5 Common misconceptions about the Google Website Optimizer

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by: Lenny de Rooy

The Google Website Optimizer is a relatively new tool. You can use it to test different versions of your webpages, to see which one will generate more conversions. Bill Slawski discussed the patents of this tool and you can find even watch one of the introduction videos.

The tool is becoming quite popular, especially because it is free. However, I have noticed that there are still a lot of misconceptions when it comes to using the Website Optimizer. In this post I will describe the 5 most common ones.

Misconception 1: You'll need an AdWords campaign to use the Website Optimizer

Google chose to make the Website Optimizer part of the AdWords interface. Therefore, many people think you need to set up an AdWords campaign to use the Website Optimizer. However, it only means that you have to create an AdWords account. You do not actually have to run a campaign.

Google website optimizer

When you set up your AdWords account, just enter some fake keywords and ad texts. When you are being asked to enter your payment details, leave it blank. Your campaign will not start unless you have supplied your payment details, so now you can set up a Website Optimizer test without having to worry about AdWords.

All visitors who access your test pages will be included in your test. This can include traffic from paid search if you wish, but also from people who visit your site through organic search, links, and direct access.

Misconception 2: You'll only need to create a Website Optimizer account to use the tool

As stated before, you don't need an AdWords campaign. But you DO need a Google Analytics account to use the Website Optimizer. This is the only way the Website Optimizer can measure the results of your test.

It is not necessary to implement the Analytics code on all your web pages though adding it to your conversion page and the pages you want to test will suffice.

I wonder how long it will take Google to realize that it makes more sense to make the Website Optimizer part of an Analytics account, in stead of an AdWords account

Misconception 3: There is a big difference between an A/B-test and a Multivariate test

Let's start by explaining the two types of tests.

With an A/B-test, you create different web pages. The Website Optimizer will alternatively send visitors to page A and page B.

With a Multivariate test, you only create one webpage. Then, you tell the Website Optimizer which sections of this page you want to vary. For example, you want some visitors to see the page containing picture A combined with text B, and others to see the page containing picture B combined with text C. The Website Optimizer will rotate the content of the sections you indicated, so different visitors see different versions of the page.

ab testBig difference, right?

Actually, an A/B-test can do the same as a Multivariate test, and vice versa.

Don't focus on the way the test pages are put together. Just think about the eventual output.

In stead of a Multivariate test with the variants being pictures A and B, and texts A and B, you could run an A/B-test with four separate web pages: one with combination A-A, one with A-B, one with B-A, and one with B-B.

Alternatively, if the alternating sections you specify on the multivariate page consist of a large amount of html code, you can create two (or more) quite different pages, which will vary more than only in small elements. For example, you do not tell the Website Optimizer to vary just the code to display an image, but you tell it to vary the code of the full header div and the navigation div.

Of course, using the multivariate test in stead of an A/B test is not always possible, as this will depend on the way your webpage is coded. But as far as I can tell, there is no situation in which an A/B-test could not take the place of a Multivariate test.

Misconception 4: With an A/B-test, you can test only two versions of a page

Misconception 3 might very well be inspired by misconception 4. The name 'A/B-test' is somewhat misleading, as it may suggest that you can only test two versions of a webpage.

However, the test could have been called an 'A/B/C//N-test', as you can in fact test an unlimited number (well, almost) of pages at the same time. Just specify more alternative pages in your test set-up.

Misconception 5: With an A/B-test, you can test very different webpage-designs simultaneously

Actually, this is true. You can create two versions of a website that look nothing alike, and then test which one performs better.

This is not recommended, though. Say, one page clearly performs better than the other one. Do you know what caused that? Do you know what to tweak next on that page to further improve performance?

Only with step-by-step changes you will gain a better understanding of which page elements are responsible for the increase in performance. So although testing different pages is possible, make sure not to overdo it.

Author Bio:

Lenny de Rooy is a Website Usability Consultant at Tribal Internet Marketing. After work, she tries to find some spare time to apply her knowledge to her personal Alice in Wonderland website.

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