This article originally appeared in DM News.
Why would anyone want to give a product away when the marketplace is valuing it at thousands of dollars — per month? What’s in it for them to do that?
Those were some of the questions I posed Tom Leung, Business Product Manager at Google, key team member responsible for the recent introduction of Google’s free Website Optimizer tool.
Why did Google bother developing the tool in the first place?
Google, according to Leung, recognized that there was a problem with the fact that today web pages are designed largely through the guesswork and intuition of a very small group of people, and usually these people don’t reflect end-customers at all.
This leads to a lot of inefficiencies. “Biggest problem is that websites are still in the dark ages” said Leung, “and the highest paid person in the room points at one of four mocks that he likes. That is how it is decided.”
Google wanted to improve this process for deciding what to display to customers and prospects on web pages, i.e., online optimization, and so it developed Google Website Optimizer.
Optimizer allows marketers to easily test any number of versions of a web page, and determine which version results in the highest conversion rate. “Essentially” said Leung, “it lets visitors tell you what versions work best to reach your business goal”.
So, suddenly, it’s the customer, voting with his or her mouse, who gets to decide what a company’s landing page or home page design, layout, copy and offers should be. “Time and time again, even the most experienced web designer doesn’t necessarily come up with what performs the best in a test.”
And I know this. Working with Tourism BC using Google Website Optimizer to maximize their advertising budget ROI by optimizing online conversions, we are often surprised to see that the test version we thought would “win” – doesn’t.
Optimization means, essentially, finding one landing page design and content among many that work best and then diverting all the web traffic to the one that is really the Champion. The business impact of optimizing versus not optimizing the online conversion rate can be quite significant.
Google’s view is that every page on the web can and should be optimized. Every page is trying to serve some purpose. It may not be selling a widget, it could be generating a lead or subscribing to a newsletter or it could be getting web visitors to linger on a page for a period of time.
In Tourism BC’s case, our goal is to maximize the percentage of web visitors driven by both online and offline media to request information about vacation travel to the province. Through Google Optimizer we easily deploy a large number of alternatives and quickly determine what converts the most.
In general, AdWords customers — the Pay Per Click advertising program offered by Google — spend a lot of time and resources purchasing a variety of keywords, working on the campaign settings, the word ads, the offers, the creative. Then they proceed to ignore the wide variety of motivations for the click-through and point all their fresh, paid-for traffic to just one, single landing page — or sometimes even the home page. This is definitely not a smart thing to do as this one page appeals to the lowest common denominator and minimizes conversions.
Google Website Optimizer is, as Leung puts it, one leg in Google’s ‘drive-measure-convert’ three-legged stool, with Google AdWords and Google Analytics being the other two. “Where AdWords is really all about driving traffic to your site, Analytics is all about measuring that traffic and seeing what is going on, Optimizer is all about converting” Leung said.
Marketers, according to Leung, “spend a lot of money and resources bringing the customers way upstream and dump them on a poorly performing page. Why not convert as many of them as you can? Why do all of this work and then have them land on a poorly performing landing page?”
Why, indeed. Especially when considering that testing and optimization represent the keys to generating greater marketing budgets and more profitability for the company.
While Optimizer was designed to be easy to use by all companies of all sizes, Leung says there are some limitations. “We have designed it so that anyone can pick it up and get a lot of value out of it” said Leung, “but there are some things that I don’t know if we will ever be able to completely automate”.
For example, when companies wish to take Optimizer to the next level, they reach a point when they might need experienced help. “This is sort of the difference between do-it-yourself home improvement vs. hiring a professional contractor to come in and get the most value out of the project”, said Leung.
When designing what variation to test, Optimizer does not create the actual variations for clients. Optimizer will point out what companies can test, such as a new headline, a new image, and new bullet points, but it won’t write these bullets or come up with the offers. “Consultants will always be the best about this, particularly if they are knowledgeable about the vertical that the client is in,” said Leung.
Another example Leung cites involves getting the most out of Google’s free tools. Integrating in-depth advanced analysis, enabled by Google Analytics, with Google Optimizer takes a lot more time and expertise and means more than just glancing at the reports. To accomplish this, a company would need to devote full time internal online marketing resources that think about these issues a lot and do nothing else. Or, companies can work with an experienced Consultant, expert in this area, with the benefit of a lot more volume of experiments under their belt.
From a technical point of view, even though Google Optimizer makes it easy to copy and paste the code, it does require some set up. According to Leung, a lot of clients either don’t have that ability or don’t want to spend the time doing this and prefer end-to-end service, in which case external Consultants would be very useful.
“I think the biggest take-away is that the tool is designed for do-it-yourself and internal marketing staff, but we do acknowledge that there are some scenarios where those users don’t have the resources or they just don’t want to do it themselves, and we think that Consultants play a really important role in those cases,” added Leung.
Testing and Optimization is the stuff that Direct Marketers dream of. And it’s available essentially for free.
But, after all, why free?
“At the highest level our view is that making this tool accessible to anyone makes the web a more efficient and customer-friendly place, that is a great thing,” said Leung.
Google considers itself lucky to have the resources to develop this tool and make it available to everyone, reliably. Suddenly, optimization is not just available to large companies that can afford a tool but is also available to small companies and non-profits who also want to improve the performance of their web pages.
According to Leung, the AdWords business is really built on transparency, accountability and return investment. Therefore, he believes that if Google can provide a tool, even for free, that improves a company’s return on investment and allows them to see what is going on with their web traffic, his feeling is that at the very least, that customer will be more inclined to consider spending some advertising budget – or more, if they are already customers — on AdWords in the future.
Google Website Optimizer is free because, according to Leung, everyone wins.
“The advertiser gets a higher ROI and more customers for less money. The users and visitors get a page that is designed for people like them, and has the information that they need to make their purchasing or their conversions decision. And of course Google would benefit from some theoretical increase in advertising spending down the road.”
That is an amazing leveler of the playing field. For free.
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