On our “Ask the Experts” post, one reader asked how to go about optimizing a low-traffic website.
We get this question a lot.
Marketers — particularly small business owners and do-it-yourself-ers — want to know if optimization is worth it. They’re short on time and they’re dealing with limited resources. They can’t wait six months to fix something that’s broken now. They don’t have the luxury.
If you’ve realized optimization can’t wait, and you don’t have the budget to hire a firm, consider these…
1.) Get a testing platform — Any testing platform will do, but if your budget is tight, we recommend using Google Website Optimizer. It’s free to use and FutureNow has developed several free resources to help you get started.
2.) Stick to A/B split testing — For a low-traffic site, you’ll want to stay away from multivariate tests and stick to simpler A/B split testing. Multivariate testing involves optimizing more than one page element at a time, often with more than one variation per element on a given page. For example, you might be testing four different headlines, three different pictures, and two variations of your body copy on a given landing page. That means you’ve just created 24 (4x3x2) different page combinations for your test. Getting enough traffic to come up with a statistically valid results could take a low-traffic site an exceedingly long time to do that. Assuming you had 50 visits per day and a brilliantly high current conversion rate of 10%, that still means it would still take more than two thousand days (about 6 years!) to get any data worth looking at. Meanwhile, A/B testing only a few combinations can give you statistically valid data within a month or two. Again, low-traffic sites should stick to A/B testing. (This white paper can help you determine whether it’s too little or too early to A/B test.)
3.) Don’t make hasty conclusions — Be patient. Wait for the tests to fully complete before jumping to conclusions. Once they do complete, take a deep breath. On any given test page, the “Chance to Beat Original” and “Chance to Beat All” percentages are crucial — and potentially misleading if you’re not up on your statistics. Basically, anything less than 90% is simply a trend that might be reversed from one week to the next. We’ve actually seen these kind of reversals happen, where a positive change (with 70% chance to beat original) flipped negative from one week to the next. Think of it this way: If you randomly flip a coin, you could get 3-4 heads in a row over 4 flips and conclude that heads was the clear “winner” over tails. Not smart. Only after many, many flips is it safe to assume you have a clear winner (or a very weird coin).
4.) Know what you’re looking for — Make sure you know how to get a hypothesis worth testing. In other words, you should know ahead of time how to interpret the results. Don’t randomly test this image or that headline. Do so because you have reason to believe the headline “should” better appeal to buyers with a given buying motivation, or because the picture “should” resolve a particular concern. That way, you have a basis for interpreting the results. That doesn’t mean the results will be absolutely conclusive (it’s possible that people really do have your hypothesized motivation but your headline was merely a bad execution of the concept), but you’ll have a way to interpret the results and do further analysis if needed. Intelligent testing essential, especially when you don’t have much traffic.
5.) Test one click at a time* — Shorten the distance between the Experiment Page (where you’re running the test) and the Goal Page (where you count conversions). This will yield conclusive results in less time. A quick e-commerce example: Use the shopping cart as a Goal Page for a test being run on a Product Page (as opposed to using the Order Confirmation Page as the Goal Page).
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.
7.) Prioritize your optimization efforts — Optimizing for usability and conversion is usually easier than optimizing for persuasion. Before a site can persuade, its basic elements must work. Go for the low-hanging fruit, then work your way up the Hierarchy of Optimization.
Got questions on how to optimize your site? Feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.
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[Editor's Note: Today is your last chance to register for the Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar, happening tomorrow, Friday the 28th, in San Francisco.We're keeping class size small and there are only two or three tickets left, so hop to it!]