Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
So now you’ve decided that it’s time to use A/B testing in improving the quality and conversions of your site. In the following installment, we’ll be taking a closer look at the tools you can use and provided a detailed “how-to” for the free and popular Google Website Optimizer. There are a number of commercial options on the market for A/B testing; in this article we’ll touch briefly on these options to help you make an educated decision. But The Google tool offers a full suite of options, is free, and integrates with other Google tools such as Analytics.
For these reasons, Website Optimizer is a great choice for most marketers or webmasters getting started with the A/B testing process.
To briefly revisit, A/B testing is the process of putting forward two versions of something and seeing which one performs better. Common topics of A/B testing include headlines, placement of images, calls to actions, color schemes, and more.
Over time, marketers can use systematic A/B testing to find out which elements convert a higher percentage of visitors to their website, recipients of their emails, and viewers of advertisements. Systematic testing results in data-driven decisions about which campaigns should receive their focus and investment. This will help you attract more visitors, make more money, and have a more successful business.
In this piece, we’re going to focus primarily on Google Website Optimizer which is a free tool that integrates smoothly with Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics.
However, it should be noted that there are a number of commercial tools that are also available including Optimizely and SumoOptimize. Technically, there are a hundred different software packages on the market that include different features and become increasingly complex technologically. We’ll explore a few of these options at the end of this article.
Before continuing with this article, watch this excellent, short introduction to the tool provided by Google. It will contextualize the how-to and tutorial that follows here and give you a great head-start on understanding the flow of Website Optimizer which can be slightly counterintuitive until you get started.
To begin, visit www.google.com/websiteoptimizer
Sign in with your Google username and password.
Once you’re in, click on the Get Started button. This will take you to the Google Analytics Terms of Service. Read and accept those, and the click continue.
Once you click continue, this will take you to the Google Optimizer Dashboard. Select “Create Experiment” and then this will take you to the following page, asking which kind of experiment you would like to select. Beginners should choose the A/B experiment.
Once you’ve selected the A/B experiment, this will take you to the A/B experiment check list which outlines some important data on information that you need know about how the A/B experiment operates.
The instructions will remind you that it’s important to choose the page that you would like to test, such as your homepage or a specific product detail page. It then advises you to go on and create alternate versions of your page to test. Finally, it recommends that you decide what page people will see once they convert, regardless of what page they come in from.
Once you reach this stage, stop. If necessary, review my previous article about A/B testing . Ensure that you’ve decided what variable to test and created two different versions of them, with different URLs. Finally, make sure you’re clear on the conversion page that will come up afterwards.
Once you’re done, check the box next to “I’ve completed the steps above and I’m ready to start setting up my experiment” and click the “Create” button.
This will take you here:
Give the experiment a unique name such as “Sales Headline Test” and then enter the URLs of each of your test pages. Google will verify that they are active.
Finally, enter your conversion page and click ”Continue”.
Once this is complete, you will return back to this same page to verify that installation is complete and to monitor the progress of your test.
Google recommends at least 100 conversions to be able to indicate a percentage of success. In the simplest terms, you’re looking for which of the two pages encourages people to take the indicated action the most. So if 100 people visit each of your pages, and option A converts at 4% while option B converts at 6% then option B is your “winner.”
But how many visitors are really enough to know when you’ve got a winner, versus a statistically anomaly? The opinions vary, even among professional A/B testers. A number of factors need to be taken into account to reach a valid sample size: these range from daily visits to the current conversion rate and the number of version you’re testing.
Two tools that can help you calculate the right information are the Google Optimizer Calculator and the A/B Experiment Duration Calculator. When possible, you want to aim for 95% statistical accuracy, with a 5% margin of error. It’s worth extending the test a bit longer before making your final decision.
If you’re still struggling to conceptualize A/B testing or you simply want to see some tests in action, here are two great resources.
Which Test Won
Which Test Won is a site that shows you real life examples of A/B testing that was conducted by expert firms. You vote on which one you expected to have won. You then get to see the real results as well as the case study behind the test. Spending some time on this site will help you build strong pattern recognition.
A/B Test is another site that allows you to look at case studies by type of test, view both versions, and then see which outperformed the competition. While it’s less interactive, the ability to get ideas by type of test can be very valuable to marketers interested in using testing to solve a specific problem.
Finally, I want to address the question of whether Google Website Optimizer is the right tool for everyone. The short answer is that I think it’s the right tool for the beginner and it’s the right tool for the average user. There are substantial advanced features that we haven’t touched on in this article and may explore for a future piece.
So in what instances do you need to consider other tools?
As you build your comfort with A/B testing, you can test additional variables and continue to iterate a page or website that dramatically increases your conversions, giving you more subscribers and better income.