Last week, Google announced the open beta for Google Website Optimizer, a free testing tool available to any AdWords marketer. I had the opportunity to discuss it with Tom Leung, business product manager for Google.
Bryan Eisenberg: Many have been talking and blogging about how Google Optimizer will enhance the usability of the Web in general. Please share your thoughts about that. Also, tell us a bit about what Google Optimizer does.
Tom Leung: Let me give you a quick example. Let’s say you had a bicycle Web site, and you sold bicycle accessories online. The way you’d design some of those pages is that, for the most part, you’d work with a Web designer. They come back with a few design mockups, and you kind of point at the one you think would work best. You would base that largely on your gut feel, or opinion. In some cases, whoever is the most senior person in the room will just tell you, “I like that one,” and you go with it. This scenario is wrought with a lot of guessing and opinions. What we’re doing is trying to change that with Google Website Optimizer.
What the tool does is allow you to instrument the page so that you can test a whole variety of ideas. So you aren’t limited to picking just one of a few design mockups. You can literally test hundreds, if not thousands, of versions of a page. When a visitor arrives at your site, we’ll show them a specific version, and it tracks whether or not they convert, whether it’s purchasing a product, or signing up for a newsletter, or whatever you decide is a successful conversion. Then, it will report back to you which combination worked the best. It takes the guesswork out of marketing by letting customers tell you what works best for them by letting them vote with their clicks. You can constantly test new hunches, new ideas, and turn your Web site into a living laboratory. We think that ultimately this is going to make a better Internet overall.
BE: I know the Optimizer is a product that grew out of the Google Analytics division, but you don’t need to use Google Analytics to use the Optimizer, correct?
TL: Correct. If you currently use Google Analytics, the optimizer will work great with it. If you don’t have an analytics account, we’ll provision one automatically for you behind the scenes so you won’t have to do any extra work. Even if you use another analytics package, the Optimizer will work fine alongside [it].
BE: This is a question that always comes up whenever anyone does any kind of testing, such as A/B or multivariate. What will the Google search engine think of the page?
TL: Using the Google Website Optimizer in and of itself won’t affect your Google search engine ranking. The original content will still be there and will be indexed as if you weren’t testing. However, if you use a test, find ways to make for a better customer experience, and implement those changes, you should have every reason to believe that will be affecting — in a positive way — your rankings. But again, using the tool in and of itself will not affect your ranking.
BE: Aside from the altruistic reason of making the Web better, why is Google doing this?
TL: We really do want to make the Web better. Specifically, the way we make the Web better is we deliver value to advertisers and consumers. Advertisers who use Google for marketing might be aware that we have AdWords to help you drive more traffic and access people who may not know about your business. Then we have Google Analytics, again at your option, if you want to use it to measure and see what people are doing after they arrive on your site. Google Website Optimizer is sort of the third leg of the stool because it helps take those clicks and convert them into customers.
When you look at the big picture, from a Google marketing toolset point of view, we have driving traffic, measuring traffic, and converting traffic into customers. Our vision is that all of those things advance the customer lifecycle and will effectively improve and grow your business. At the end of the day, it increases advertiser’s ROI. There are companies that spend so many resources getting traffic; why not convert as many of them into customers as you can?
BE: I’ve been asking that same question for years.
TL: (Laughs.) So we’re on the same page, Bryan. And from a consumer point of view, if you arrive on a landing page, you obviously wanted to get there because you clicked on an ad or you clicked on a link. Now you can arrive on a page that’s just been optimized for customers like you. That’s going to make for an easier shopping or browsing experience. We think this is a win-win.
BE: Testing has been around for a while, especially for enterprise clients who invest in some very interesting solutions. How do you see Google Optimizer fitting into the equation, particularly as it enables a lot of the small to medium-sized business to start testing?
TL: Yeah, that’s definitely a big focus for us. We know we aren’t the first tool in the testing category. But we think the category is definitely in its infancy, and there’s an opportunity for a company like Google to provide this level of technology and statistical horsepower to all users of the Web. We want to help anybody who’s interested in improving their Web site and give them access to tools that are very powerful so they can [virtually] have…rocket scientists and statisticians in [their]] back pocket for free. This tool works for the local bike shop as well as the multimillion-dollar e-commerce leader.
BE: How does the tool work with sites that are little more dynamic in nature?
BE: Do you see the tool being use to test pay-per-click and pay-per-action ad copy?
TL: I don’t know if we see it immediately being used for the ad copy, but certainly for the landing pages that people will arrive on for a pay-per-action campaign. The Optimizer can be used for any Web page, be it a landing page, a sponsored landing page, or an offline-to-online call-to-action landing page. The tool is agnostic. It is designed to show potential alternative content and tell you which one works best for any kind of campaign.
Thanks, Tom. Next, I’ll ask Tom for more specifics on how to use the tool.
Have you taken Google Website Optimizer out for a spin? If not, why not?
Meet Bryan at the ClickZ Specifics: Analytics seminar on May 2 at the Hilton New York in New York City.
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