Amazon's philosophy for Web site success: Data Trumps Intuition.

Even the most experienced Amazon employees came up with lots of cool ideas that failed to show significant improvement in conversion. The company now finds it is easier to build and test a prototype than build a mathematical model to predict user response. So it stopped guessing and started testing.

Amazon's home page is prime real-estate, and all category VPs wanted a link to their content top-center of the page. Every Friday, the VPs would meet, and the meetings would be long, loud and lacking in performance data, so they automated the selection decision process: format your content for the appropriate slot, drop it into the hopper and let it wait for its turn. Content that underperforms is replaced by the next item in the queue, and the politics are removed from the process. This, Amazon discovered, is the road to success.

In Part 1, we began to highlight the experience of leading experts from the 2004 Emetrics Summits held in London and Santa Barbara. In Part 2, we continue with the details of this lesson from Amazon and others.

The wrap-up of the London sessions starts with a look at RICS—that's the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. RICS is the world's "leading source of land, property, construction and related environmental knowledge…. Chartered surveyors cover all aspects of property: from conserving and restoring historic buildings; residential and commercial; industrial and retail to planning home extensions, homebuyer surveys and valuations, dilapidations, boundary disputes, energy efficiency and party walls."

If you ran a site that was primarily content and you boasted 110,000 members worldwide, how would you measure the success of your site? Stephan Mitchell, RICS's New Media Executive, had the answer right from the start: you measure the success of your various constituents.

Stephan listed seven visitor types that he is constantly trying to delight:

  • Members
  • Press
  • Public
  • Business
  • Government
  • Education
  • Job seekers

Stephan shared his Key Performance Indicators, which include unique users, repeat users, stickiness (pages viewed per visit/time spent per visit), most popular pages and user origin. In a nutshell, he wants to know where people come from and which sources generate the most repeat visits. Because its audience is found in 46 countries, RICS is also very keen to track access speeds and monitor resolution—not everybody has fancy monitors or broadband yet.

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne ( is the founder and director of Target Marketing (, founder of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and the founding president and current chairman of the Web Analytics Association.