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Build a Better Web Site

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Photo: David Croxford

Just because your Web site looks good, doesn’t mean it works.

That’s what John MacDonald, interactive commerce manager for Outrigger Enterprise Group, learned after Outrigger won a contest to become one of just four companies worldwide chosen to demonstrate the new Google Website Optimizer, a free program on Google Apps.

GWO is a way to test your site’s performance. It lets you easily create multiple versions of your Web site, varying features such as layout or the choice of images. By adding short scripts of HTML code, GWO directs visitors randomly to the different versions of your Web site. This lets you see which version produces the highest conversion rate — the most sales or reservations, for example. The program allows for simple, A/B testing — perhaps comparing the success of one photo to another — or more sophisticated, multivariate testing. For Outrigger, and most of the other contest winners, the results were surprising.

Photo: David Croxford

According to MacDonald, a few modest changes to the Outrigger homepage resulted in a 6 percent to 7 percent improvement in conversions, which Outrigger defined as getting a visitor into the booking path. Other companies had similar results. In almost every case, the design that people thought would win was outperformed by a simpler, less impressive version. In fact, GWO demonstrated that something as basic as changing the color of a button can have a measurable impact on a Web site’s conversion rate. “It’s not intuitive,” says MacDonald, “but a pretty page is not necessarily the best performing page.” He notes that this counter-intuitiveness is what makes GWO testing so valuable. “That’s where the left brain meets the right brain.”

Although one benefit of winning the contest was that Outrigger got a lot of free advice from Wider Funnel, a Web site developer and Google partner, MacDonald notes that GWO is simple to use. “We could easily have done these tests without Wider Funnel,” he says. “They just lead us through the process more quickly.” In any case, he’s sold on the value of GWO testing. “I would highly recommend it.”

Watch a video of Web site testing by Outrigger and the other winners at .

 

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Hawaii Business,May