The year has just started (and some of you are probably still reeling from holiday crunch time), so it’s the perfect time to check if your marketing activities are well-aligned with the bigger trends that are most likely to drive website conversions and revenue in 2013.

Personalization_mediumWith that goal in mind, I looked into the “crystal ball” to see where we’re headed and what lies on the horizon for the conversion rate optimization (CRO) industry. Hopefully these “predictions” will help us get a good sense of direction for our digital marketing campaigns this year. The megatrends in this CRO map show where we’re heading—and what you need to adapt in your optimization efforts.

Let’s get personal

The mobile explosion, while only a few years old, seems like it’s been around forever.

But the truth is, except for a select few cases, mobile as a web experience has not matured. Couple this fact with advances in analytics and methods for serving personalized content (both on your website side and on ads), and you can see that 2013 and beyond will require a massive push into personalization.

1. Dedicated experiences for mobile and tablets

As a traffic source, mobile has hit it big. Business Insider used data from Monetate to describe how mobile traffic is faring. Over 18%—close to one out of every five visitors—use some type of mobile device to access ecommerce websites.

As an experience, mobile is, to say the least, disappointing. Mobile is today where desktop website experiences were in the late 90s: few user experience champions, little understanding of true potential, inappropriate designs. Some websites perform well, but most do not follow best practices on mobile, like changing to or adapting for a narrow layout, minimizing graphics, and avoiding technologies that don’t work for a large part of the user base, such as Flash.

With the percentage of mobile users continuing to grow, companies will no longer be able to ignore this trend or call it a fad. Some companies will use technologies like adaptive layout or responsive design that cater to both desktop and mobile, and others will create a separate experience for mobile than they do on desktop.

2. Personalization of web experience via behavioral targeting

Think of search for a minute. If you search for “Afghanistan,” and Google knows you read international news often, it will not serve you the Wikipedia page of the country as the top result, but it will serve you the latest news on Afghanistan.

By using context—knowing about where you are and analyzing past habits—the search engine knows what’s relevant to you. In general, this will happen to more and more websites. The opportunities are going to be too large to ignore, and the technology is going to keep becoming more accessible.

How this will be implemented is going to vary. At a minimum, there’s geographic content—a visitor from Germany needs to see different products than a visitor from the U.S. But that’s just scratching the surface.

A good start may be to target behavior depending on intent: Different content can be served to visitors depending on where they are in the decision process or buying cycle. If there’s enough data, content can be served by role or persona. Others are going to serve different content by frequency or source; for instance different content for new versus repeat visitors, social versus campaign traffic, and of course, desktop and laptop, tablet or mobile.

This will have a dramatic impact on conversion, and it’s where everyone’s heading.

When the lines blur…

As content gets more context-aware, traditionally separate roles will undergo more convergence. To be fair, the roles related to the usability team have started blurring some time back: Search engine optimizers have started to own part of the UX experience; usability experts need to run analytics numbers; and content marketers and designers need to think about both search and UX.

3. Increasingly easy-to-use testing tools

One of the key requirements for testing to take off is accessibility and marketing ownership. If very little is required from a programmer, webmaster, and system admin standpoint, more marketers will be able to run and benefit from tests.

One of the industry changes that demonstrates this is the Google Content Experiments (formerly Website Optimizer) move from a separate piece of software dedicated to tests to being a feature of Google Analytics. It shows testing is now as much a part of the digital marketing ecosystem as webmaster tools, clickstream metrics, and web surveys.

4. Growth of dedicated in-house optimization

What all of this means—from the mobile explosion, to ease of personalization and testing—is that conversion rate optimization will be increasingly thought of as a cycle, as opposed to a one-off activity.

That’s also how it’s best viewed. One of the myths of testing is that there’s no cost associated, when in fact, there may be an initial dip to conversions as the best challenger is being found. The idea is that in the long run, testing and reiterating can make the company far more than the investment.

As this becomes clear to more companies, it will no longer be something companies can tick off of a checkbox and mark “done.” Instead, it will become an integral part of digital marketing. More and more companies will want to own the tuning experience, and this requires either hiring for that capability in-house or cross-training the existing marketing and IT departments.

To sum up, 2013 is all about context. Personalization will expand because of context. Roles will converge because of context. The sooner you figure out how to adapt, customize, and optimize your web experiences to different user contexts, the rosier the future will be for your campaigns and your company’s bottom line.

Tim_Ash_avatarTim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, a leading conversion rate optimization agency that has helped over 850 clients worldwide. He is chairperson of Conversion Conference, the first conference focused on improving online conversions, and is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. Tim is author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization and is a contributing columnist to many publications. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.