A few weeks ago I was convinced to cycle from Rotorua to Taupo with a few friends in what they loosely referred to as the “100k Flyer”. I had recently purchased a new bike – think commuter hybrid not shiny carbon road machine – and was secretly keen to see how we would go. So I was in.

My cycling buddy for the distance, Martin, is a piece of cycling human sinew. Last year he led a small team that cycled from Wellington to Auckland. Quite an amazing feat, which meant he was well used to traversing main municipal centres while I struggled to move between suburbs of Auckland.

Nevertheless, he assured me that he wasn’t the racing type and was looking forward to the scenery and some conversation along the way. Well, the good news was that he stuck to his word. We kept together for nearly 80 km, chatting away as the k’s rolled by. The bad news was that this all came to a stop when some mild discomfort in my back grew into a sharp pain that wouldn’t go away – forcing me to slow us both down while I stretched to relieve some of the strain.

I could sense Martin was itching to keep going so I wished him all the best and waved him on. He kept going at his steady methodical pace and gradually disappeared into the distance. At the end we met up again while I struggled to free myself from my bike – my lower back had slowly ground to a halt. I asked Martin if he felt any similar type of discomfort – nope, apparently nothing other than some general tiredness – his body was fine.

He pointed out that it was probably due to a bad fit between me and my bike. Later that evening he gave me the details of a guy who worked from his garage in Remuera who could help out.

The following week I found myself peddling away on a trainer in Karl’s garage on the same bike, while he stood in front of me shaking his head in disbelief. He was amazed I could cycle 5 km let alone 80 km without causing some serious long-term harm to my back. Once I hopped off my pain machine he dropped plumb lines from the tips of my knees, checked the angles of my legs with giant plastic protractors, and scribbled down a list of necessary adjustments.

Then he took his spanners to my machine and moved my seat backwards and upwards, attacked my handlebars with a hacksaw and even removed the cleats from my right shoe to add a spacer to stop it flexing too far inwards. All this took a good 45 minutes but the difference in fit was astounding. My back felt straighter, my position on the bike seemed a lot more comfortable and on the whole a lot more natural than before.

The first few rides “post fit” were a bit strange as I got used to my new position but yep – that dull back ache that had plagued me for months was gone. What a great feeling that was.

All this got me thinking about the work we do, especially when it comes to improving the conversion rate of our customers’ websites. This has been the subject of my recent customer coaching call and has featured in numerous articles before.

This work is very similar to Karl’s. The obvious differences are that first, we fit websites to people and, second, those involved are not you as a customer but your prospects. It’s that last point that makes the work a fair bit harder than Karl’s. I could tell Karl what hurt and exactly where, whereas rarely do your prospects tell you what’s wrong with your website.

Likewise, once Karl had done the job I could jump on and within a few minutes things felt much better. Oh, to find a group of prospects willing to share their unbiased views on the recent changes you put across your website. Nevertheless, having the mindset that the conversion optimisation process is really just a very special “fitting” process helps you to notice and avoid some of the common mistakes people make during this process.

Mistakes like deciding that a test isn’t worth running because someone in the management team doesn’t “think” it’s worthwhile. When really the “fitting” process is between the prospects and the website not the management team and your pages – so in a pure sense any opinions other than those of your prospects, while interesting, are not important.

This leads me nicely onto the next point. You need enough test feedback from your prospects to prove what does and doesn’t work. The most simple test is an AB split test. This is where you share your site’s traffic equally between two versions of your web page. Statistics tells us that there is a minimum number of actions required to occur across both versions before you can reliably predict all future interactions. So, even though your favourite page design of the two being tested may be responsible for the first eight of the twelve total conversions, this still may not be enough to cancel the test and announce it and yourself as the winner. Fortunately, Google makes calculating this a doddle with its Conversion Optimiser tool set.

And then there’s the realisation of what needs to change on your website to make the fit work. My back told me through the pain I experienced that there was no way it was going to mould itself nicely to fit my new bike. This left me with no choice but to get my bike altered to match my spine. Likewise, don’t expect your prospects to alter their behaviour and miraculously make your website work – you’re going to need to get down and dirty with some HTML changes to make any progress.

Which leads me to my final comment. These changes are going to be unique to you and your prospect audience. Now, I am an aging cyclist with a very average back and one leg that is longer than the other (which is apparently more common than you would imagine). This all meant that Karl had to make some rather unique adjustments to my bike to make it match my body.

The same logic will apply to your website. It too will need some unique changes and tweaks to fit your pages to your prospects. So don’t expect an alteration – or even a website design – that worked for one business selling to a different category or geographic location to work for you. It probably won’t.

So there you have it. The team here find the process of fitting a website to a prospect audience a really stimulating challenge. We don’t have the luxury of observing live prospects working through our client’s website – like Karl enjoys – but still, there’s something very satisfying in seeing the results of a test prove that those pages fit a bit better than they used to.