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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

Let Visitors Design Your Site for You

By Ronald Patiro
February 13th, 2008

You’ll never build a site that’s as good as the one your visitors can build for themselves.

Even people with no sense of aesthetics are brilliant designers. It’s true.

How do you turn every visitor into a Web designer without training them, paying them, or even letting them know what you’re up to? (It’s not as bad as it sounds. Really.)

By conducting A/B and multivariate tests, you empower customers to collectively decide what works best for them. Supply them with different variations on your site and run the tests and they will tell you how they want your site to look and behave through their actions — which, as the cliché goes, speak louder than words.

Should you just test random changes in headlines, calls to action, and navigation? No way. Start fresh with a new hypothesis.

Test it

Now that the Web is truly interactive, it’s all about the customer’s voice. That’s why it’s an absolute must to test your site; because without doing so, you’re forcing an environment upon your visitors without bothering to adjust to their needs. And that attitude is truly a thing of the past.

Are professional web designers still important? Of course! But design choices are merely assumptions, and they’re often no better than your own. A web design exists to enable and entice visitor actions — and that’s worth optimizing for.

What works best for your customers works best for you. When you test, everyone wins. Even if you get a bad result, you still win; you’ve confirmed that what you have is working better than the new assumptions you’ve made in the alternate variation. So, not only is testing far cheaper than doing an entire redesign, it’s often more effective to roll out a redesign by testing new sections and bits of content individually, rather than just dropping it on customers all at once. (Amozon just launched a redesign this way. Did you notice?)

Wrong assumptions will be made. No big deal. Get a new hypothesis. Test it.

Your visitors are trying to give you valuable information, but unless you’re testing, they have no voice.

In a recent study, 76.7% of online retailers said they don’t test. Are you?

Add Your Comments

Comments (23)

  1. [...] Let Visitors Design Your Site for You – My favorite takeaway is this line: “What works best for your customers works best for you…” [...]

  2. I wish it were that simple for everyone. Working for a bank, we have to be very consistent in our designs.

    If the users noticed a discrepancy between two different versions, they’d be very likely to freak out, thinking that they are a phishing victim.

    How would you recommend to solve this? One idea that we had was to notify certain users that they will see a “beta” version of the website the next time they log in.

    The problem is that this can only be done for pages that require an authentication. Which is not very effective.

    Any other suggestions?

  3. [...] are experts at pulling the right levers to affect outcomes of consumer search behavior. Some of us do it very scientifically. At least for a while on the web it is a path of low resistance between the [...]

  4. Can,

    Thank you for sharing your situation.

    If you are limited in coding the tests on pages with a testing program like Google Website Optimizer, you may have to swap out different versions of a page manually and track the analytics data. It is a bit more work, but definitely worth the effort to your customers and your business in the long run. An additional benefit to this route is when you are testing larger design elements, that would be very noticeable like color or the number of pages in the scenario, you can provide a link to the original version for any visitors that may feel their security is threatened by the new design.

    Using a message to warn visitors they are going to see a “beta” version of your site is a tempting idea, but may work against you. If you are able to pick important elements and test them individually, you will gather valuable information before implementing a large redesign, which could possibly scare your visitors.

    The ultimate truth with testing is that you don’t know until you test it. Make some hypotheses and find out what works best for your customers.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  5. I think the idea you discuss in your post is one of the most profound in web design today. Trouble is that many ego designers don’t want to hear it. “Intuition” and “Ego” are usually inseparable among design shops.

    I think SEO, Usability, and Analytics are FOUNDATIONAL concepts, not after-thought concepts. The trouble is getting businesses and agencies to believe it.

    Much of my professional day is spent in this conflict! :-)

  6. To test A/B, it is easy for websites that have alot of visits, but to test a new website, I think, as Scott says, first of all the ego designer has to be down, then anyone that does social media, can test A/B among all frieds there. I have tried it and I got a respond of 35% of 600 frieds.

  7. I agree with Rafael. How do you test a niche site with low to mid range traffic? Maybe I’m being dense here and google website optimizer is just really that easy. I’ll browse your 7 free resources article.

    Also, I really liked the case study about your book in the New Rules of Marketing. It’s rare to find people sharing strategy in that kind of detail. Thanks for your transparency.

  8. Getting enough traffic through a test for the results to be statistically relevant is a challenge for many sites. A site with low traffic will have to wait longer for meaningful results.
    Here is a calculator that helps estimate how long a test will need to run.

    Tom Leung, the Business Product Manager of Google Website Optimizer mentions in a series of webinars says Google recommends waiting until there have been 100 successes for a variation of a test to give it statistical relevance. They also recommend waiting two weeks so daily fluctuations will level out.

    In addition to waiting for the necessary traffic to be exposed to the test, you could buy PPC traffic, but you must be careful that the words you target on the campaign are relevant to the landing page you link the PPC traffic to and are testing. If there is a disconnect, or loss of scent, from the PPC link to the landing page, your PPC traffic will be more likely to leave your site, and skew your test results.

    P.S. Rafael,Did you run your friends through an A/B test, or show each of your friends you sent there two options and asked them to choose which one they preferred? I don’t believe that sending your friends through an A/B test would yield valid results, but asking their collective opinion is useful to know, but remember your friends may not be your customers, and it’s your customers preference you want to discover.

  9. We have been using Website Optimizer from Google for almost a year now. And as was mentioned earlier in the posts, it does take a while to get relevant information, especially if you don’t have high amounts of traffic. A/B testing is a must for anyone, that is serious about their online results!

  10. [...] my last post, I showed how testing allows you to optimize by letting visitors design your site for you. By giving them new versions of navigation and content elements and closely monitoring to see which [...]

  11. good point. It is actually easier to make a living online if you come from a country where the cost of living is lower. I’m living in China at the moment and it would be much easier to make a living online here than it would be if I lived at home in Australia.

  12. Why CMS sucks. (Guide to Small Business E-commerce Strategy)…

    Do you hate your Content Management System? Do you even have a content management system? Take a look at this to see what’s wrong with them.

  13. Want to know how to test the most valuable areas of your site? We’re teaming up with the Product Manager of Google’s Website Optimizer for a webinar Tuesday March 11th. Get better results with optimizer and register for the webinar.

  14. [...] received emails and comments from people who want to know the secret. They've read a few posts on website optimization testing, but they're disillusioned. Their tests haven't been [...]

  15. [...] What's holding them back from converting? A funnel report can help you create a hypothesis and test to see what your visitors prefer. That's how to [...]

  16. Help ! I put following data in Conversion calculator as mentioned by Ron in Comment #8

    Test Combinations: 2
    Page Views Per Day: 50
    % Visitors in Experiment: 100
    % Current conversion rate: 1
    % Expected improvement:5

    It gives me Duration: 10636.16 days.

    But if I increase the % Expected Improvement to 100% , it gives me 37.6 days .

    How is this possible? I was expecting more days for experiment if % improvement is more. While this calculator is reducing the number of days with % increase in Improvement.

  17. Ladies Winter Scarves,

    Website optimizer calculates probabilities of one combination outperforming another. When an experiment has a combination performing very well, in your example 100% better, it is much easier to predict that it will outperform the original version. When they are returning very similar results, say a 5% difference, it takes Optimizer a lot more time to see which one will likely win with any level of certainty.

    I suggest reading the technical explantions of Optimizer, and particularly the section titled “All About Statistics.”

  18. [...] 6.) Ensure success with Pay-Per-Click* — Purchasing traffic to validate changes to your site is like buying insurance on the effectiveness of your web design. If your PPC ads are well targeted and attract more (and more qualified) visitors, your test results will be more accurate. With enough visitors, testing is like letting visitors design your site for you. [...]

  19. Great post and an excellent example of why it’s critical to work with a company that has in depth ecommerce experience to design and develop a site for maximum conversion rates.

  20. [...] in the SEO/SEM profession strive to affect outcomes of consumer search behavior. Some of us do it very scientifically. The web is a path of low resistance between seller and buyers and offers [...]

  21. thanks for informations..

    I will apply this workings…

  22. Is the website optimizer calculator only applicable for Multivariable tests? The literature on the site seems to address this type of test.
    What happens when I want to do a page redesign with 3 versions, where I am not testing elements within the page, but just testing overall, and would like to know if this calculator will help me to estimate the duration of the test ahead of time.

  23. Is there a best practice as to what % of traffic to run the test? I am trying to play it safe by not running the entire population through, but just a small sample, so I can apply the learnings to the entire population.

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