigable so that your customers can quickly find what they want without all the hassle. Testing simpler designs might show an increase in purchase conversions. Likewise, if you absolutely insist that your customers create some kind of account with your store, then reward them for this! Try testing various email campaigns or special offers--namely, incentivize your customers. Customer A who bought 3 rings from your jewelry store might not be interested in receiving an email with a discount on watches. Likewise, Customer B who bought a bracelet probably won’t pay much attention to an email offering a discount on shoes. Try to make the experience for each customer individualized and unique. Testing is a great way to accomplish this!


  • Just for fun, if you could take the next month off and travel anywhere you wanted, where would you end up?

My first inclination would be to say Europe, but in actuality, I would probably be more interested in checking out some of the top surfing spots around the world, including Australia, Hawaii, and Costa Rica. I have never seen 20ft + waves in person, so that is a must-have experience for me. I would also be interested to check out some parts of Japan and China.