Great summary and breakdown Matt. This is wonderful information and it just goes to show how tangible and accessible SEO resources are with Google!
Website Evolution for Generating More Business
A/B testing (also called split testing) is one of the most effective ways to improve your website's performance. In the case study shown here, it literally doubles the amount of business generated.
It's time to take Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and apply it to your website. It's called A/B (or split) testing and it allows you to create a measurably better online presence. How does it work? You create two different versions of the same web page and let them compete against each other. You then let some fancy software watch the two pages and tell you which one is more fit for survival.
Before we get started, there are a few terms you should know to understand this article:
- A/B Testing: A method of comparing two different versions of the same page to decide which is more effective. It's what this article is about.
- Google Analytics: A free product for analyzing a website's traffic. More info at: http://www.google.com/analytics
- Google Adwords: Google's pay-per-click online ad service. It also provides the main tool for running A/B tests. More info at: http://adwords.google.com
- Landing Page: The first page a user sees when they come to your website. This is frequently not your home page. And if you're using Google Adwords to drive traffic, it almost definitely shouldn't be your home page.
- Bounce Rate: The number of people that show up on your site, look at one page, and leave.
- Conversion: A measurable, desired action taken by a user on your website (buying something, signing up for a newsletter, etc).
To best understand the power of A/B testing, let's consider a real world example. One of my websites operates in a very small, niche market. At most this site gets a dozen hits a day. Fortunately, to end up on this site you almost certainly want the service being offered. But with so few visits, it's critical to get the most from each.
Using Google Analytics together with Google Adwords I was able to accurately measure the effectiveness of a commonly viewed page on the site. Here are the numbers from January 2008:
- Visits from Adwords: 357
- Bounce Rate: 56.31%
- Converstion Rate: 4.76%
- Cost / Conversion: $6.03
Starting in February, I created a second version of this page. It contained the same text but used a different layout, color scheme, and pictures. Using the Website Optimizer tool found on Google Adwords, I was able to setup a competition between this new page and the original. Approximately 50% of the people would see one version of the page and 50% would see the other version. Total time to setup this competition? Less than 30 minutes.
It took a month to declare a winner but the results were worth the wait. According to Google the new version showed a 251% improvement over the original! To be fair, the original was not a very good design but the results were still impressive. Obviously, I immediately replaced the original with the new version for all site visitors.
Here are the numbers for the month following the change:
- Visits from Adwords: 215 (ads were turned off for 1 week)
- Bounce Rate: 32.32%
- Conversion Rate: 9.30%
- Cost / Conversion: $2.90
As the numbers above show, taking the time to design an alternative page and then spending 30 minutes to setup the A/B test is completely worth the effort: Conversion rates doubled and cost/conversion were cut by more than half!
If you want to apply this technique to improve your own site, here are the steps:
1) Create a website.
2) Create a free Google Analytics account. Follow the instructions to add the analytics to your website.
3) Use the analytics to determine your top landing page. This can take a little time to figure out depending on how many visitors you have a day.
4) Create an alternate version of your top landing page. Since the objective is to test different styles, layouts, and/or text, I'd recommend getting feedback for this step from people not associated with the original site design.
5) Open a Google Adwords account (if you don't already have one), and select the free Website Optimizer option. Google will lead you through a few quick and simple steps to set up your A/B test.
6) Sit back and wait for Google to declare a winner. How long this takes depends on how many visitors you get to your site. The more visitors, the less time.
7) Turn off the test and update your site to use only the winning page.
8) Repeat the process as necessary.
This list may seem a bit daunting at first but I assure you the only difficult parts are the creation of your site and the creation of an alternate page. Setting up and implementing Analytics is a 10 minute process, creating an Adwords account takes even less time, and implementing the A/B test with the Website Optimizer tool takes under 30 minutes.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand how to put the force of evolution behind your website. Don't worry, you won't have to wait eons for evolution to run its course, you will have more and happier customers in just a few weeks. Charles Darwin would be proud.
Learn more about the author, Matt McCormick.
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Posted by Erin Pierce, Seattle, Washington |
Apr 21, 2008
- website development
- website design
- improving a website
- a/b testing
- split testing
- better websites