Nearly three years have passed since Thomas Publishing Co. migrated its Thomas Register directory from a more static print product into ThomasNet.com, an online, interactive resource for engineers, purchasing managers and other industrial professionals. In that time, the ThomasNet.com team has developed a host of online marketing and educational communication vehicles to engage its target audience, including a blog, e-mail newsletters and an Internet newsroom. And since no direct marketer makes big, or even little, changes without testing, the online publisher also has been fine-tuning its process of site optimization.
This week, Target Marketing Tipline talks to Brad Mehl, vice president, marketing, about ThomasNet.com’s online testing strategies and how the results are being used to improve the user’s experience.
Target Marketing: What kind of testing is ThomasNet.com conducting to learn what works best online?
Brad Mehl: To put our testing activities into context, it’s important to share that our primary goal for ThomasNet.com is to connect industrial buyers with sellers. Our activities (and our testing) are focused on increasing conversions. Our definition of a conversion is an action that brings a buyer closer to a supplier; it’s an explicit expression of buyer interest. For example, conversions include views of a company profile, a click over to a supplier’s Web site and e-mails sent to that company.
We approach testing at two levels: 1) a “focused” approach; and 2) multivariate testing.
In our focused approach, we zero in on a specific part of our site or a particular user issue. This approach starts by analyzing user paths on ThomasNet.com, particularly on our most heavily trafficked pages. We try different usability solutions to improve the user experience for that part of our site. The focus approach is hypothesis-driven and encourages us to think deeply about the user.
For example, when a user comes to ThomasNet.com from a search engine, they typically land on a search results page on our site. Let’s say that someone starts on a search engine looking for “helical gears.” They click over to a page on our site with suppliers that make helical gears. That begs the question: “Do they know that ThomasNet.com has 65,000 other product categories beyond helical gears?” To address this, we tested a new link that tells users the range of content on our site. Early results are very encouraging.