Google Website Optimizer Opens Up

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One of Google’s lesser-known web developer tools is Google Website Optimizer. That may be because until recently you could only use this tool in conjunction with a Google AdWords campaign. Now, however, the tool has relaunched as open and standalone, complete with its own blog. If you’re involved with site design and development, it’s worth getting to know how this works.

The basic idea of Website Optimizer is to inject some real data into discussions of how to make web pages perform better, rather than just having endless arguments about whether making the logo bigger would help sales. It does this by systematically displaying variants of a page to your visitors, and tracking which variants have more success in persuading people to click through or take other actions.The simplest type of experiment is an A/B test, where you compare two different pages in terms of how well they get a visitor to go to a third page. You might create two versions of a sales pitch, each of which leads to the same “buy now” page, for example. Website Optimizer includes a simple wizard to walk you through setting up such experiments, starting with identifying the test pages (at least two, though you can include more) and the conversion page.

The site then builds javascript snippets that you need to include on each page – two for the original page, one for each variation, and one for the conversion page. After you upload versions of your pages with the required scripts, Website Optimizer runs a validation to make sure you did it right. You’ll need to have good access to the actual page source on your server to manage this; just inserting tags inside of a blog post, for example, probably won’t locate them in the right place.

ScreenshotFinally, you tell Website Optimizer to start the experiment. At that point, Google’s servers start working in conjunction with the javascript to display the test pages randomly to your users, and to measure click throughs to the conversion page. You can pause and resume testing at any time, and view the results on the web site. The page variants will start serving up in an hour or so, and depending on how trafficked your site it, you should be able to view useful reports within a day. The reports will tell you which page performed better, along with estimates of the actual conversion rate it would receive in the long run.

Website Optimizer can also run multivariate experiments, where you vary content in multiple places on the same page and look at the combinations. This is best suited for pages that get more than a thousand views per week, but can collect a bunch of data more quickly than running multiple A/B tests.

If you’re involved with any sort of site development where the goal is to drive people to an actual action – as opposed to just dumping pages out to be browsed – this tool is definitely worth getting familiar with. Having actual data at your fingertips can go a long way towards creating more useful sites and thus, more satisfied customers.

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Funny you posted about this. I just posted a video on my site going into detail how to setup a test with Website Optimizer. I did it in 11 minutes, and I include everything, step-by-step. Let me know what you think!

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