Success is not about doing an old thing better; it’s about keeping up with what your customers want. Put another way, forward-thinking marketers don’t prepare to fight the most recent war; they prepare to fight the battle ahead.

shutterstock_81632821_crop To help understand what it takes to be successful in ecommerce today, let’s take a quick look at how website optimization has evolved over the past 15 years, specifically some very distinct periods of time when marketers thought a certain way and budgets went a specific direction.

It all started about 15 years ago, when success relied a lot on the platform that you chose to build your business on. To be successful, you needed a good IT team to guide a process that involved plenty of stakeholders and questions around expectations and best practices.

Then, about a decade ago, with the meteoric rise of Google, marketers began shifting greater time and attention to acquisition, and specifically search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Ecommerce businesses thought that while their platforms weren’t living up to expectations, getting more traffic to their websites would make up for those deficiencies. New acquisition channels like Google AdWords required consultants or a channel expert to tell marketers where to spend their money.

Testing had pretty much always been around, but only a select group of deep-pocketed companies could afford the original generation of online testing solutions. Five years ago, however, the landscape changed once again, with marketers finally gaining access to affordable (and more flexible) A/B/n and multivariate testing products.

In more recent years, though, the water became very cloudy. New acquisition channels such as social media emerged, website testing continued to evolve, and ecommerce companies were introduced to other products and services, including online merchandising solutions that allow for recommendations, visual search, and more.

But we’ve now entered a new era of website optimization.

There’s an interest in and shift in budget to a set of technologies that can deliver optimal customer experiences across every different channel and touchpoint. This focus on personalization is a convergence of sorts, as marketers desire unique experiences not only for visitors to a website, but in their emails, display ads, search results, in-store, and basically anywhere they interact with a customer.

The big question you should ask yourself: Have you been ahead or behind in each of the previous eras? And if you were a leader, what did you need to be successful in everything that I stated above?

Throughout the past 15 years, ecommerce organizations have needed everything from solid technical resources to consulting expertise and, of course, money. But the new currency for competitive advantage is knowledge. The more you know about your customer, the better.

We are now in the era of personalization, dubbed by others as “the age of the customer.”

Are you still stuck testing landing page copy or button colors? You may have a really great testing tool, but is it helping you do something that was important five years ago? Are you still struggling with a replatforming project, years later regretting your decision? Are you watching PageRank slip as Google releases another new search algorithm?

How far behind is your company?

Interplay of Elements image courtesy of Shutterstock.