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A/B testing and optimization offer the potential of big rewards for businesses. Too often, though, testing falls short, yielding few insights or performance gains. Often, at the heart of the problem is a flawed testing strategy that focuses on testing the wrong things at the expense of optimizations that would matter.

But how do you know where to start when jumping into optimization? As easy as crossing the street, building a testing strategy oriented to the needs of your users all starts with stop, look, and listen.

Testing is a big problem to tackle, and doing it well requires a variety of steps. We've broken down our approach into a few parts, each of which will be its own post in this four-part series. We'll cover the ins and outs of developing a successful conversion rate optimization program and the positive impact it can have on your website performance.

In this first installment, we're going to take a look at the typical—often fatally flawed—testing approach, as well as the importance of identifying the true must-have experience and how to optimize your conversion funnel.

The Typical Testing Approach

The typical conversion rate optimization approach goes something like this: Your team agrees your website could be performing better and testing is a great way to learn what to change in order to improve; from there, an A/B testing platform is agreed upon (like Optimizely) and installed; then the boss lobs testing directives and ideas based on hunches and epiphanies, with little rigor or reason.

It's the classic "all tactics, no strategy" approach.

The overworked online marketer implements a few simple tests, such as changing the button colors or calls to action on a few landing pages. These micro-optimizations may provide some marginal gains, but they don't really move the needle. After a month or so of a variety of inconclusive tests, the team gives up, with no more insight gained and no more website performance realized.

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image of Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis is the founder of GrowthHackers.com and CEO of Qualaroo, a technology company that helps marketers better understand the needs of website visitors and improve conversions. He has held marketing leadership roles at breakout companies, such as Dropbox, LogMeIn (IPO), Uproar (IPO), Eventbrite, and Lookout.

Twitter: @SeanEllis