Thomas has so much passion and expertise. I wanted to interview him and give you all the chance to get to know him --I encourage you to ask questions. I am sure you have seen him helping out in several complex discussions recently. His particpation is helping to build the groundwork for a thriving community. Thanks Tom!
Name: Thomas Evans
Title: AB Testing/CRO Co-ordinator at Secret Escapes
Twitter/LinkedIn links: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasdevans
- Can you tell us a little about your path to end up working in Conversion Rate Optimization?
Only 5 years ago I was managing design, production and distribution of cricket bats for our 4 employee strong start-up Sports Equipment firm. That gave me a good grounding in numbers, and general business acumen.
When the company failed in 2011 I moved to Secret Escapes, an exciting start-up in the travel industry, as a Web Designer. Like many start-ups we closely followed the lean start-up methodology building, testing and learning launching AB tests and MVPs regularly via Google Content Experiments. As we grew we were soon launching AB tests every week, and as we expanded into different territories it became a role, which required full-time management.
My background, enhanced by the technical and UX knowledge gained by working as a web designer, combined with my already rounded knowledge of the business and our customers meant that I was a good fit for the role and I haven’t looked back since. I love the challenge of coming up with new experiences and tweaks to make the customers experience better, and to make the business more successful. Since we’ve made it a full time role we’ve switched to Optimizely, and launched over 300 experiments.
- What do you think are the top 3 skills required to be effective at designing and executing your testing program (from a strategic point of view)?
- The ability to admit you’re wrong. We all think the next test we’re going to launch is going to dramatically change the business, but more often than not it doesn’t. Every optimizer has been left frustrated, and baffled, at times when their hypothesis is proven incorrect. Analyzing it, learning, moving on and coming back with your next test is incredibly important.
- A good communicator. It’s vital you communicate with the business why you test, and get them to buy into the concept. It’s also equally key that you communicate what is being tested, and how it may impact other teams like customer support. And lastly, it’s crucial that you communicate results to all teams. Your on site tests can drive tests for PPC campaigns, subject lines or TV advertising. The design team also needs to be aware of what’s won to take those learnings into future iterations of the site.
- Critical thinking. You need to ask the right questions at all steps of the tests. You need to dive into your quantitative research and question why users are doing what they do. You need to question why the result of a test may be one thing, and not another. For each of those questions you ask you need to dive and try to find answers.
- In addition to being very strategic about designing and prioritizing tests, you have a technical background and build out complex tests. How important do you think technical skills are to be successful at CRO?
A basic technical knowledge is always useful to know what is possible but it depends on the company set-up and size. Some companies will run so many experiments that they just need someone to manage, document and prioritise those. In that case you’re better to get someone more analytical and organized. I personally enjoy having the technical knowledge and being able to design, build and launch the tests myself – I enjoy the challenges of solving complex user problems, with simple elegant solutions. It also allows us to move quickly and launch tests without any roadblocks.
- Are there any tools/blogs out there you can’t live without?
I’m not a massive fan of the sites which show you winners or losers. There’s no understanding or information as to why they’ve performed that way, your test win is my test loss so I tend to stick to reading strategic and technical blogs on CRO. ConversionXL is a great, and I also check the Econsultancy blog daily. For new products or discussions I keep tabs firmly on GrowthHackers.com and Product Hunt, both of which are fantastic communities. In way of tools I’ve found Formisimo useful for analyzing our checkout forms, GA is obviously a staple of anyone’s website and UserTesting.com is great for getting quick feedback on the site. I’m now beginning to dive deeper real-time analytics, and better tools for audience segmentation – Woopra and GoSquared are 2 of those tools which look very cool. The tool I think we’re missing at the moment is a way (outside of spreadsheets) to easily document, search and share test results along with screenshots, if anyone has any suggestions – I’d be keen to hear them.
- Where do you see conversion rate optimization 2 years from now? Do you think it will evolve from A/B testing?
Conversion Rate Optimisation shouldn’t just be about AB testing, there are so many tools and ways to improve or learn about your business outside of it. User surveys, analytics, user-testing, personalization should all fall under the umbrella of CRO. Personalisation, is where I expect us to be moving forward with most in the next couple of years. ‘Big data’ in the past few years saw us all collecting masses of information, and now we can actually make use of some of that. I’m most excited to see us predicting what users want via segmentation and altering the site with that in mind. We’re at a stage where a dating site can predict your dating preferences and alter the website to fit, just by knowing your race and religious beliefs. It’s crazy, if not a bit scary.
- Just for fun, what’s a fun fact about yourself that others might not guess upon first meeting you?
I have virtually no formal qualifications. At 16 I left school to travel to India alone and work in a factory manufacturing cricket bats. It was an experience, which saw me (literally) sharing a factory work floor with some of the most incredibly talented craftsman. My favourite moment of the trip was getting invited to one of their distant cousins weddings - an experience I’ll never forget.
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