split testing

The fight for online leads and sales has traditionally been fought at the search engine. That is changing.

Web analytics, bid management, competitive intelligence, ad testing and ad management tools are all common staples of any serious paid search effort. Return on ad spend (ROAS) is being tracked all the way through the sign up or purchase process and ad strategies are being adjusted accordingly.

Quietly, the battle for online leads is moving to a new front. This new front is measured by revenue per visit, and it’s kissing cousin, conversion rate. Like the tide that floats all boats, website optimization is being seen as the way to reduce all marketing costs by dropping the acquisition cost of new prospects and customers.

Why do we say this is happening quietly? That is the conclusion we came to when examining an unusual data set from SpyFu.com. We were able to determine which businesses had conversion optimization tools installed on their website. This, we reasoned, gave us a pretty good idea of which businesses would dominate in the world of online marketing — assuming they were actually using the tools.

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In this month’s podcast, based on the Marketing Land column Data Exposes Scandalously Low Adoption Of Conversion Optimization Tools, Brian the Conversion Scientist explores the usage of conversion optimization tools for two industry segments: Higher Education and B2B Software.

In one report, 73% of businesses are spending between $500 and $5000 per month on paid search ads. Almost a quarter are spending between $5000 and $50,000 per month. Yet, only 14% of businesses have at least one website optimization tool installed.

Who are going to be the winners in this new front? Where does your business fit in this statistic?

To get the most out of his column, download one of the free reports that share all of the data he uses.

In these reports you will learn:

  • Why your team needs time to review analytics.
  • Why businesses with smaller ad budgets should focus more on acquisition costs.
  • How to decrease your Search Ad costs.
  • Why you shouldn’t invest in social media sharing.

My partner Joel Harvey is fond of saying, “My favorite part of a design is the money.” He’s been part of many a web design project. His perspective comes in response to the number of times he’s heard things like:

“I want the design to pop!”

“I want my site’s design to be groundbreaking like nothing else out there!”

“Let’s turn it up a notch on the design.”

“I want the site’s design to reflect the high value of our product.”

In and of themselves, none of the above statements are unworthy pursuits. But if your goal is to increase online sales conversion and fill your coffers to the brim, you will fall woefully short if you believe that web design alone can do the heavy lifting of convincing your visitors to take action. If increasing sales is your goal, the most important person on your split testing team is the accountant.

Designers Don’t Design for the Accountant

A while back, a client sent us a couple of different mocks of some new designs they were entertaining. They ask which one I liked. The first thing I said is I like the one that makes you the most money. Up until that time their team was arguing over color palettes, white space,and rounded edges.
When I reminded them about the bigger goal, their conversation evolved. In a clock tick, we were all discussing the quality of content on the pages rather than the design elements. When their offer and call to action were right, everyone seemed to forget about the trivia of the actual design.

Designing For Your Ego

Another client brought to us a new landing page campaign they had just launched and were baffled and disappointed by the early results. They went on to explain that they thought this was the best designed landing page they had ever done. They had just hired a new graphic designer that ‘got it’, and even the CEO was impressed with his work. One problem, their paying customers didn’t seem to agree. No doubt, the design was gorgeous. Rich colors, curvy rectangles, sexy images, even the header and body fonts were crisp and clean.
So why wasn’t this campaign working? We had them show us their most recent successful campaign. The design was a tad dated, and compared to the new landing page it looked like a high school hobbyist in the company basement eating Cheetos and suckling energy drinks.
Still, by comparing we immediately saw the problem with the new landing page. The copy on the old page was much better. The headers screamed the product’s value proposition and benefits. The body copy answered relevant questions, and helped the reader imagine themselves buying the product. The call to action button was big, bold, and in your face. The new page looked stunningly attractive but said very little.
To add insult, the hot shot designer was a minimalist and had an aversion to big gawky buttons, so his primary call to action was tiny button that blended in with the hero image, and , by design, was easy to ignore. We instructed them to use the old page copy on the new design (they had to make a few adjustments to make it all fit), and we asked the designer to create a bigger and bolder call to action button. They obliged us and that new design finally beat the old landing page.

How Much Time Are You Spending With Your Designer vs. Your Banker?

So my lesson is this. Beautiful, eye-popping design and effective, profitable web design are two different things. And it always seems easier to mistake those eye-popping designs for profitable ones. Split testing will always lead you in the right direction.
Some companies spend more on design than they do on organic SEO, and almost all companies spend more on design than on Conversion Rate Optimization. Search engine spiders don’t evaluate site design, only content and links. And I have yet to see a company design their way into a better conversion rate and better RO.
Some companies spend way more time going back and forth about a design element than they do actually testing it. Makes you wonder how far ahead of your competitors you could get if you spent more time and resources on conversion optimization and testing.
So when considering a redesign of your entire site, of a successful landing page, or even a banner ad, do the following:

  • List the things about the page experience (not just he design) work. Keep those in the new design.
  • What about the experience doesn’t work?
  • Why do we want to change this (especially if it is working)?
  • Before you launch a radically new design, test what you believe is NOT working about the current design.

Above all, use web designers that deeply understand the web and principles of conversion. Otherwise they are just an artist, and the value of an artists works usually increases only after their demise. Can you wait that long?

How helpful would it be to know what prices and features your competition was thinking about using?
One of my readers just sent me a very revealing screenshot. It is one of the pricing pages that Optimizely is testing. It was found by “spying” on their test data.
 

We hid the pricing on this test treatment from Optimizely

We hid the pricing on this test treatment from Optimizely


We are able to see this because of an “exploit” that allows anyone to see what a site is testing if they are using the Optimizely testing software. Oh, the irony.
Venture Beat recently “revealed” this in an article. Those of us who use these tools have known about it for some time. It’s quite easy to decipher this test data.
Try dragging the following link to your browser bookmark bar.
Optimizely Spy
Now visit Optimizely and click on the bookmark to see what they are testing.

How is this possible?

Whenever we run a split test with Optimizely, the software uploads scripts and data into all of our visitors’ browsers to change the experience and track the results. Along with this is included not just the test our visitor is being entered into, but all of our tests for that account.
So it’s relatively easy to decipher this information and see what we’re testing.
Note that the snooper can’t see any actual results, just what kinds of things you’re testing.
We like this approach because it speeds up the delivery of tests. When we use one file with everything, it changes less frequently, and the file it can be cached on a content delivery network (CDN) specifically designed to deliver files faster.
Faster tests mean more reliable tests.
Convert.com also uses this technique, though they take steps to obsure the test information.

Why Aren’t We More Concerned?

In a worst case scenario, a competitor can see what hypotheses you are testing. They can then test those same ideas and perhaps win more customers.
However, only a small percentage of sites are even testing, let alone stealing your tests. I did a quick survey of sites selling plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery who are spending at least $500 per month on search advertising.
Of 2,958 domains, only 33 had some form of split testing software installed, such as Optimizely. That’s just 1.1% of these domains. Furthermore, we know that some portion of these testing are not actually using the software they have installed.

Plastic and Costmetic Surgery Websites with Testing Software

Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery websites are missing a significant opportunity to get more patients. Source: SpyFu.com


Here’s another surprise. There are ninety-seven (97) domains in this space spending over $50,000 per month on search ads. Only five of them have A/B Testing software installed, only 5%.
If you’re in the plastic surgery space and are testing, you have a major advantage over your competitors. So, the odds of someone stealing your ideas are far outweighed by the gains you will see from testing.

Our Recommendation

We recommend that you continue to test using Optimizely unless your page contains sensitive information, such as price.
If you feel uncomfortable with your test information being publicly available, move to Convert Experiments for some protection. Another popular tool, Visual Website Optimizer, does not use this technique meaning past and future tests are safe from prying eyes. There are also a variety of other highly recommended AB testing tools available.
Whatever you do, don’t let this issue take the steam out of your testing program. As you can see, testers have a significant advantage, snoopers or not.
PS: If you are in the plastic and cosmetic surgery industry, you should contact us.

We find out which half will work.

How can it be that a team with our experience, intelligence and good looks could be wrong so often? It’s a mystery to us.
The truth is, that the audience for any website is unique. Given two sites selling the exact same product, you cannot assume that what works on one will work on the other.
People are complex. Groups of people are only slightly less complex.
This is why our optimization process is so powerful. We let your visitors decide what works best, and they vote with their money or their contact information.
We call it the Conversion Catalyst.

Why We Win

We live by a few mantras at Conversion Sciences to guide our decisions.
Our opinion doesn't matter
No matter how smart we think we are, the only thing that matters is what gives your visitors a better experience on your site. Don’t get caught up in the words “better experience.”
The best judge of our success is the accountant.
Visitors vote with their dollars. A good experience is one in which more visitors find what they need, want, or think they want. The person we are trying to impress really is the person that counts the income.
It’s not that we’re humble, but testing has a way of humbling you.
You don't have to be humble to optimize, but you can't optimize without being humbled.

We’d like to humbly offer to optimize your website.

Let us make your accountant smile.
You can get a free strategy session with a Conversion Scientist. We’ll help you see the possibilities for your visitors.
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Dennis van der Heijden is in an enviable position. He is able to see the results of hundreds of split tests through his awesome split testing service, Convert Insights at Convert.com.
He’s noticed a few things about how successful businesses are at finding winning tests.
These numbers plus his ideas on why some have tests that frequently yield conversion rate lifts while others don’t is the subject of my Instagraph. This was recorded live at Conversion Conference East 2012 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on October 10.
Here is a time-lapse video of the creation of the Instagraph.

Here is the final result.

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