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Friday, Mar. 14, 2008 at 6:21 pm

The Price of Perfection

By John Quarto-vonTivadar
March 14th, 2008

Recently, one of our regular readers blogged about testing with Google Website Optimizer (GWO).

In the discussion thread, a respondent worried that he may not be able to use GWO because his company’s website has a database-driven content management system. He described himself as a “perfectionist” and it didn’t settle well that content was somehow taken “out” of his site and hosted on Google. Further, one of his company’s consultants commented to him that GWO just “isn’t useful” for a complex database-driven site.

First off, we can tell you from experience* that his consultant is mistaken. (See explanation here.)

Secondly, everyone thinks their own site is complex. Everyone. (Just like everyone thinks their kid is cute enough to be a model for Gap Kids.) But ecommerce sites are pretty similar — and simple. It goes something like this:

  • Get customer to site
  • Display product to customer
  • Help customer decide to buy
  • Accept her money with a thank you
  • Ship out the goods
  • Repeat

Customers don’t care if what we have behind-the-scenes is simple or complex. All the customer cares about is how simple and enjoyable — or not — the experience is for them.

Now, back to the issue of perfectionism. This fear of taking an incremental step lest it turn out wrong, even if the step is toward improvement, seems to evoke fear, dread and a certain “deer in the headlights” mentality.

Ever hear the adage, “Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong”? It’s a great way to think about testing and improvement of any kind, because it deals with the fact that the first step toward improvement always “feels” the hardest. It speaks to the moment when you’re most susceptible to false objections like “It’s too complex!” or “That’s inefficient!”

Let’s get those first steps out of the way. Let’s embrace being wrong, because we will almost surely learn some way to improve. The fact that the improvement won’t be immediate or perfect just isn’t a viable reason not to try. Asking for it to be perfect first and always is a perfect recipe for “never”.

If your company does, say, $5m/yr online and you can raise the conversion rate from, say, 4% to 5% (a 20% lift) because of your testing with GWO — or any testing tool for that matter — you just added $1 million ($5m x 20%) to the bottom line. If I were a CEO and found that so-called perfection was costing me $1m/yr in lost revenues, plus employee salary, I’m pretty sure I could find less expensive, less perfect employees.

I wonder, just how many companies out there are paying millions of dollars a year for perfectionism? And how many imperfect employees, freed from this apotheosis, consistently deliver better results for their companies and their customers?

Could this be why three quarters of online retailers don’t test even though it’s free?

. .

*FutureNow is an Authorized Consultant for Google Website Optimizer.

Add Your Comments

Comments (10)

  1. Hi John,
    Great post, but I would like to say that I don’t think our site is more complicated then the next, just that at the time when GWO first came out is when I looked into it and I don’t think they had the documentation then on dynamic sites. I thought that when I read it back a couple months ago when it first started you would put the content on Google and put a script tag in your page thus removing any seo benefit from the content. We already have A/B testing and since I didn’t see anyway to do anything on our product pages I didn’t think it was worth trying for our content pages or what not.

    That is exactly why I asked the question because I was sure there were some people out there using GWO on their ecommerce sites but couldn’t find anybody writing about it. I’m a front end developer with a perfectionism for semantic mark up and style/behavior separated from markup as much as I can even on these ecommerce sites which sometimes is pretty hard to do.

    I think you might of taken what I wrote wrong or I didn’t come across the way I wanted to. I definitely embrace being wrong and learning as much as I can to improve our performance, that is why I was excited to see you post in the comments. You obviously pointed out that I was wrong and that your original content is always on your site. That being said I would love to see you guys post some tips on doing product page testing with GWO.

  2. Thanks for the follow-up post John, and such a speedy follow up too.

    PS, I don’t have kids but I still think they’re cute enough to model for Gap Kids ;-)

  3. Also, I think instead of writing a whole article kind of bashing me because of what I commented, doesn’t really get any farther or help show people they are wrong. I was obviously asking the question because I was looking for someone to maybe show me the right direction. I didn’t write it saying that it wasn’t possible. I was only looking to see if anyone else used it on their site.

    I am not a marketing person and I am a developer so when I say I’m a perfectionist I meant code wise. When I was pointed to the GWO from when of our marketing people, I’m pretty sure at the time there wasn’t any documentation on dynamic site. I could have been wrong and missed it. It wasn’t until I looked into it a month or two back, I saw the dynamic site capabilities.

    I was very appreciative of your comment and was glad to see you were talking about posting about your experience with it. I wasn’t expecting you to write a whole article kind of bashing me because maybe I didn’t come across the way I meant to :) .

    Anyways I’ll still be ready to learn any valuable information you guys have on GWO and anything else, because I am always looking to further my knowledge.

  4. G’day John,

    I just wanted to let you know that I got tremendous value from just one line in your post.

    Only yesterday I was grappling with how to come up with a USP for a client who “had a complex site” and then I read your line about about the “experience”. (Cue light globe image.)

    I immediately scribbled down, in big letters: “Create the Experience.”

    I’ve been reading FutureNow’s stuff for almost 10 years, so you would think I would know this by now.

    Just goes to show, it never hurts to go over the basics.

  5. Hi,

    I use Paypal Checkout. As checkout process controlled by paypal, I suspect I can not optimize checkout process using GWO. I use paypal’s website to generate HTML code for payment buttons. Once user clicks the BUY NOW button, they goes to paypal website. Is there a way I can find out people exiting the checkout process in between.


  6. You wrote a very influential statement that should be posted in every cubicle:

    “Customers don’t care if what we have behind-the-scenes is simple or complex. All the customer cares about is how simple and enjoyable — or not — the experience is for them.”

    Interestingly enough and to the point of the story, I was just stating the other day to a few members of our team that I do testing with, that the results of our testing have been too successful lately and that I don’t feel we have been “failing” enough in our endeavors.

  7. [...] testing. A comment in that post led John Quarto von Tivadar (such a cool name!) at GrokDotCom to demonstrate the value of split testing. Genius. [...]

  8. Thanks John for this great article. I found it very informative. I also found a video of you interviewed at the fusebox conference.

  9. Although I agree 100% testing is important I dont see any helpful links on how to test 2 different dynamic product pages

  10. Good post John, I think it reminds everyone again that GWO is important for succeeding.

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John is the co-author of the best-selling Always Be Testing and 3 other books. You can friend him on Facebook, though beware his wacky swing dancer friends, or contact him directly at

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