Something is happening to the homepage…

If you visited the World Vision homepage over the last few weeks, you may have noticed some pretty significant changes, that’s because we’re doing some Conversion Rate Optimisation.

Conversion Rate Optimisation or CRO is an essential element of digital marketing, in fact, it’s probably the most important tool at your disposal for improving the performance of your digital channels.  But as we found out when we ran this first test in a new programme, it’s not as simple as it looks.  Specifically, we took away three lessons from this test which we’d love to share with you.

1: The step is not the journey.

The journey from finding out about your organisation to being an avid supporter is not made in a single step.  If you try and see the impact of a change that you make as a part of that journey on the overall performance of your website, you’ll find it practically impossible.  After all, if you’re trying to improve the performance of a road, you don’t measure the speed of the cars across their whole journey because there would be too many other variables, you just look at the performance on that part of the journey.  We chose to look at the second stage in our digital engagement model, (which I’ll cover in another post) which covers the period between finding out that we exist, and engaging in some sort of support.  It’s the single most important part of the journey, and one that many charities pay scant attention to in their digital material – World Vision included.

2: Test your big assumptions.

CRO is often thought of as the mechanism for comparing two different wordings of text, or two different button colours in an A/B test.  And it is useful for that, but to start there would make the big assumption that “we’ve got the thing basically right and we’re looking for tweaks”. In the charity sector, even those sites adhering to what we call “best practice” only achieve about half the performance that’s commonly seen in the commercial sector, so we can’t make that assumption.  Instead, we must cast far and wide to see what direction we should take to improve.  We started by testing the fundamental assumption that most of the charity sector uses which is that, once you’ve told someone you’re a charity, it’s OK to ask them for money right away.  This works in the US, but in other markets it really doesn’t, which kind of explains why we get poor performance on our digital channels here in the UK compared to commercial marketers who are talking to the same consumers.  We wanted to try two “storytelling” variants which removed the up-front ask, and see whether they would improve engagement at that first stage.

3: Set up your experiment right.

Putting things on the website and seeing what happens to donations is not a testing strategy.  If you cast your mind back to GCSE science, you’ll remember that an experiment has a Hypothesis, a Method, Results and a Conclusion.  And you need those too, otherwise, the test won’t deliver for you.

Our hypothesis was that our new content-led approach would improve engagement by 10% without impacting significantly on conversion (the number of people joining us as supporters).  You’ll notice that we included a scale for the improvement, we are looking for BIG changes remember, and we also included a stop condition – if we say the test having a big negative impact, we’d stop it.

Our method was a randomised control trial.  Now that’s a whole topic on its own but suffice for now to say it’s the gold standard of testing.  You randomly assign subjects to the old homepage or the new one and see what changes.  Keeping the old homepage live throughout was really important because it meant that we can eliminate any external factors, we’re not comparing this week with last week, just page A with page B.  We used Google Optimise within the Google Analytics suite, but there are plenty of tools out there.

Homepage “Classic” control (Left), Child Variant (Centre), Aid Worker Variant (Right)

Then we had results – numbers – lots of them.  We were looking at the bounce rate (the number of people who arrived at the homepage and simply left) and trying to influence that, whilst also keeping an eye on the main donation and child sponsorship activity and making sure that wasn’t significantly worse on the tests.

Then we had a conclusion, and before I tell you what that conclusion is, it’s worth noting that the conclusion is the most important part of the process.  Looking back at some work that had been done here over the last year, I saw lots of “tests” being run, but no clear conclusions, and hence no value derived from any of that testing.  If you don’t have something you’ll change if your hypothesis is proven, then don’t do the test – you’re wasting your time.

So we knew which step of the journey we were looking at, we chose a big assumption to test, and we set up our experiment method correctly.  What did we find?

Two things.  First, the hypothesis was proven.  We did see a significant improvement in engagement in one of the test homepages (can you guess which one?) and we didn’t see a significant change in conversion.  Job done.  That means that we have some follow-through work to do to ensure that those improvements result in better overall performance and that we move on to the next step in the journey.  But before we get to that, it’s worth noting what else we learned.  The first was that this process is hard.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s advanced mathematics, and it’s really easy to get it wrong and end up with results which you don’t trust or which don’t tell you anything.  We encountered technical gremlins which caused us to pause the testing, and we had different people reading the results in different ways, in short, we learned as much about the methodology as we did about the test subject itself.

The good news is there are amazing tools out there on the web.  Whichever optimisation tool you use will have a ton of information, and will probably automate the process to a decent degree.  But check out online learning videos and courses, and of course, the old bookstore is good for this as well.

So two weeks in we’ve switched these new homepages off to run an appeal, but we’re now planning the next phase of the programme and I hope I’ve given you the enthusiasm, and some pointers, that will help you do the same.

And more about the engagement model another time.

Until then…

Digital Digital Transformation Professional Development

Stuart McSkimming, CIO of Shelter

On this week’s Digital Collective Podcast, Stuart McSkimming reflects on 20 years in the charity sector and picks out his highlights and current trends to watch:

  • How the move from on-premise to cloud systems is nothing like as important as the move from customisation to configuration.
  • How partners can really add value with managing fast-moving technology and integrations, but organisations themselves have to figure out what to do with the technology at the end of the day.
  • How the role of the CIO has changed from a technology role, focussed on efficiency, to a business leader who understands what the organisation needs to achieve and figures out how technology can enable that.
  • How clearing the decks from tactical issues can leave the space and opportunity to address strategic issues.
  • and how charities can use their unique advantages to recruit the very best digital candidates.

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Announcements Digital

“A Clear Way Forward” for charities on digital.

When the Charity Digital Code launched on 15th November 2018, charities welcomed the sector-wide standard showing what good digital looks like today.  Since then over 150 charities have used the Charity Digital Code Quick Assessment Tool to test their own digital capabilities and practices against those described in the sector, and have shared their data anonymously with the rest of the sector.

The verdict is that there’s a long way to go, but the way forward is clearly indicated by the code.  Zoe Amar, who chairs the Charity Digital Code, commented:

It’s helpful to have these early insights into where the charity sector is at in relation to The Charity Digital Code of Practice. The results show that there is some way to go with digital in the sector, which is a concern.  The best practice set out in the Code is designed to be ambitious in order to raise standards and we encourage charities to work towards it, as this will help them increase impact, improve sustainability and develop skills.

One challenge highlighted by the report is that whilst charities reported strong leadership from their boards around governance and setting the direction of the charity, that there were real challenges delivering on this within the charity – particularly because of a real shortage of significant skills – 75% of charities reporting that they had “very few digitally skilled people around”.  With digital skills being a strong driver of digital performance in other areas, the benchmark clearly points to this as the area of focus most needed by charities today.

One area of hope that the report highlights, however, is that analytics is an area that the charity sector is getting to grips with. Over 40% of charities indicated that they had significant tactical or strategic work going on in this area, and whilst this is a long way from fully meeting the standard, this does show charities focusing on understanding supporter behaviour, and in turn on the most effective ways to engage and respond.

“Digital has changed our culture and has changed our economy, our relationships and the way we live our lives” commented Jonathan May, CEO of Hubbub Fundraising, which sponsored the research, “It’s vital that charities use this benchmark as the measure of the size and urgency of the task ahead. The benchmark suggests that the sector as a whole is at risk of falling behind, and now is the time to act. Digital has now reached the point where a few strong digital people at the right place in the organisation working with the right partners on the right projects can have a transformative impact on both fundraising and service delivery.”

cdc benchmark png

Martin Francis Campbell, CIO of Christian humanitarian organisation World Vision UK, and chair of the Digital Collective which has run the data gathering and research highlights:

“The Charity Digital Code has been a tremendously useful standard against which charities have been able to measure ourselves.  It’s no surprise that we’re behind the curve on digital, and we know that we need to do more, but what’s so valuable about this report – and the code itself – is that, by focussing on the culture and practice of digital, rather than the technology, it shows us where we need to concentrate our effort in order to kickstart improvements overall.”

The results of the Charity Digital Code Benchmark Report have been published today in full to more than 150 charities who have shared their anonymised data for the research.  The full report is also available free of charge to any charity contributing data using the Quick Assessment tool here:


How Do Political Parties Communicate Online?

I asked Ben Nolan, the former director for Member Mobilisation and Communications of the Labour party, and it seems that charities have a lot we could learn…

Listen to the podcast over on the digital collective podcast channel, or in iTunes

Productivity Professional Development

Happy “Ditch your new year’s resolutions” day.

or: Why you don’t need new year’s resolutions, but you DO need objectives.

According to the fun holiday calendar, today is international “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions” day. And why not? New Years’ resolutions are a bit of a waste of time, aren’t they? Raise more for your charity, find new donors, drink less, lose weight, stop smoking. They’re all things we really need to do, but a year-long resolution means there’s no urgency, so there’s no follow through. As a result, by today, half of New Year’s resolutions are already out of the window, and most of the other half are headed in the same direction.

But hang on, we do need to raise more income, find new donors, drink less and a whole bunch of other things, so how can we set objectives which actually work? Well if a one-year resolution doesn’t work, how about a three-month objective? This is the kind of tool that I’ve used for quite a few years and really works. You see, a three month period is long enough to get something meaningful done but short enough that the urgency is there right from the start.

I use a system called OKRs or “Objectives and Key Results” that work across both professional and personal goals. With OKRs, your “O”, your objective, is about what you’re trying to achieve, and your KRs, your key results, are about how much progress you’ve made towards getting there. Here’s how it works.

1: Objectives and leading indicators

First, you pick an objective that you want to reach. Make it a SMART objective. The best ones go in the form “I want to get this measurement from X to Y”. It doesn’t much matter what the measurement is, income, the number of new donors per quarter, blood pressure, weight, whatever your objective needs, but you have to be able to measure it from today.

Now you need to pick your key results, and these are important. One of them would be the measure that you’ve already picked to define your objectives, the one that will tell you whether you’re done at the end of the quarter, but pick another one or at most two which are “leading indicators”.

Leading indicators are going to be different from the measure that you’ve already got – which is likely a lagging indicator – because where a lagging indicator like income, donor numbers, blood pressure, weight will ultimately tell you whether you’ve been successful, they look BACK, so by the time you get the measurement, you can’t take any action that’s going to get you to your objective.

Leading indicators, on the other hand, are when you measure the things which you know are necessary steps towards reaching your goal – and they’re often things which you can directly influence because they are in your control. So the number of calls you make to major donors will have a direct impact on your income at the end of the quarter, and you can control it by simply picking up the phone. Other leading indicators you might use professionally would be: what’s the status of the new fundraising programme you want to launch, how many social media ambassador emails have you sent this week, and for health-related goals, things like “how many times this week did you exercise, how many days did you stick to a diet, how many days did you stay off the booze”

2: Daily Checkin

Now that you’ve set up your OKRs, there’s one more thing that you need to do. Every morning take a look at those OKRs again. Maybe set them as a backdrop on your computer, maybe stick them into the front of your diary or daily planner. It doesn’t matter how, it just matters that you take a look at that OKR for thirty seconds at the start of your day and simply decide how you’re going to move forward on your key results today.

If you’re about major donors, when are you going to make your calls today? If you’re looking at digital fundraising, how can you move your new programme forward, if you’re looking at social, when are you going to prepare those tweets and emails?

You might even have chosen some key results that you can book into your diary in advance, going to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work. But it’s still worth checking in on those objectives every morning, this is your most important priority for the quarter, right? Looking at them every morning is a great step towards reminding yourself to get the important stuff done and not let it get pushed aside by the noise and busyness of everyday life.

3: Weekly Review

When you do that daily check-in on your OKRs, when you get to the end of the week, this is your chance to look at how you’re doing. If you’ve made ten calls a day for five days, there’s likely been something that’s come out of that and which is building towards your meaningful objective. Have you reached a project landmark, achieved a measurable step forward in your lag measure, lost some weight or improved that blood pressure? Now’s the time to take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back and redouble your enthusiasm to get even more progress next week.


That’s it.  It’s simple, which is, I think, a big reason why it works so well for many.  I hope that it will for you as well.  If you want to find out more about OKRs, google is your friend, not just because there is lots written about them, but because OKRs are used within Google itself to keep their own teams on track in a very fast growing internet business, so there’s a lot we can learn from that experience.

If you prefer something a bit less digital, and don’t mind a bit of shameless self-promotion, I can point you towards my book: Practical Time-Travel for Fun and Profit which looks into all this in a bit more detail and gives you lots of other practical tools to use to make your 2019 even more successful.