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The Power of Insight: Optimizing Website Conversions at Bonusly with Continuous Machine Learning

Apr 22, 2021

by Elisse Lockhart, VP Marketing at Bonusly

Online marketing is critical in the world of B2B SaaS. You need content that resonates with your target audience, even though audience needs shift over time. Savvy marketers understand that last week’s headlines, calls to action, and imagery may not entice this week’s visitors. Sometimes, we have to adjust our strategy—and do so quickly.

I’m the VP of Marketing at Bonusly. Bonusly is a recognition and rewards platform that makes work better for everyone. Our software empowers teams across the world to recognize and reward one another for the great work they do day in and day out. We also give our users detailed analytics and reporting to help leaders and managers identify trends and improve the employee experience.

I oversee our marketing efforts, from content and product marketing to demand generation and brand awareness initiatives. As a marketing team, we help our sales team start great conversations with prospects who want to learn more about Bonusly. In all that we do, we strive to back our hunches with data and adjust our messaging and campaigns accordingly. This, however, is really hard to do effectively without the right tools.

Raising Product Awareness but Not Driving Conversions

When I joined Bonusly three years ago, we were laser-focused on content marketing. Our output was primarily educational material and resources that explained how recognition and rewards programs boost employee engagement and solidify company cultures. It was a great strategy; we built awareness and trust that has served us well and had long-lasting positive impacts.

We then expanded our marketing foundation to better understand our audience, find the right ways to communicate the value of Bonusly, and ensure that our site was set up to engage and capture leads. From there, we worked to optimize our funnel, engaging those leads and priming them to have conversations with our sales teams. We made huge strides in these areas, but we still weren’t converting as much of our traffic to leads as we knew we could.

As the marketing team worked to optimize our funnel, we wanted our website to both drive more engagement and help us learn what was working and what wasn’t in terms of messaging. To do this, we started running A/B tests using Google Optimize.

Without data, it’s hard to make the case to invest more in marketing activities.

Our marketing team is very iterative and we learn fast. Testing with Google Optimize was too slow for what we needed. It requires traffic volume to generate meaningful insights, and we didn’t have enough site visitors to gather the results we wanted in a short time period. Rather than Google Optimize providing the data we needed to move forward, it held us back.

We wanted to iterate and try out more ideas, but it was hard to make our way through them and know what was making an impact on our bottom line. I started to look for tools that could help tie our marketing efforts to our business goals and pave the way for increased advertising spend and continued investment in the right marketing activities.

Making the Most of Machine Learning

I first heard about Intellimize on an online forum. Intellimize is an intelligent website optimization platform that automatically optimizes the user journey to drive web conversions. That sounds great, but what really drew me to the platform was how that optimization happens: machine learning.

People often use machine learning to deal with vast quantities of data. Machines can be taught to comb through and categorize data much faster than people. This means that meaningful insights can be realized much sooner.

But you can also go in the opposite direction and use machine learning to glean actionable data from very little information. Intellimize can determine the most effective marketing strategies over a given period, even if there are no statistical winners. It automatically makes adjustments and improves conversions by redirecting traffic to areas that are performing well without waiting for the conclusive results of an A/B trial.

This was key. We saw how Intellimize could support our iterative approach to marketing, help us implement new strategies, and justify additional marketing spend.

Desired Actions and Fast Results

We began working with Intellimize in December 2019. As a first step, their campaign optimization team asked us to put a dollar value on our two most desired actions: demo requests and trial signups.

It can take several years for A/B testing to achieve what machine learning can achieve in months.

We pushed people toward demos because they have a higher business value, opening the door to conversations with our sales team. Trial signups are also valuable to us, as these leads get to experience our product and get a sense for how it can help their company. Intellimize helped us set up variations and rate tests on different website pages so the platform could learn to optimize for both demos and trials in the right situations.

It didn’t take long to see results. We generated 67% more product demo requests from our homepage in our first three months with Intellimize, and tested 85 new ideas in just under four months. It would have taken decades of A/B testing to achieve these results.

Tweaking Layouts and Testing Hypotheses

Once we got the ball rolling, we started to play around with various elements of our website. We began by changing headlines and buttons on our homepage. We then tweaked the layout to test several hypotheses. For example, we wanted to measure the impact of social proof on demo requests, so we altered the placement of testimonials on our homepage.

In early 2020, we engaged in a fruitful collaboration with our design team to adjust imagery and white space in various parts of our site. We tested complex images versus simple ones and condensed information versus more white space. At the beginning of 2020, our site featured a photograph in the background of the hero, overlaid with a color gradient and text. To simplify the visuals, our design team eliminated the background image and lightened the gradient. It worked. We saw a spike in conversions but continued to serve both versions of the homepage to observe the ongoing results.

By April 2020, we noticed that the simplified homepage was no longer generating more conversions. By then, COVID lockdowns were in full swing, and we surmised that visitors who were cut off from family, friends, and coworkers were drawn to pictures of other people. We confirmed this hypothesis by adding background images to other pages on our site and comparing them to versions with the simplified gradient. Sure enough, Intellimize showed that people engaged more and moved further along their customer journey when they saw faces in the background.

A Constant Stream of New Insights

At Bonusly, we never stop learning, and Intellimize provides our marketing team with a constant stream of new insights we can share with other teams. Every month, the marketing team meets to discuss themes that currently resonate with our audience. We look at Intellimize data and share it with other teams to inform messaging across the company. Among other things, we help our sales team structure conversations with prospects and suggest new blog topics to our content marketing team.

We also share Intellimize learnings that can impact other marketing activities. For example, we adapted the learning that visitors are drawn to pictures of people, and we built display ads around photographs instead of illustrations. It’s just one example of how we can transfer what we learned in one area to inform new marketing activities and quickly adapt to our current and potential customers’ needs.

While we’ve generated many insights from Intellimize, we also bring learnings from other parts of the business into Intellimize tests. In March, April, and May of 2020, our remote work blog posts resonated most with visitors, so we incorporated that theme into as much of our messaging as possible. As the pandemic wore on, however, people’s interest evolved into other topics. Instead, they began to ask our sales reps about ways to maintain employee motivation and morale. We ran some tests with Intellimize to confirm that we’d found our next hot topic.

A Marketing Department Transformed

We’re a small but mighty marketing team. We have a lot to juggle, and need to move faster than prolonged A/B testing allows. We also don’t have the internal resources to code website variations. Now, we don’t have to worry—we leave the heavy lifting to the team at Intellimize. We rely on their analytic tools and ongoing support to drive insights that have optimized buyers’ paths and lifted website conversions.

Intellimize changed the game for Bonusly’s marketing team. We’ve had great results over the past year, and there’s so much more to come. In Intellimize, we found a trusted partner who understands what’s important to Bonusly and keeps coming up with ideas to help us reach our marketing goals.