Which button would you click? A lesson on website optimization

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | 9:32 AM

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Start Now, Begin, or Get Started? Orange or blue button? What color text? Does it matter?

Website optimization seemed to be the hot topic at SES New York this year. Everywhere we turned, speakers were discussing how small changes in website content can result in big differences in traffic patterns.

Before we suggest a strategy for optimizing your website, let's make sure we're all on the same page. Many people confuse website optimization with search-engine optimization, so we'll clarify the difference here:

  • Search-engine optimization means adjusting the content of your site so it ranks higher in the list of search results for a particular keyword or keyword phrase.
  • Website optimization means creating and testing different combinations of site content to increase visitor conversion rates and overall visitor satisfaction.
Trying to optimize a large website for conversion can be a daunting task if you don't have a plan. The most important pages to test are those that have the biggest impact on your site's success. By using Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer together, you can identify these high value pages and set up experiments that will eliminate the guesswork from their design.


Finding your high-value landing pages


Before you even begin testing content variations, you'll need to decide which pages to optimize. Testing whether an orange or a blue button works better on a page that gets only 1% of your total traffic is probably not the best use of your time. However, the same test on your most heavily trafficked landing page could make the difference between a great conversion rate and a search for a new marketing team.

In his talk on the Web Analytics panel at SES, Avinash Kaushik recounted his experience searching for a new faucet. The top paid ad took him to a page focused on sinks rather than faucets; he was immediately turned off and bounced from the site.

What's the lesson here? Landing pages are key pages to optimize because they are your visitors' first (and often last) impression of your website. If a visitor lands on a page that doesn't provide the information she's looking for, she'll probably leave without clicking any further. For high-traffic landing pages, this can add up to a lot of lost visitors.

That's why it's so important to find, and fix, high-traffic landing pages that lose a high percentage of visitors. Look at the "Top Landing Pages" report within the Content section of Google Analytics. Pages that have both a high Bounce Rate (the percentage of visits that resulted in the visitor immediately leaving the site) and large number of Entrances need to be redesigned.
The Google Analytics Landing Pages report (Content section) shows a list of top landing pages ordered by the number of entrances on the left. On the right, the bounce rate compared to site average is graphically displayed. Pages with a high number of Entrances and a high bounce rate (red bar) are good candidates for optimization.


Don't forget about funnel pages


Other high-value pages are those that lead visitors to your goal pages. Visitors reach a goal page once they have completed a desired action, such as a purchase, registration or download. In Google Analytics, you can specify up to ten pages in a defined funnel representing the path you expect visitors to take on their way to the goal page (conversion!). A page that is part of a goal funnel is another great place to focus website optimization efforts.

The "Funnel Visualization" report within the Goals section of Google Analytics shows you how many visitors exit the funnel at each step in the path towards the goal page. In the funnel visualization below, you can see that most visitors in this funnel are lost in the transition from the "View Shopping Cart" step to the "Login" step. Only 7% of visitors move past this step, but of those who do, many go on to make a complete an order! A limiting step in a path to a goal, like the "View Shopping Cart" step below, is another great place to begin your website optimization experiments.
The Google Analytics Funnel Visualization report (Goals section) shows the pages where visitors abandon a goal path. Pages that lose a high percentage of traffic on the path towards a website goal are good candidates for optimization.

You know which pages to test ...

Once you've identified high value pages with Google Analytics, you can begin optimization experiments using Website Optimizer. If you have some alternate content ready, you can launch tests in under five minutes. The Website Optimizer team has made some helpful video tutorials to help you get started.

A little competition can get your team excited about content experimentation. Try asking a couple of your co-workers and perhaps your boss for suggestions on alternate variations of a high value page. Label each of the suggested variations in Website Optimizer with the contributor's name. Then, ask another set of co-workers to predict which variation will emerge victorious. You can monitor the progress each day to see how everyone's suggestions and predictions are stacking up. Keep in mind that it usually takes at least one or two weeks for the definitive winner to emerge. Once Website Optimizer has determined the winning page, you'll not only have a better performing page, but if you're lucky, you'll have bragging rights in your office!

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