When To Ignore The Google Website Optimizer

The Google Website Optimizer, recently renamed Google Analytics Content Experiments, is one of the most powerful and underused tools on the Web. But those of you who know its secrets can be lured into following its advice too much, to the detriment of your long-term business interests.

How The Google Website Optimizer Works

The Google Website Optimizer helps you create two versions of your website, each with slightly different content or styling. You can then display each of these different versions of your site to 50% of your readers.

You also tell Google Website Optimizer what you want readers of each page to do. Do you want them to click a particular link or add a particular item to their shopping cart? Anything that can be tracked by Javascript is a valid goal for Google Website Optimizer.

When Google Website Optimizer chooses which version of a page to display to a particular user, it also tracks whether or not that user performs the desired action. After displaying the page to dozens or hundreds of users, it can tell you which version of the page got more users to perform the desired action. When you monetize a website this kind of information can be extremely valuable.

Where is The Google Website Optimizer?

As I stated above, the Google Website Optimizer has now moved into Google Analytics and is now under the Content menu called experiments.

How Google Website Optimizer Helps You

Many times the effect of a simple change will only get you a few percent more desired actions, so it hardly seems worth all the time you spend in Google Website Optimizer. But remember that any changes you make are cumulative—so 25 changes to your site which each improve conversion by 5% will more than tripple your conversions.

More importantly, Google Website Optimizer will help teach you what works and doesn’t work on your site based on actual experimental evidence. No longer will you have to depend on advice columns from website designers and webmasters with experience in a different niche than yours.

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Advanced Google Website Optimizer

Of course, making 25 small changes to your site in hopes of a 323% increase in your conversions takes a lot of work, so Google Website Optimizer has a special mode which lets you track multiple changes at the same time to determine the best combination of changes—it’s called multivariate testing.

Multivariate testing is harder to set up, but it takes a far fewer number of visitors to test 25 changes in multivariate testing than it does in traditional A/B (split) testing.

Google Website Optimizer will also let you test changes across multiple pages—for example, you can display a particular offer on your squeeze page and also on the order page.

Problems With Google Website Optimizer

The number one problem with Google Website Optimizer is that it depends on Javascript. That means users without Javascript capability (older cell phones) or users who generally disable Javascript will not be able to participate in your testing.

Worse, if you use Google Website Optimizer incorrectly, non-Javascript users may not be able to use your site at all, costing you valuable traffic.

Because Google Website Optimizer depends on Javascript, there’s no way to fix this problem using Google Website Optimizer. But, if you want to run A/B (split) or multivariate testing without Google Website Optimizer, there are various tools you can use on the server side of your site which don’t require Javascript support.

When Google Website Optimizer Gives Bad Advice

Although I love testing, all test results should be interpreted skeptically.

First there are test results which don’t prove anything. For example, you could get a test result that proves a particular layout of your site is more effective than another layout—but what you don’t know is that your traffic that day was atypical and so it doesn’t represent the normal traffic your site gets. (This is especially a problem when you use advertisement-driven testing.)

Another problem with test results is that they’re inherently short-term. For example, you can often increase sales by offering items at a discount. But if you always offer items for cheap, you’ll become known as the cheap company. People looking for higher-end (and higher-profit) products or services will go to someone else.

Finally, remember your non-Javascript users. They aren’t being counted in your Google Website Optimizer results (nor in your Google Analytics traffic reports), so you don’t have complete data. It could be that a change slightly preferred by your Javascript-using visitors is abhored by your non-Javascript visitors.

Conclusion

Google Website Optimizer is a powerful tool and one most webmasters should learn and use. But it isn’t a magic tool which will help you build the perfect site.

Small sites especially will usually benefit more from every hour spent writing new content than every hour spent tweaking the site layout in Google Website Optimizer. With that in mind, here are four rules to follow when using Google Website Optimizer:

1.   After configuring your website in Google Website Optimizer, turn off Javascript in your Web browser and make sure your site still works as expected.

2.   Run tests in Google Website Optimizer over several days or weeks to ensure they’re counting your regular traffic.

3.   Always consider the long-term health of your site over short-term sales or clicks, or you’ll slowly destroy your site using Google Website Optimizer.

4.  When your experiment is finished either delete the second test page or do a 301 redirect to the original. This is a SEO tip not to be ignored.

 

Comments

  1. Tom Fish says

    I have to agree that Google is one of the leading providers of tools for your websites. Nonetheless, I also agree that advises that it gives should be taken skeptically.
    Tom Fish recently posted..Make the most of Pinterest

  2. Mack Weiss says

    Nice article. But keep in mind that some users use Addons and plugins that block javascript, so you won’t have data from them as well.

  3. Silas says

    Google offers the best tools for webmasters and the optimizer tool though still struggling to use it, falls into one of the most helpful of the lot.
    When i started with my blog and advertising i needed to keep track of its improvements, traffic etc and analytic was what i used. I realized after a while, a stagnant visitor flow so i wanted to try out something else.
    Thanks for explaining the optimizer it has assisted in increasing the visitors response to my blog.
    Silas recently posted..How to name your blog

  4. Marco says

    IMO it’s the most useful thing from Google after Gmail. We are using it with our all websites and loving it. :)

  5. Jeannette Perkins says

    Anything involving Javascript is a double-edged sword these days. It doesn’t help that it also significantly slows down the speed of web sites in general.

  6. says

    If you want to see your site/blog top in Google then you should have enough back links for that because without back links you can’t achieve good rank in major search engines and as you mentioned Guest Blogging is the best way for that and this is absolutely correct because this is nice way to make your relationship as well as back links for your online business.

  7. says

    Hey Mitz this is pretty much over my head. I love GA & all for the simplicity of the great statistics provided. Of course you have gone to great lengths of explaining the optimizers pros & cons, but I do not think it will benefit my websites. It seems as though it may be geared towards product sites?
    Bryan Ring recently posted..Lawn Care Website Traffic

    • mitz says

      You can use Google optimizer to test your normal pages that convert anything. It could be signups or even making money. You just need to test things to make sure they are working right..

      I started out by creating AB testing for one random page and it taught me some amazing things.

  8. Anibal Willis says

    Javascript is kind of taxing for weaker PC’s smaller netbooks. Web developers sometimes don’t take these things into account and it ends up double-slowing their site on certain PC configurations.

  9. sameer says

    i am not sure its me or all , when visit the GWO site i get redirected to a page which says
    “Move from Website Optimizer to Content Experiments
    Google Website Optimizer tags


    If you still have Google Website Optimizer tags in your pages, we recommend that you remove them at your earliest convenience. This is particularly important if you have completed experiments that were configured to have Google Website Optimizer redirect your users from the original page to the winning variation. Since we are no longer doing that redirection for you, we advise that you follow these three simple steps:
    …………………”
    I am based in India so may be its for our country only or all ? please reply.

    BTW great post. thanks for sharing

  10. says

    Be careful guys… I had a bad experience of following google optimizer advices… they say that if you do a significant change in your website, then you should submit the url to fetch. I did it & my website position in google search went 3-4 pages backward. Never do this. Let google to update during the automatic fetching…
    Stephen recently posted..Web Design Brisbane

  11. Randal Vaughan says

    Anything involving Javascript is a double-edged sword these days. It doesn’t help that it also significantly slows down the speed of web sites in general.
    Randal Vaughan recently posted..Track Your Snacks!

  12. says

    Using this helpful tool can be really very fruitful and can help us in blog or website optimization and SEO improving. Thanks a lot for sharing all these important rules

    Julia Spencer’s recent post.. Popular Bummers about Facebook Timeline Introduction: Are They True for Brand Pages?

  13. says

    Hello Mitz,
    As always I enjoyed reading your posts. I started on the resource page and wound up here, and you did a great job on both!
    Very informative, and no lack of details, It is truly amazing to watch others grow online as they learn more and more about websites and the tools needed to run them.
    I started online about two years ago, I couldn’t even type, and I had no idea how to use my computer much past email and facebook.
    Now I am building websites and I get better with each one. I’m doing some marketing as well, and I actually have one site making me over 600 dollars a month with adsense.
    The internet has quite literally opened up the world to everyone! The old saying the “The world is my oyster” is no longer a saying, but a fact.
    If you really want this, and you do not give up under any circumstances, you can succeed online!

    Thanks Mitz,
    David

    P.S. Have a blessed holiday Mitz, you and your family!
    David recently posted..Newest weight loss products

  14. Aasma says

    Hey Mitz,

    I haven’t utilize this Google Website Optimizer tool, though this tool is useful for large and eCommerce websites. If you’ve a small business website then you usually know what your visitors are looking for and you can easily offer best user friendly experience without any problem.
    Aasma recently posted..Travel Portal Development

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