Saturday, October 11, 2008

Take your conversion rates to a whole new level with split testing

Take your conversion rates to a whole new level with split testing
Copyright © 2008 Paul Smithson
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Split testing is critical to almost any business. If you're not doing it - you really should be - and if you are doing it, the chances are that you should be doing it even more.

Without split testing, you are leaving massive amounts of money on the table every single day. I say this with absolute certainty. You're not 'possibly' leaving money on the table, you are 'definitely' leaving money on the table. It sounds like a bold claim, but it's absolutely true.

Whether it's a single page sales-letter site, a mini site, an AdSense site, a blog, or a mammoth content site, there are always ways to tweak things and increase the percentage conversion rate if it's a product that is being sold, the sign-up rate if it's a membership site, or the number of click-throughs if it's a site that earns revenues from advertising.

So, what exactly is split testing?

Split testing is simply the process of testing out different versions of something to see which one performs best. It could be a direct mailing piece, a billboard advertisement, a TV commercial, a web page, an e-mail, or anything else where you want to find out the differing results based on one or more changes to the original.

From an Internet Marketer's perspective it could be two different web pages you are testing to see which design works best. It could be testing one headline on a sales letter against another, or finding out which of two or more banner adverts brings in the most orders.

Ideally, split testing is done with a fairly large number of visitors. If you get very low traffic, your split testing numbers may be inaccurate, but split testing even with low traffic is usually better than not doing it at all, it can just often take longer to get a statistically valid result.

You can perform split testing in several different ways.

If you're running pay-per-click adverts through Google AdWords, you'll find there's a split testing system built in! If you're split testing things like sales page copy, a form on a squeeze page, or the CTR (click through rate) of various placements of ads on your pages, then you'll need to develop your own methods.

There are many scripts and online services available that can help you deliver different versions of a web page to visitors, and then measure conversions from each version. If you don't want to use a script or online service (some of which can be quite expensive), you can do the same thing yourself by rotating pages on your own.

You'll probably want to leave a page up for about a week or longer and record conversions. Then put up a different page and record the conversions from that version. Just keep in mind the fact that conversions may be different, simply because of the day of the week or the time of day, so if you take a page down in the middle of the day, or the middle of the week, your results may be skewed inaccurately.

The importance of split testing can't be over-emphasized. Something as simple as changing a single word in your headline, or changing the color of your order button might change conversions by several percent.

There have been stories of a single word doubling the conversion rate of a product. Sometimes changing something seemingly very trivial, such as the color of the words 'Buy Now' on an order button can drastically increase conversions and sometimes more fundamental changes, such as using a different font for the body copy on your web site, can make an amazing difference.

It's worth testing almost all the elements on a website from page backgrounds through to different header graphics and different navigation menus. Some of your changes might consist of just minor tweaks whereas others might mean a major change in the overall style of your site. Pretty much anything and everything is worth testing to see if has an impact on conversions.

And don't kid yourself that you know best, because even the experts get it wrong sometimes.

A famous offline advertising agency was working on a major ad campaign for a product. They developed several different versions of the ad, and then asked each of their ad executives to give their guess as to which one would perform better, and why.

After each executive had picked which they thought would be the winner they ran the complete series and gauged the results. The results proved a huge surprise. Of the dozen or so executives they asked, not a single one guessed the ad that actually performed best!

Even these high-paid ad executives with years of experience were unable to judge which ad would perform best. This is why split testing is so crucial. No matter how well you think you know your market, there will always be things you can't judge on your own.

Over time split testing will ensure that you are using the highest converting version of your site possible. It can be a long and drawn out process, but it is one that can reap massive rewards.

Imagine you had a web site that was converting at the rate of 1%. If you ran a series of ten tests consecutively that managed to increase the response by just 20% each time, what do you think the final response rate would be.

It would be a staggering 6.2%.

This demonstrates the incredible power of split testing. Just by running a series of small tests that each had a minor impact, the response was multiplied by over 600%.

So, get testing, then test some more, and continue testing until you can't think of anything else that could possibly improve the response rate.

Paul Smithson is the founder of Intellimon and the driving force behind the best-selling XSitePro web site development tool ( Paul has set up five multi-million dollar companies, one of which is now owned by the BBC. His areas of expertise include business strategy, e-commerce, on-line and off-line marketing, software development, and maximizing the potential of on-line businesses.

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