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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.