Deconstructing the Build vs. Buy Dilemma of Website Optimization Tools

By Adam Figueira

March 22, 2012

As more companies recognize the importance of website optimization, an increasingly common question is, “Should we buy a tool or build our own?”

And although the decision isn’t mutually exclusive (i.e., the vendor whose tool you purchase may be ready, able, and willing to develop custom features for you), it’s helpful to understand the factors contributing to each decision’s total cost of ownership (TCO).

How Did We Get There?

For several reasons, the Build vs. Buy question was on the radar of very few companies just a few short years ago:

  • Knowledge of website optimization was concentrated in the minds of a small group of individuals (and the large, deep-pocketed companies they supported)
  • The capabilities of the prevailing site optimization tools were limited in scope, offering little imagination for what else could be accomplished under the banner of “website optimization”

Today, knowledge of website optimization is much more diffuse, with increasing numbers of individuals and companies beginning to realize the value, importance, and possibilities of delivering relevance—to each visitor, and at every touchpoint and interaction.

But the decision you face isn’t about taking the bus or buying a car—it’s about building the car that you intend to drive.

To be sure, building your own tool provides the ultimate in freedom and flexibility, but that freedom comes at a cost that often exceeds the sticker price of the tool you build.

Advantages of Building Your Own Tool

The main argument in favor of “build” decisions is that you get exactly the features you want and need (prioritized for development as you see fit) without wasting resources developing functionalities you potentially won’t use.

As the saying goes, “It’s not everything for everyone, but for us, it’s perfect.”

Advantages of Buying

Consider these points analogous to “Disadvantages of Building,” and for most companies, this list will be longer than the preceding list. Among the advantages of buying are:

  • Shared Overhead: By contracting with a vendor, infrastructure and development costs are distributed among the entire client base. A “build” decision forces you to swallow 100% of these costs.

  • Best Practices Expertise: As online marketing consultant Bryan Eisenberg has written, “There are right ways and wrong ways to test,” and just because you can build and use a particular feature doesn’t mean it’s the most effective means of moving your online business forward. Expert services can help you determine what tactics will be most effective for your unique business goals.

  • Zero Opportunity Costs: When you allocate internal resources to build a website optimization tool, those resources are no longer available for other tasks. What business priorities won’t be completed if the organization builds its own tool? By buying a tool, this is one question your IT team won’t need to answer.

  • A Warm Pipeline of Talent: Website optimization tools can be architected a number of different ways, so you’ll need to compare the skill set of your current talent with the type of tool you’d like to build. If there’s a mismatch, you’ll have to make new hires, which can be a long, difficult, and expensive process.

The vendor you choose to buy from has this talent pool in place today, which means you can hit the ground running with revenue-impacting campaigns.

In business decisions, the notion of “perfect information” is not so much a luxury as it is an illusion. The hard, cold reality is that you’ll never know everything you need to make decisions with complete confidence.

But  whether you choose to build or buy, having a strong understanding of the advantages and disadvantages is both wise and realistic. As my colleague Peter Borden has remarked, the wrong tool may totally turn you off to testing—and it starts with the “Build vs. Buy” decision.

Adam Figueira is a former product marketing director at Monetate.

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