• July 1, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Something for a Rainy Day

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The Weather Channel Interactive’s Notify!, a subscription-based service, knows when a Category 4 hurricane will be making a pit stop in your city, or when that sudden flash of light really is the sign of a thunderstorm and not just your nine-year-old putting foil in the microwave…again. 

Notify! delivers severe-weather alerts to local users over the phone, and (depending on the service plan) sends alerts through email or mobile text. So while The Weather Channel Interactive (TWCi) may always be prepared for inclement weather, it wasn’t prepared for the low conversion rates on its Notify! Web site.

Brad Bacon, director of distribution and CRM for TWCi, recalls the inefficiencies that existed prior to implementing the landing-page optimization services of Seattle-based Widemile. The two-person creative team would simply brainstorm about what might constitute the best page layout. Then, the three-person design team would create the page, launch it, look at clicks and conversions, make small tweaks -- and then launch it again. The entire process was highly manual, extremely tedious, and ultimately failed to impart any significant improvements. As a result, Bacon admits that testing only occurred twice a year, if that. For four years, TWCi relied on internal testing until it finally turned to Widemile in the spring of 2006.

Before the first test on the Notify! Web page, Bacon and his team had decided that a 30 percent improvement in conversion rates -- people who registered for the free trial -- would make Widemile worth the investment. So it came as an overwhelming surprise when the new landing page resulted in a 225 percent improvement after the first multivariate test cycle. Although the massive lift was only for the trial offer, Bacon says there was no change in the share of trial accounts converting to the paid product. So an increase in the number of free trials meant a rise in paying customers as well.

The testing took just four days and involved combinations of landing-page components that would have been unimaginable had it been done manually. "It would have taken us as long to go off our gut to push just one page out as it takes [Widemile] to do a full multivariate test," Bacon says. Multivariate testing for Notify! is now conducted at least every quarter. After what Bacon calls the "mind-numbing" initial results, the page continues to see anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent improvement with each test. TWCi is also using Widemile for the landing pages of many of its other products, such as Weather.com Gold, Weather Channel Desktop, and Weather Channel Desktop Max. Each site sees increases in conversions of 30 percent to 50 percent after every test cycle, Bacon says.

Although each enhanced landing page delivers positive results that last for months, Bacon says that ideally, he’d test even more frequently if he could. "It’s still a matter of priorities," he says. With the cost savings, marketers are reinvesting for the primary purpose of promoting new product launches as well as cross-sell and upsell opportunities, rather than more-routine, methodical maintenance tasks.

With Widemile handling all the heavy lifting in terms of testing and Web design, TWCi was able to trim its landing-page team to just two marketers, who developed the creatives. The design team was then free to tackle other Web-site maintenance, and technological innovations became possible: During testing, Widemile suggested incorporating a version of the main graphic rebuilt using Adobe Flash, a set of multimedia technologies. Using advanced effects such as Flash was an option TWCi had never had the luxury of exploring. Bacon admits that he was skeptical -- "Knock yourself out," he recalls telling Widemile, believing customers wouldn’t even notice the difference. As it turns out, the Flash version was 20 percent to 40 percent more likely to convert consumers than its static counterpart.

But Widemile goes above and beyond the role of mere solution provider, Bacon says. "They’re all about partnering on and understanding the products and goals. Other solutions [we looked at] were just about providing the framework for doing it yourself." Widemile completely took the guesswork out of landing-page optimization. "We let the performance speak for itself," Bacon says, adding that "what matters is business, not who likes this fuzzy picture."

The Payoff
With Widemile’s landing-page optimization solution, TWCi has:

  • improved free-trial conversion rates  by 225 percent;
  • increased the frequency of testing from twice a year to four times a year;
  • extended the solution for the optimization of other product pages;
  • freed up the technology department;
  • seen 20 percent to 40 percent better results from Flash images; and
  • continued to have 20 percent to 30 percent improvement on Notify! and 30 percent to 50 percent improvement on other product pages. 

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