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Google Optimizer: free tool to increase sign-ups, donations or anything else on your site

Lori Halley 31 July 2007 5 comments

Google has recently released a new product: a testing tool called Website Optimizer to help sites maximize conversion rates. It's a powerful tool and completely FREE (these tools used to cost big $$$).

At its simplest, Website Optimizer helps you test and measure different web page headlines, graphics and copy against each other. A good website is not the one that uses the fanciest technology or with the coolest design - but the one that does the best job motivating its visitors to take the action you want them to take. Submitting a donation, signing up for membership are some examples of such actions. Your conversion ratio is number of people doing that divided by total number of website visitors. Obviously, the higher this number, the better is your website doing its job. Most non-profit websites have very dismal conversion ratios (fractions of 1 percent).

Now any blogger, webmaster or non-profit organization who wants to know how the pages on their site perform in terms of conversion, can now do so with the help of Google.

Whether you want your visitors to find their way to your donation page, fill out your email newsletter subscription form, get to your blog page, here is a service that is going to be of a lot of interest to you, not least because it is totally free.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the process of setting up and performing your first test using Google's Website Optimizer tool and put them to use in your organization. 

Before you use the Website Optimizer tool, you'll need to have a Google AdWords account (you do not have to actually spend money on an AdWords campaign).

Sign in to your Adwords account at http://adwords.google.com/, selecting the Campaign management tab and choosing the Website Optimizer tab. If this is your first time accessing the tool, click the Get started button to continue. You'll reach the Experiment List page, which displays a summary of all your experiments. Again, if this is your first test, your list will be empty. Click create new experiment to start setting up your test.

Choose your test page:

The first thing you need to do is to identify a web page you want to test. This is the page that you'll be optimizing by making changes with Website Optimizer. As an example, let's say you are going to test your donation page.

Second, you have to define what is the action that you want your visitor to take. For example, let’s say you are going to test your donation page, then the action your visitors will take will be to make a donation. 

This action determines your conversion page. Conversion page is an indicator that this visitor did take the desired action. For a donation form, this will be a "thank-you-for-your-donation" page.

To repeat, the Conversion page is the page your visitor gets to once they've taken the action you want them to take (make a donation) on your Test Page (Donation page).

Pick which parts of the page ('content') you want to test and create variations:

Once you have identified your test page and conversion page, decide what parts you want to experiment with (so-called sections). Keep in mind that the number of page sections and variations you test is limited by the amount of traffic you receive. Start small.

Going back to the donation page example, your page can have many elements. E.g. headings, text, paragraphs, pictures. The idea is to select one or several sections (say, heading and banner) and create variations for each one. So we have headline options A, B, C, D and banner options 1, 2, 3, 4. Let's say your current web page has a headline "Please donate" and shows a picture of a child. Let's call this combination A1.

Now come up with variations, for example: "Your donations will help to do X", "Our organization has been around for YY years" and different pictures - a picture of your team, a picture of a donor etc.

Here are some examples:

Variation 1


Variation 2:

Variation 3

You are ready to set up your experiment.

Setting Up the Test

When you choose to create a new experiment, a wizard guides you through the process step-by-step. This process involves:

1. Identifying the pages to be tested

First, you'll need to provide three pieces of information here:

Experiment name: Enter a name for your experiment, for example "Donation Page Experiment".

Test page: Enter the URL of the test page you chose earlier.

Conversion page: Enter the URL of the conversion page you chose.

2. Adding tags

Next up comes the adding of tags to your experiment pages. Tags are added first to both the test page and destination page, and then added to each individual layout element that will be varied in the experiment. It is here that some users may wish to delegate the code copying and pasting to their webmaster if they are not so proficient in wrangling with HTML.

3. Creating variants

Once your tags have been validated from the Website Optimizer control panel, you can now go about creating your key content variations. Using your original content as a basis, you can now set about creating as many variations as you see fit, bearing in mind that the more variations you create, the longer your experiment is likely to take. Variations are created directly in the HTML code, so that you can dip in and change text content, size and color, image source and any other variables you might come up with. These previews can then be previewed from the control panel.

4. Reviewing settings

Finally, you'll need to quickly check that your URLs are correct, check which variations are going to take place, and then activate the whole works and put it out live on your site. Now for every visitor Google Optimizer will show random different combinations: A1, B1, C3, B4, A3 etc. and start counting number of successes for each combination. After that, it is really just a waiting game.

Review test setting and launch

Make sure the experiment is set up as you'd like, then click the button to begin running the experiment. As you accumulate data, Google Optimizer will use complex stats math to show which combination looks the most effective and how they compare with each other.

Analyzing your Results

When your test is completed you are presented with a lot of useful report data to work with. Reports come in two ways: 

1. Page Section reports - these reports give you exact details of the individual items you have been playing with in your tests, so that you can see, for example, how well one headline performed versus the alternatives you had selected.

2. Combinations report - this report shows you exactly which combination of page section elements proved most effective in terms of conversions.

Now you can make the conclusion that Combination 11 worked the best and has 99% chance to improve the original setup by 24.9%! 

Additional Resources

To learn more about Google Website Optimizer, here are a few links you might want to check out:

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 31 July 2007 at 9:00 AM


  • Michele Martin said:

    Tuesday, 31 July 2007 at 10:36 AM

    Great article, Soha and thanks for taking the time for the step-by-step. Really helpful! Now I just have to find the time to do some experimenting. . .

  • Asad said:

    Tuesday, 31 July 2007 at 2:17 PM

    Thanks for the post, I know some people that might benefit from this. You should add some email this functionality to the posts so that it would be easy to forward it. Also some digg this, and add to del.icio.us buttons.

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 31 July 2007 at 4:00 PM

    Asad, you are reading our minds :-)

    We are testing these features right now, should be added shortly (digg/delicious/email to friend)

    Dmitry Buterin

  • CoffeeGuy said:

    Friday, 03 August 2007 at 1:32 PM

    Great post.  My favorite feature is the whole page split testing.  Prob come in handy for some of the smaller sites out there.


  • TechSoup Blog said:

    Thursday, 09 July 2009 at 2:29 PM

    Do you know about Google's Website Optimizer? It's a free tool that allows you to test how different versions of the same web page perform. The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a brief article (subscription required) describing how the Leukemia and

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