Improvement Starts With (Bad) Habits

Jun 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured, Headline, Marketing, Optimization & Testing

Occasionally we hear from clients after they’ve implemented some recommendation for improvement that they see a temporary dip in conversion. This seemingly goes against logic — after all, if you fix a problem, things should get better, right? — but Mammals aren’t entirely logical nor rational, at least not as often as we’d like to think, and particularly when it comes to learned and patterned behavior.

Sometimes it takes your customers a while to “get used to” the changes you made (think of how long your customers’ buying cycle is), especially when they are surprised to wake up one morning and discover such changes implemented. You knew the changes were coming; the customers are generally taken off guard. A short video illustrates:


Not only will the dog not go out the door, despite evidence it’s not there (she sticks her head thru, for goodness sake…sounds like logical, rational, tested evidence of no door, right?), but instead is cued to the behavior of the door handle. And it’s not immediately clear that she believes the evidence since she then waits outside for the door handle to be involved in re-entering the house. What she really needs is the repetition of the new activity several times before modifying her own behavior. So there’s a delay between the implementation of the change and its measured improvement.

What’s interesting is that you see this behavior in humans too. How many diet solutions focus on giving one a sense of “feeling full”, not because one needs to eat so much, but simply one has gotten used to eating a certain relative volume of food and therefore reinterprets a smaller volume as “I’m not done yet”. Or, your City fixes some streets and roads and months later drivers still need “Warning: New Traffic Pattern” signs to remind them that something different, even something improved,¬† has come along.

Of course. over time we all become used to the new way of doing things and that’s when the actual benefits of optimization will start to yield your company the long-tail, long-term results.

This is why we so often talk about a “cycle of improvement” and a “culture of testing”, because optimization gets its biggest bang from operating continuously. So the next time you make some improvements to your site, consider the idea that it’s completely normal for a dip in conversion to occur at that point in the persuasive process; use the time to plan your next round of improvements, so that when you come out of the dip you’re ready for the next cycle. Get realistic about your expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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28 Comments to “Improvement Starts With (Bad) Habits”

  1. Audio Bible says:

    I am in OnTarget right now; honestly I think all of the changes so far have made since to me. I just did not see them before.

    I have a big change coming on my homepage in the header section to make my website to look zippier for a better word. The changes will also add about 35K in file download size to my home page and all other pages of my website, so we will see how giving the customer more sizzle but making them wait longer to downloading it, will effect bounce rate and etc…

  2. Jim Williams says:

    We definitely see this cycle with MVTs – the eventual winner often bombs initially – then steadily improves. Hence resist the temptation to act on results too early. We’ve learnt that lesson.

  3. Yup, saw that one too when I first did a complete site redesign. Had a minor heart attack for a week or so, wondering why conversions were down so much, and then saw them pick right back-up.

    Now I know to wait longer and not worry. Glad to hear it’s common wisdom these days though.

  4. Tim Leighton-Boyce says:

    Something which might help is to try to track the behaviour of people who are most likely to be new visitors to the site. For example, set up a segment which only includes searchers who use a generic term. This group is a great proxy for “people who are not familiar with your site”.

    They can be useful as an everyday reality check and they could also be particularly useful for reducing the frightening effect described here.

  5. I often see the same, when I am doing some SEO improvements on my sites.

    First it looks like a catastrophy – and the the rise starts.

  6. […] Via FutureNow VN:F [1.3.1_645]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast) Partagez cet article : […]

  7. It looks like random variation to me:

    as we get into summer the weather will get better on average – but that does not mean that every single day will be better than yesterday.

  8. I wish my dog could do all this sort of stuff, and clean up after its self. HA ha

  9. John Quarto-vonTivadar says:

    @John of SiteDoublers: not sure what point you’re trying to make

  10. Sounds like a familiar problem, it is certainly hard to explain how this can happen so thanks for the article

  11. Business Gas says:

    It certainly is interesting how familiarity can make us behave in certain ways. A very well written article

  12. This is a very good point. Often these things do take time to improve.

  13. I wish I could teach my dog that trick

  14. Nice post, I have alot of bad habbits, can i improve?

  15. Door Handles says:

    Improvement is a hard thing to ascertain and this is a nice way of looking at it

  16. Everyone can improve. You just need to have the drive to do it

  17. Improvement will only come when you recognise that there are improvements to be made

  18. Docx says:

    If I could turn all my bad habits to good then it would a brilliant improvement

  19. Tuned Autos says:

    Out with the bad and in with the good

  20. Riccar says:

    Now if you could tech them not to pee on the carpet.

  21. Change your habits is very difficult with everybody especial with bad habits, your post make me do it easier.
    Thank for your help.

  22. How ironic to come across this article. Deja vu. Just recently cleaned up my site, fixed and updated code, optimized, ran checks and balances and then waited to dominate google first page. lol Dropped like a rock. Only temporarily. After pulling my hair out and freaking out, I regained control, gave it some time, and now and back on top and even climbing for much more competitive keywords. Must practice patience. Should be first rule of SEO.

  23. There is an old saying…patience is a virtue. It is so true. How many times have we rushed into a decision only to regret it later? Think it through first before you leap. Funny how we have so much to learn from our canine friends.

  24. That is too funny. Like the the dog! Thanks for sharing.

  25. Sussane says:

    hahaha, that’s a really bad habit..

  26. Any business implementing changes need to allow time for the habits of the past to change. The description above of the dog is apt, many are too scared to take on change and this is where good management and good explanation of reasons for change are important in the process. Make the personnel understand why they should stick there head out!

  27. I have been working so hard to get rid of all my bad habbits, but its not easy

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