Always Be Testing

As I’m recuperating after a mild heart attack, I need something to take my mind off things. So the new book, “Always be Testing,” by Bryan Eisenberg and John Quarto-vonTivadar dropped into my mailbox right on time. And as my doctor has advised me to constantly test my blood pressure, the book’s title is very appropriate too.

Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg are without doubt the Web’s leading specialists when it comes to conversion. And with former NASA scientist John Quarto-vonTivadar, collectively they are the founders of a concept called Persuasion Architecture. The Web is awash with opinions and ideas on best practices in search marketing, but there’s not so much about best practice testing. This book fills the gap.

It’s over a year since Google offered its state-of-the-art A/B and multivariate testing kit called Website Optimizer. Last year I spoke with Avinash Kaushik Google’s analytics evangelist and author of “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day.” I also spoke with Tim Ash author of “Landing Page Optimization.” Both are expert analytics guys and both touched on Website Optimizer in their books. They were very much in agreement that so few companies were taking advantage of it.

Certainly, this new book succeeds in opening up Web site testing world to a wider audience. There’s still very much a case of companies throwing cash at search just to drive numbers. And yet, if they were to check the bounce rate (it’s true — many companies don’t even know the term “bounce rate”), they would perhaps spend a little more time on turning bounces into conversions instead of just mindlessly driving traffic.

The book leads in with an example that Bryan shared with me earlier this year. Overstock.com had a category landing page for DVD and VHS movies with a very high abandon rate. By implementing a process of persuasion architecture they discovered that, the top element of the page — a prominent search call to action — seemed to suggest that all titles were kid oriented. After replacing the “kid’s title” image with one that suggested that the search function was inclusive of all titles, overstock.com saw an immediate 33 percent reduction in abandonment.

Let’s put that in a more tangible manner. A 33 percent reduction in abandonment translated directly to a 5 percent increase in top line sales. For a company such as overstock.com, this was a $2,040,000 monthly gain.

And that from testing just one page element!

The authors explain early on why they endorse (and use) Google Website Optimizer. As I’ve heard myself many times before, the reason that most companies don’t test is a concern over cost. But who can argue with free?

I get it. But although the tool may be free, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every online marketer has the skill to use it. There are discussion groups, tutorials, and Web seminars online. But, as the analytics team at my company inform me, actual support is thin on the ground.

You can approach Google’s authorized consultants. But, of course, that makes the tool a lot less “free.”

Given that you do have an understanding of A/B and multivariate testing, the book provides some extremely useful insights and you can be on your way to testing Web pages and elements very quickly.

The authors are good communicators and the book is written in a way that offers a kind of two-way dialogue. It forces readers to ask themselves many questions and create a plan before jumping in feet first. Key insights provide methods of being able to analyze what to test and how to test.

Excellent takeaways include relevant case studies. It’s a great introduction to A/B and multivariate testing. And great explanations on how to read report data, adopt visual best practices, and how to write progressive, customer-centric copy.

For sure the book is focused completely on the Google Website Optimizer tool. But that shouldn’t limit the audience or readership. The book contains tons of relevant and timely information generally about analytics, testing, and tuning landing pages and improving conversions.

It’s within reaching distance on my desk right now and I have a feeling it will be there for quite some time.

Meet Mike Grehan at SES San Jose, August 18-22 at San Jose Convention Center.

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