Test The Experts

A while back I wrote about the importance of testing.

I talked about the simple idea of an A/B split test. For example, test two different headings for the same product description. You write two different headings and serve the page first with heading number one, then with number two, then with number one, and so on. At the end of the day, you check the logs and see which heading worked best. Find out which led to the most sales.

Judging by the email I received, this concept was new to a lot of people. To those who have a previous direct marketing life offline, this is an old idea.

But old or new, a simple A/B split test is the best way to find out what works best for your site. It’s also the best defense against the advice of experts who don’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about.

In this world of fairly early-adopters, it’s sometimes hard to figure out just how much our “industry experts” know. From time to time, I tease a large client of mine by telling him that I’m only two weeks ahead of him when it comes to online ecommerce expertise. This makes him nervous, and I know he hopes that I’m joking.

And I am more or less.

So how do you defend against uncertain advice from experts? You test.

Online you can just about test everything: Test payment options. Prices. Background colors. Photos. Navigation options. Link descriptions. Incentives. Text or graphic sizes. Response options. Feedback options. Customer service options.

Of course, you need the back-end tools to put these tests in place. But once you have the tools, you can test everything.

Back to our experts. Maybe you’d like to use an outside writer, designer, marketer, customer service rep, and so on.

Test them. Ask them to beat what your site is achieving right now. Forget their resumes and qualifications. Ignore what they say. Judge them by what they achieve.

This is a great way to find the people who really do know what they’re talking about. And think about what it will do for your entire online business.

If you put together a testing protocol that tests one factor on your site every day of the week, you’ll end up with an online business that constantly evolves based on results achieved rather than opinions expressed.

This leads me, more or less, to an opportunity to say something nice about the sponsor of this column, GoTo.com. I go to great lengths not to be a paid ‘advertorialist’ for these guys, and they never bug me to give them a mention. Which I appreciate.

So here’s their reward.

As a direct marketer, I like the fact that with GoTo.com I can pay per click-through for visitors who have an interest in what I sell. As I know what I am paying for each visitor from their site, I can include these results in my overall test protocol. I’ll test different key words, different descriptions. I’ll test the headings on the pages at my site to which the searches are directed.

I have the number of visitors, I know how much I paid, so I can do the math.

At the end of the day, whether I’m dealing with writers, designers, marketers, photographers or search engines, I like to be able to test. When I can test, I can gather numbers. When I have numbers, I can do the math. When I’ve done the math, I’ll know what I’m talking about.

And I can ignore all the experts.

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