Is your website optimal? Can you tell?

A client recently asked me “who can tell me if my website is working well for me?”  My immediate response was “your customers and your browsers.”  This, of course, triggered a conversation of how it was possible to talk to tens of thousands of (usually) anonymous visitors, collect their insights and then translate that to marketing improvements.

Prior to a large amount of advertising moving to the web, with the associated tracking and analytical capabilities, my response didn’t make a lot of sense.  Unless you were the sole proprietor of a local general store or had massive resources to undertake a large amount of expensive primary research, it was really hard to figure out what exactly about your marketing was working for your customers and prospects.

Until the rise of web analytics, that is.

In my opinion, the best thing that’s happened in the last several years for online marketers was when Google acquired Urchin software.  This event made it easy and free for marketers to analyze the results of their online marketing activities.  Sure, for large business or those with specialized needs, solutions such as Omniture might be better.  But the majority of businesses can do just fine with Google Analytics.

And now that Google Analytics was free, it became fairly simple to add another great product: Google Website Optimizer.  This product makes it easy even for a small company to undertake A/B or (provided the traffic is heavy enough) multivariate testing.

If you’ve found yourself in any meetings recently arguing the merits of “red vs. blue” or where to place a button on the website, ask your online marketing team if they’re using Website Optimizer or any other systems, such as Optimost or Offermatica.

If not, get one of these installed now–life’s too short to spend time arguing over the color of the sidebar, the placement of a button or the length of the copy on a website.  Especially when your customers will tell you exactly what makes them buy from you.  And when your internal back-and-forth will result in you making decisions that result in suboptimal ROI.

If you are using one of these optimization products and you’re still having these meetings, then something else is wrong and you may not be using them correctly.

Trust me, your customers–when it comes to buying your products and services–are far smarter than you when it comes to landing page and website design.

I used to teach an internal class on direct response marketing and would show an example of three different online creatives, with the objective being to drive downloads of a software product.  When I asked a room full of 30+ people that probably contained over 400 years of marketing experience and probably 35 advanced degrees which creative delivered the best ROI, less than 25% picked the winning creative.  And even those folks couldn’t tell me why they voted for that one.

Now imagine a multivariate test of a heavily-trafficked landing page, which results in several thousand “recipes.”  Any chance your CEO picks the one that sells the best?  OK, maybe they hit it right once–blind dogs and acorns, after all.  But how about the nth time?  Not a chance.

So, let’s say you’re not using Website Optimizer or a similar product and maybe aren’t too familiar with the products.  What to do now?

First, I suggest watching a quick (5 minutes or so) Google Website Optimizer overview.  Second, find an hour or so and watch this YouTube overview of the product, which goes into more detail about how to use the product for an A/B test.

Then, test something.  Run a simple A/B test of a couple of your landing pages.  Or maybe your registration pages.  It doesn’t matter, as long as you get going.

Summary and takeaways

  1. Don’t guess–test.  If you don’t empirically know why something works on your website, develop a hypothesis, design and test and know it.  Then, repeat.
  2. Take advantage of free tools.  Like Google Analytics, Google Website Optimizer is free.  The only thing you pay for is your time and–by stopping the endless meetings and arguments and associated meetings–that’s even free.
  3. Build an organized testing plan.  You still can’t test everything, unless you’ve got unbelievable amounts of traffic.  So definitely do use that experienced team to help prioritize the testing agenda

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