Why is it that some web sites are golden, compelling visitors to buy while similar web sites, perhaps even offering the same products at similar prices, fail to make the grade? It may be dumb luck on the owner’s part, but a more likely explanation is that the golden site is the result of careful design, testing, tweaking and testing yet again. Testing has grown into a core search marketing activity, but strangely, it’s also an activity that many search marketers either choose to avoid or don’t even consider at all.
And that’s a mistake. Good testing can not only help you get rid of stinker ads and landing pages, it can also help you optimize winning campaigns, improving their conversion rates and making them even more profitable. And testing needn’t be difficult or time-consuming, especially if you have the right tools. One of the best tools for helping you test and refine your search marketing campaigns is Google’s Website Optimizer. Even better, Website Optimizer is a free service.
Google deliberately designed Website Optimizer to be easy to use, even though the tool allows you to run complex, multivariate tests. At its most basic level, the tool lets you test different pages or combinations of elements on a single page to see how well they perform against a “conversion outcome” that you define. Google even claims that “you can launch a simple test in five minutes” in the video tour of Website Optimizer.
The problem is that to be effective, tests should be carefully planned to measure your desired outcomes. Another problem is that the results of your testing need to be interpreted properly so that you can be sure that any implementation based on the results will perform as expected. Testing is as much art as science, and it shouldn’t be done in an offhand or cavalier fashion.
Not sure where or how to start? Try Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer, by Bryan Eisenberg & John Quarto-vonTivadar with Lisa T. Davis. It’s a comprehensive guide to Google’s free testing tool, written for search marketers who are more interested in enhancing the performance of their search marketing campaign than in the analytic joys of multivariate testing. The authors don’t shy away from technical explanations when necessary, but the focus is always on the “whys” of testing even when looking closely at the “hows.”
The book is divided into three parts. The first part is a general overview of website testing and tuning using Google’s Website Optimizer. The first few chapters focus on the tool itself, but after that the focus changes to case studies drawn from the authors’ own search marketing campaigns. These are valuable not only as examples of how to test, but because the authors also share the processes and best practices they have developed to maximize the impact of the testing process.
Part two “What You Should Test” looks at more than 30 key factors that can impact conversion rates. These factors differ based on how conversion is defined, which also differs for publishers, retailers and lead generation web sites. Most of the chapters in this part follow a similar format, with sections on “questions to ask,” an exercise, “what to test” and “apply this to your site” tips. This is one of the best—and most thorough—guides to the overall website testing and optimization process I’ve read.
Part three, “Diving Deep For the Technically Challenged” goes into even more detail about the testing process, how things work, behind the scenes details of how Website Optimizer works and more. Meaty stuff for the more advanced search marketer who wants to know everything to gain a competitive edge.
The nice thing about Google’s Website Optimizer, apart from being free, is that it can be used to test campaigns running on Google or any other search engine. And the general practices discussed in the book can be applied to any testing tool, not just Website Optimizer.
Always Be Testing is an excellent book that tackles one of the most important aspects of successful search marketing. If you aren’t currently testing and want to know how to start, buy the book. Even if you are already testing and tuning your sites as part of your search marketing efforts, the case studies and best practices discussed in this book make it worth far more than the cover price when you apply the principles to your own campaigns.