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Tim Peter

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November 22, 2011

Can You Market Test Your Time and Money?

November 22, 2011 | By | No Comments

Test what worksI’m no fan of linking to the New York Times (damn you, paywall), but this interview with Sasha Issenberg is well worth the read. Issenberg, who is writing a book about “the new science of [political] campaigns,” covers ground most Big Thinkers know well: measurement and testing. I’ve talked often about why testing is always the right answer. It’s interesting to see how political campaigns put these same tactics to use in measuring the effectiveness of their campaigns. The interview focuses on Rick Perry’s reelection campaign (the book looks at several campaigns), but I loved this quote:

The findings from those 2006 tests dramatically changed how Carney prioritized the candidate’s time and the campaign’s money when Perry sought re-election again in 2010 and will inform the way he runs for president now.” [Emphasis mine]

Political campaigns, just like any marketing, can’t afford to waste money or resources (especially the candidate’s limited time). So testing where those resources and funds work best matters. The question is, are you testing how effectively you’re spending your money and your time? Don’t you think you should?


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Tim Peter

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February 22, 2011

Do A/B Tests Worry You?

February 22, 2011 | By | 2 Comments

Anyone who’s spent much time around thinks Central knows how passionately I believe A/B testing is always the right answer. Seriously. And while A/B testing might seem scary if you’ve never done it before, it’s not as hard as you might think.

What’s that, you say? You’re not to sure what to test and how to do it? Well, never fear, Big Thinker. The following ideas will help you along the way.

For example, Linda Bustos and Anne Holland’s great 6 tips for e-commerce testing offers amazing lessons on how to test effectively and efficiently on your site.

And while A/B testing has its pitfalls when not done right, you can easily learn from others’ real-world experience. For instance, ProFlowers is one of the best converting sites on the Internet and conducts A/B tests all the time. Just take a look at what a well-executed A/B test looks like to help you along the way.

What if you’re just getting started with A/B testing and don’t know where to begin? In addition to Linda and Anne’s tips, take a look at the thinks method for what to test first.

And, finally, for more ideas, check out our Ultimate A/B Testing Case Study Roundup.

I suppose testing isn’t the right answer if you don’t know how to do it or don’t test the right things. But, thanks to Anne and Linda and ProFlowers, you don’t have to go it alone.



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Tim Peter

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June 25, 2010

Ultimate A/B testing case study roundup (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – June 25, 2010)

June 25, 2010 | By | No Comments

It’s no secret here that I believe A/B testing is one of the the best ways to help your customer and quiet Avinash Kaushik’s HIPPOs (see Rule #10) (Full Disclosure: As the head of e-commerce, I can be something of a HIPPO myself in my day job. So, in some ways, I know the dangers even more. It’s easy to think you’re really smart when you’ve been doing something for a while – and really cool when a test a.) proves you wrong and b.) makes you a lot of money).

In fact, I’ve talked before about reasons why A/B testing is always the right answer and examples of what an A/B test looks like. But, I’ve also been collecting a number of other posts that make the case for A/B testing. Check ‘em out:

Whew! That’s a ton of resources for you to use as you plan your own A/B tests. And you should.

Did I leave something out? I’d love to continue to collect these case studies here. If you find a good one, do me a favor and post it in the comments.



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Tim Peter

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June 19, 2009

Keep it simple… 5 tips for better sales online (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – June 19, 2009)

June 19, 2009 | By | No Comments

How savvy are your customers? Are they sophisticated in using the Internet? While I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, it’s important to remember that most people – no matter how much they use the Internet – don’t spend much time thinking about the Internet.

For a perfect example, take a look at this Google video asking people in Times Square what a browser is:

(Hat tip: The Next Web & Customer Experience Labs)

So, if your customers aren’t that savvy on the web, should you avoid awesome Flash widget-ry and new, improved Web 2.0 crunchy goodness on your site? Well, it depends. You see, that’s not the right question. The right question is: what do your customers need? And if you don’t know, how can you find out? Here’s how:

  1. You can observe a lot just by watching. Yogi Berra said it best. When you watch your customers use your product, service or website, you’ll see things you’d never imagined. Some may shock you. Some may seem silly. But your customer isn’t wrong when they can’t figure out what to do next on your site. Your site is. I once watched a customer use a site repeatedly click on an image that wasn’t clickable. It didn’t show up in analytics, because no tool I know of will track actions that don’t do something. But in just 10 minutes of observing the customer, we were able to improve usability – and the conversion rate we were looking for – dramatically. Tools like UserTesting.com can show you exactly what your customers are doing to help you make things right. (And, yes, I know I talked about them last week, too. It’s that cool a tool).
  2. Keep it simple. Customers come to your site with a problem to solve. Anything that doesn’t help them solve the problem – any distraction, pop-up, extra step, upsell, what-have-you – can stop your customer cold. They don’t need anything that doesn’t contribute to solving their problem. So don’t do that. Earlier this week, B.L. Ochman offered a great example of “keep it simple…” tactics in practice that ought to be required reading. So go read it.
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. As Steve Krug writes in “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”
    - his legendary book – “Innovate when you know you have a better idea… but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.” I’d add, “and then test to be sure.” There’s a reason the gas pedal is on the right and the brake on the left in every car: because if you switched them, people would die. Look at how others have solved the problem and work from there.
  4. Apply these tips everywhere. You can apply these same lessons to tools like Facebook and Twitter, too. For instance, RADSMARTS looks at the habits of highly effective Tweeters, finding they, too, focus on low friction, high value communication. And, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
  5. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. If improving your customers’ experience is a one-time event, don’t be surprised if your business only has a one-time gain. You’ve got to embed continuous improvement into your company’s DNA. As Bryan Eisenberg recently noted, “Good online marketers come in many sizes and shapes, but all have at least one trait in common: They are never satisfied with their results.” I think you could remove the word “online” – and for that matter, “marketer” – and describe every successful business person I’ve ever known.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Tim Peter

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June 17, 2009

What does an A/B test look like, anyway?

June 17, 2009 | By | No Comments

You know A/B testing is the right thing to do, right? Do you know what a good A/B test looks like? No? Well, thinks is here to help.

GrokDotCom shares Nielsen data every month, showing the top converting websites. Amazingly, online flower and gift retailer ProFlowers converts a whopping 43% of its visitors to sales. While the nature of its customers – such as husbands who need a last-minute gift when they forgot their anniversary – certainly influences that number, 43% is huge by any standard. Not surprisingly, ProFlowers uses A/B testing regularly. For instance, during the recent Mother’s Day holiday, ProFlowers ran these four separate landing pages against one another:

ab-test-proflowers-thumb.png
(click for a much larger version: 1607 x 457 pixels; about 1MB)

If you look closely, you can see they only changed the middle section – below the header and above the product listings – trying different versions to drive improved conversion. This image calls out what changed:

ab-test-proflowers-marked-up-thumb.png
(click for a much larger version: 1607 x 457 pixels; about 1MB)

So, what did they test?

  • Messages – Two of the four pages (the champion and the first challenger) focus more on savings. Note how prominent the “Free Glass Vase” and “Featured Offer” are in the first two. By contrast, the second pair focus more on ProFlowers’ quality, making the Guarantee message more prominent in each.
  • Layout – Take note of where the “Free Glass Vase” and Guarantee messages appear on the landing pages.

This is very consistent with our list of what to test first and the 6 simple rules of online/offline merchandising, but shows it in a real world context.

Since ProFlowers ran this as a limited-time test, it’s likely you’ll see the winning design more prominent in their future landing pages. At the same time, don’t be surprised if you don’t. ProFlowers didn’t get to a 43% conversion rate by resting on their… laurels. Their most recent promotion is also a test, showing that ProFlowers using a continuous improvement process to further increase conversion. So, here’s the real question: why aren’t you?



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Tim Peter

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June 16, 2009

Feeling lucky? Is it the right time to take some risks?

June 16, 2009 | By | No Comments

Managing risk in troubled times courtesy of lumaxart via FlickrAs told by Peter Bernstein in his classic, “Against the Gods”, no less an observer of economics than Adam Smith himself understood that that:
“…[while] risk propelled economic progress….society would suffer when that propensity ran amuck.” So, why – in the midst of this current example of “propensity run amuck” – is BusinessWeek offering a detailed look at companies willing to take risks in a recession? Have they observed something we don’t know?

It sure looks that way.

Despite the obvious challenges this period presents, it also creates opportunities to gain market share and compete in a less crowded marketplace. Money quote:

“…Audi, is boosting its U.S. ad budget by as much as 20% this year as U.S. rivals pull back on ads. “When the clutter is dying down, our message can be very, very visible,” says Johan de Nysschen, executive vice-president at Audi of America.”

While I initially mocked Microsoft’s excessive ad blitz for its new search engine (oh, and here), Microsoft’s Bing – and especially that excessive ad blitz – shows the company is willing to invest in a down economy to try and steal share from a dominant competitor. Does it have Google running scared? Eh. Maybe, maybe not. And I’m not sure you need to worry about Bing one way or the other. But, again, you’ve got to be impressed by their aggressive moves to capture share in a down market.

So how can you take advantage of this buying opportunity? Well, while Nassim Nicholas Taleb might disagree whether such a thing as “risk management” exists, there’s no question you can look for opportunities to limit your downside risk. My favorite way? Testing. If you’re not sure whether something will work, roll it out to a segment of your customers first, then move forward based on the results of the test.

Some – admittedly tired – maxims provide guidance: Buy low, sell high; Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Cliches? Certainly. But how do you think they got to be cliches? Think of it this way: isn’t sitting on the sidelines risking market share to willing competitors putting your eggs in a single basket of a different sort?

What do you think? Is this a time for retrenchment? Is it too risky to make a move? Or have we reached the point where some calculated risks can work to your advantage? Tell us what you think in the comments.



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Image credit: lumaxart via Flickr using Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

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Tim Peter

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June 12, 2009

6 down and dirty e-marketing tips (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – June 12, 2009)

June 12, 2009 | By | No Comments

Your time is at a premium. You know it. I know it. So today, we’re going to dispense with the formalities and just answer some basic questions. Simply put, can you get business from Twitter? Can you turn traffic into sales? Can you connect with your customers more completely? Can I ask any more questions? Read on and see.

That’s it for this week folks. Enjoy your weekend and get ready to rock and roll next week.



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Tim Peter

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March 23, 2009

How much testing is too much testing?

March 23, 2009 | By | No Comments

How much testing is too much?

Testing vs. design
When are designers right? When are engineers? How do you know how much testing is too much? Designer Douglas Bowman announced his decision to leave Google last week, largely for this reason:

“Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.”

Shortly after Bowan’s announcement, such diverse outlets as Jeffrey Zeldman, Joe Clark and CNNMoney’s Jon Fortt questioned whether Google’s process is killing design (or as Jeffrey Veffer calls it “Design”). Clark goes so far as to suggest Google smothers designers.

Nonsense. Ignore this noise. While “form vs. function” or “design vs. engineering” makes for a great “religious debate,” ultimately it’s pointless. Great designers can help you be successful. So can great engineers. And when they work well together, truly amazing things can happen. But, not testing the work of either can lead you to failure. Falling into the trap of either/or is a poor decision. Making this an “x vs. y” ignores the power of great design AND testing.

Y’see, the flaw in this gnashing of teeth around the web is that the folks jumping all over Google on this one seem to assume only one path leads to success. Either you have a great designer or you’re doomed to failure. Many people point to Steve Jobs’ passion for design fueling Apple’s turnaround – and rightfully so. But, despite its (supposed) lack of design savvy, Google seems to be doing pretty well for itself despite how few design gurus are throwing parades in its honor.

Jeffrey Veffer points out,

“…this is not design (or “Design”) that is the equivalent to window dressing or chrome or garish menus, but really a holistic approach to approaching problems… [Bill Buxton] mentioned that design is probably the “most negative” profession out there as it required a continual progression from a blank sheet of paper (millions of possibilities) to exactly one, with all the rest being thrown out!” [emphasis mine]

Isn’t A/B testing one way of throwing out possibilities? And isn’t A/B testing within the reach of most businesses?

Think about this. The number of conversion actions you need to see to have a statistically significant sample for a given improvement looks like this:

SampleImprovement Size
10020%
1,0006.3%
10,0002%
100,0000.63%

(Source: Tim Ash, “Landing Page Optimization”)

So, sure, testing 41 shades of blue is overkill. For you. But not necessarily for Google. Given Google’s 140 million unique visitors monthly, about how long do you think it would take Google to test 41 shades of blue and get 100,000 samples each? Not long at all. And given that 0.63% of Google’s Q4 revenues equals about $36 million, it might make sense for them.

Who knows? Maybe with the additional revenue Google makes from this test, they can afford to hire more designers.

My point here isn’t to defend Google. They can defend themselves. Nor is it to criticize Bowman; he can – and should – work for whomever he chooses, using whatever methodologies suit him.

The point is that testing works. I’ve tested major changes – loved by designers – that had little effect. I’ve tested minor tweaks – despised by engineers – that drove big lifts in revenues. But we only knew what worked and what didn’t because we tested. Companies that work towards an optimization culture get the best results from both their designers AND their engineers. Anything less is a sucker’s bet.

Disagree? Think designers are nuts and engineers know best? Or vice versa? Don’t be shy. Tell me what you think in the comments below.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Image credit: Scott Schram via Flickr using Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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Tim Peter

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December 24, 2008

Reader's choice: Top posts of 2008. Now with bonus content.

December 24, 2008 | By | No Comments

As we’re winding down the last days of the year, it’s useful to look back and see what mattered most during the last 12 months. According to you, Big thinkers, here are the best posts of 2008.

Internet Marketing and E-commerce

Lots of you looked for answers to online marketing, internet strategy and e-commerce questions. These three posts generated more traffic and comments than any others in this category:

Twitter

You all know how important Twitter is to our business here at thinks. So it’s no surprise that you enjoyed these posts about Twitter:

Web Analytics and Testing

Of course, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Here are the top web analytics and testing posts from 2008:

Hosting

And, you can’t manage or measure your online business if you don’t have a web site. These 3 popular posts explained different ways to get one.

Customer Service

Many times, the web is just the first step in engaging your customers. This story showed another way to do it:

Bonus content

Finally, while these posts didn’t always get the most traffic, other metrics (low bounce rate, low exit rate, high subscription rate), suggest you really liked them. So, for those of you who missed them the first time through, here are the most engaging posts of 2008:

Enjoy!


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Tim Peter

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December 17, 2008

How do you know what to test first in A/B tests?

December 17, 2008 | By | 9 Comments

Understanding what drives your customers makes all the difference between converting a sale and seeing your site visitors vanish. And, as we looked at last week, nothing works better than A/B testing to find out what your customers will respond to. But, Jake Stein asked a great question: How do you know what to test first?

Jake highlights a clear challenge. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the array of options. Just to show what’s possible, our good friend Linda Bustos over at Get Elastic listed dozens of Add to Cart buttons. And that’s just one element on the page. How can anyone be expected to zero in on the one, true thing that will make all the difference for your business?

Well, for starters, stop stressing. Improving your site typically involves a series of incremental steps. There’s no wrong thing to test. Yes, some steps are “right-er” than others. But for those, we’ve got you covered. How?

  1. Make sure you know which page to A/B test. (For past tips, see GrokDotCom and past thinks coverage here and here
  2. The best tests are the most common actions tied to your customers’ intent.

Well, duh, right? And how are you supposed to know what those are? Actually, it’s pretty easy. Your customers tell you every day.

Your keyword data is, well, key. There’s no better place to start than by listening to what your customers are already telling you. If you’ve got on-site search, look at the search terms your customers type. If not, check your terms from Google, Yahoo and the rest. These terms should help you figure out what your customers want. If you think about it, Google likely wouldn’t have its dominant position without its deep understanding about what drives customer behavior online. Whether they gather the information through their search engine, Google Analytics, Docs, Gmail and the rest, they’re constantly collecting useful information about what customers want, then putting that to use. Why not steal from the best?

Once you have your customers’ keywords in hand, you should look at one of these 3 places to improve your site:

  1. Call-to-action. Every page on your site should have a call to action. And it doesn’t always have to be “buy now,” or “add to cart,” either. It could be, “Get more information,” “Subscribe to feed,” “What’s next?” or many others. We’ve looked at this before. Remember Alec Baldwin’s infamous “Put. That. Coffee. Down.” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross? You’ve got to “Always Be Closing.”
  2. Headlines. Bryan Eisenberg refers to “leaving a scent trail” for your customers, based on what they expect to find (see keywords above). And since Fitt’s Law says “Bigger is better” (I’m paraphrasing. ‘Cause, really, who likes math that much?), what better way to mark the trail than the biggest words on your page? Your headlines supposedly speak right to what your customers care about. Do they?
  3. Benefit statement. We live in a WIIFM World. That is, customers always ask, “What’s In It For Me.” How clearly do you explain exactly what is in it for your customer? If you’ve tried improving your call-to-action and your headlines to no effect, it’s time to start telling your customers explicitly why they should buy from you.

Since every site is different, it’s impossible to say which will drive the biggest benefit for your site, but, the order listed isn’t a bad way to start. If you’ve got the traffic to support true multivariate testing, you could test all three at once. If not, use the suggested order and see what happens.

Need more information about what, when and how to test? GrokDotCom has a great list of 64 tips for getting started with Google’s Website Optimizer that’s well worth the read.

Still need more?!? Wow. Dude. You’re hardcore. OK. Then check out testing guru Bryan Eisenberg’s Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer, Tim Ash’s Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions
and Get Elastic’s blog every day for great posts like this one.


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