At Shutterstock, the 50 million images, videos and pieces of music we offer to our subscribers represent more than “content” for a web site or an ad. Each of these offerings also exists as a collection of data points, a source of information and deep insight that businesses can use to learn what drives consumer behavior.

Of course, the value of information is in its use, not simply in its existence. We “split test” everything – image sizes; color palettes; pricing structures; marketing copy; the functionality of the hover when a users pauses on a specific selection. We’re committed to testing because we understand that resources are limited and we need to achieve the highest possible engagement and conversion rate in order to make the most profitable media investments.

In other words, we are no different than our clients and users in that regard. Just as we test anything and everything, so do all successful advertising campaigns circa 2015.

Hunches? They went out of style right about the time the compact disc and Blockbuster Video died.

Don’t get me wrong, however. I’m not saying that there isn’t room for gut instinct and for talent when it comes to creativity and the creation of marketing that moves a company’s bottom line. What I’m saying is, testing takes the guesswork out of what we do. Testing allows us to refine, tweak and iterate with a clearer sense of vision. And it allows us to maximize our most valuable resources – time, money and the attention of those we want to engage and convert.

What has all this testing taught us?

Quite a bit, obviously. Every second of every day, Shutterstock’s more than one million users download an average of four images, videos and music selects. Four downloads a second. That’s a whole lot of information to be dissected into a knowledge base that’s both broad and deep. Before I share the specifics of what works and what doesn’t in today’s marketplace, first let me pass along a few things we’ve learned about testing itself.

One, there’s value in abandoning guessing – not just value in better results, but in creating a better culture. Committing to a data-driven mindset frees up your best people to offer ideas because they know those ideas won’t simply die in a meeting or an email, shot down by someone who “has a hunch that isn’t going to work.” When everything gets tested, there’s less fear about suggesting something that might sound absurd or like a non-starter – because every idea has the potential to see the light of day.

Two, tests will fail. Don’t give up. At the heart of every creative test lies a hypothesis. That’s a fancy word for “my best guess.” Often, the metric you’re trying to drive doesn’t move in ways you understand or that satisfy you. This doesn’t mean the test was worthless. It means you need new hypotheses and additional tests. At Shutterstock, we do our best to “fail forward,” toward constant improvement and incrementally better results. A test we don’t understand isn’t a source of permanent confusion; it’s a reason to conduct additional tests.

Three, speaking of increments, the best split tests often happen at the 30,000 foot level, not simply by focusing on the smallest details. It’s absolutely essential to test whether a specific image works best in this or that pixel height, or whether the conversion rate of a blue button tops that of a red button. But don’t neglect testing more profound differences, like the bedrock message of an ad or the fundamental design of a web site. Often, significant differences in creative approach yield significant differences in results. Once you have the catalogued what works best at a macro level, you can test your way down to the smaller details, with new insights driving new iterations.

So what can I tell you about what testing has taught us?

Let me share a few quick thoughts.

Consistency and continuity. Matching imagery between banner ads and landing pages drives higher engagement rate. Simply stated visual continuity equals less confusion for users. Users want to know when they are presented with an offer in an ad and click on it, they will land on page that is consistent with the offer. The hard truth is logos, which we’ve all invested in, is often times not enough to create that visual consistency, particularly when it’s a new brand. How will you know if users are making the connection between the ad and the site you deliver? Bounce rates. If users cannot make the connection between the ad and the site, the result is high bounce rates. When they know they are in the right place (which we test through heat mapping), we know users take the next step to read the offer which gives brands a chance to build interest, favorability and potentially convert.

Motion matters. Video advertising has grown substantially over the past few years for good reason: We’ve found that adding motion increases engagement and draws users in, its attention-grabbing matched by data speeds on desktop and mobile allow for a seamless loading and viewing experience. For Shutterstock, rich media video has outperformed cinemagraphs, but it’s too early to call - we are still testing cinemagraphs on different mediums. For those new to cinemagraphs, it’s where one part of a static image moves, resulting in an experience that captivates the viewer. Truly, an advertiser's best friend. In theory, cinemagraphs are not as interruptive as auto-play videos or subject to users launching videos.

Interruption can be a good thing. A large interstitial ad allows brands to communicate in a richer visual manner and captures the full attention of the targeted users. If it can be close to native - even better. We want to bring value to the consumers we advertise to and the publishers we advertise with - integrating messages into user experiences and limiting distraction. We want to make ads consumers want to look at and we want to provide businesses with the opportunity to do the same. With mesmerising images and videos, everyone can succeed in triggering the emotional impetus necessary to register with consumers and encourage the next step in the decision-making process.


By John Miller, Digital Marketing Manager at Shutterstock

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