Back in High School, I was a Lieutenant in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (Go Eagle Battalion!). Class leaders had a lot of fun during uniform inspection time, as well as during drill and ceremony time. We would routinely shout out several commands and instructions to our particular platoons during each class hour, which also included several popular sayings within our corps. These included (but definitely were not limited to):
“NINE to the front, and SIX to the rear!” – A reference to the length and distance of your arm swing during marching;
“Get in STEP [Cadet’s Rank and Last Name]!!” – During marching, this would be sounded off to ensure that each cadet’s step would precisely match every other cadet’s step. If every cadet stepped with their right foot, the cadet that stepped with their left foot would stick out like a sore thumb;
“Move the RIFLE around your head, not your HEAD around the rifle!” – My personal favorite during drill and ceremony with our Springfield M-1903’s;
“If you are not double-timing it, you are WRONG!” – You can replace “double-timing it” with any number of different instructions or tidbits of information to convey the message that this was a team effort, and you were wrong if you weren’t participating like everyone else.
We can take that last saying and apply it to testing and experimentation on the web. If you have a website and a marketing plan of any kind, it is imperative that you implement a testing and experimentation plan. Why? Because if you are not testing, you are wrong. In today’s internet world, you absolutely need to have some kind of testing strategy where the ultimate goal is to improve your website’s functionality, your lead acquisition process, and your shopping cart, so that you can have even happier customers, create some more returning shoppers, and ultimately make more money.
For starters, it doesn’t matter what you test – just get your feet wet!
If you’ve been thinking about testing, or if this blog post is the first you’ve ever heard of it, know that for right now, it doesn’t really matter what you test. The mere fact that you going to start testing something – anything – is good enough for now. Get your feet wet and get comfortable and familiar with the idea first, before worrying about what types of testing strategies exist or what standard deviation stands for. Pick anything on your homepage to test for a week or two – that picture of a palm tree, that blue “click here” button, or that first paragraph of text. Pick one of those items (only one for now), and make a change to it, upload it live, and see what effect that has on your traffic and your conversion rate over a week or two. Congratulations – you have just tested something!
This testing idea sounds great, but I wish there was a free tool out there that can help me set-up tests or experiments on my website…
Have no fear – Google Website Optimizer is here! Google Website Optimizer (or GWO for short) just recently came out of Beta, and is now available to everyone on the planet for free. GWO affords you the opportunity to create an unlimited amount of experiments, completely controllable and customizable. GWO goes as far as to offer your technical or website programming team a unique set-up page per each experiment, so that they have every piece of code and every instruction necessary to set GWO up for any page on your website.
What types of Experiments can I conduct with Google Website Optimizer?
There are two different types of experiments:
A/B Experiments – Sometimes also referred to as “A/B Split Testing”, this tests one page on your website up against a different version of that same page, to see which page gives you the best possible chance for an increased conversion rate. Rotating your Ads on Google AdWords evenly is a form of A/B testing in the marketing world. This is the same concept, but for a page on your website.
Multivariate Experiments – Sometimes also referred to as “MVT Testing”, this tests different areas of a page on your website (for example, different headers, footers, or product images), to see which combination gives you the best possible chance for an increased conversion rate. This is actually quite an advanced type of test, but Google Website Optimizer makes it easy for all of us.
How long should I run a test for, and what results will Google Website Optimizer show me?
I like the 15-day rule. With 15 days, you get two full weeks, plus that additional day’s worth of information. This could be longer or shorter, depending on the volume of traffic to your website. However, something in the neighborhood of two weeks should be enough time for a proper experiment.
Google Website Optimizer gives you a “Page Sections” report and a “Combinations” report (specifically for your Multivariate Tests) for you to look at. You’ll be able to view the estimated conversion rate range, in both a numerical form and a sliding bar graph, as well as other fancy statistically-oriented metrics, such as “Observed Improvement”, and “Chance to beat Original / Chance to beat All”, allowing you to very quickly see which page version or which page combination is doing the best job of bringing you more conversions.
What if I run a test between my homepage and a new version of my homepage, but the original homepage beats the new homepage – is it back to the drawing board?
Yes, and no. First of all, you’re going to have to become comfortable with the idea that an original page / original combination beating a newer page or newer combination doesn’t equate to an unsuccessful experiment. If you’re able to conduct a fair and unbiased experiment, then the experiment itself is successful, regardless of the outcome of the experiment. Google Website Optimizer runs fair and unbiased experiments, so rest assured that your experiment will be a successful one.
Now, just because your original homepage beat your new homepage, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something that you can use in your next experiment. Keep track of what changes were made on the new homepage, and what was different on the new homepage versus the original homepage. If you only make one or two changes, you’ll have a much easier time in keeping track of exactly what’s making the visitors tick and what’s making them leave your site than you would if you completely re-invented the wheel and made several dozen changes.
Other than the homepage, what other types of pages can I experiment with?
The question should really be “what can’t I experiment with?”. You can and you should experiment with all different types of pages – homepages, about us pages, thank you pages, shopping cart pages, order confirmation pages, and so on. GWO lets you run an unlimited amount of different experiments, and you can also run multiple experiments simultaneously with different parts of your website.
After you’ve started testing, don’t let the novelty of it wear off. Find a way to make testing and experimentation a part of your job. I know, I know – you’re very busy and you have a lot of work to do, and you can’t possibly imagine putting on yet another hat on. But you JUST have to! Otherwise, your competitors will begin to fly right past you and take your customers away from you. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
Try this: every month, pick 1 thing to test. The “Add to Cart” button, the homepage text, the links on your “Thank You” page…anything. In a few months, you will thank yourself, as you will (hopefully) work towards making your website more attractive to your visitors, which should in turn increase every marketers metric, the conversion rate. Even if your conversion rate doesn’t increase, you will at least have started to learn about your visitors – what they like, what they don’t like, and what they react positively or negatively to – which can only help your business.
As advertised in my last blog post, I wanted to show some ways to create an effective Dashboard in Google Analytics, and some of the things that you can do with it. As inspiration, I’m digging through the archives and I’m sourcing a blog post from my favorite blog author, Avinash Kaushik, titled: “Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards“. (Note: he wrote this blog post 2 months before the current version of Google Analytics was released with its customizable dashboard and fancy AJAX-based functionality).
Adding reports to your dashboard.
As I talked about last week, you can add any report to your dashboard in Google Analytics. All you need to do is click on the silver-colored “Add to Dashboard” button, found on almost every report page toward the top-left of the page. After clicking on that button, you’ll get a message across your screen, indicating that the report has been added to the dashboard. Google Analytics will now show a new one of those moveable report windows to your dashboard.
The very important part to understand here is when adding reports to your dashboard, Google Analytics will “save” the exact report view, tab, and options that you had selected before you clicked on “Add to Dashboard”. This is an unbelievable time saver for even quicker access to the exact information that you need, with the segmenting and drill-down options that you had put together. To access that “saved” information, simply click on the “View Report” link toward the bottom of the new report window, and GA will take you there.
Limit yourself to a maximum of six reports!
Six may seem a lot (or not enough, depending on your situation), but the purpose of a dashboard is to isolate the absolute most important elements for you and your business, so that you can get a quick overview that anyone within your organization can look at and understand. Think of this as the front page of your local newspaper – you have your top stories and teasers to other stories found within the newspaper right on the front page. If you want to keep reading further or dive into an individual section (Business, Sports, Classifieds), you’ll have to open up the paper and go there.
Also, when you export the Google Analytics Dashboard to a PDF file, six reports is the maximum number that you can get to fit on one page.
It’s not just about statistics – it’s also about insights.
A common mistake is that people add reports to their dashboard that are mere statistical figures (Visits, Pageviews, Top Content). Try narrowing down your “statistics only” dashboard reports to about 1, at maximum 2. The other four reports should be items that can give you insights (which can then allow you to take action) on your website, your shopping cart, your landing pages, or your blog. Remember, Google Analytics “saves” the exact current view of your report when you click on the “Add to Dashboard” page, so it’s OK to have your report segmented, with a different view and the Ecommerce or Goal Conversion tab on, excluding a certain keyword or traffic source and sorted by the Revenue Column. There’s no rule against it.
The Dashboard isn’t frozen after you create it.
As item #1 of Avinash’s post tells you, your Dashboard isn’t carved in stone after you create it. You can (and should) continue to modify and tweak it over time, as your business evolves and your needs change. You can also create separate dashboards for different people. You can create a dashboard for your CEO, your Marketing Manager, or the new junior analyst you just hired. Simply create a separate log-in for each person, and have at it. (Google Analytics displays the dashboard based on the user log-in. If you’re logged in as the Administrator of your account, changes you make to the dashboard will not appear to other users when they log-in. Also, every log-in email address must be a Google Account first).
Don’t be afraid of a little date-range comparison!
Comparing your current data to data from a previous date-range can give you an idea on how things are going for you. Have your organic conversions from Yahoo increased over time? Has your Cart Abandonment Rate gone down lately? How did you get so much referring traffic from MySpace this month in comparison to last month? You can start to answer these questions by a simple date-range comparison, which we also talked about in last week’s blog post. Once applied, the items on your dashboard will immediately be refreshed with date-range comparisons and context-oriented figures everywhere!
Just have some fun with it.
Finally, if you haven’t really done anything with your dashboard since opening up your Google Analytics account, just go in there and have some fun. Add some different reports, move them around, delete the ones you don’t like, and play with the date-range feature. Pretend you’re a 9 year old kid with a box of 124 Crayola Crayons and miles and miles of fresh, out-of-the-dryer white tablecloth and go to town on the Dashboard. You may surprise yourself on what information you discover about your website by simply playing with your dashboard.
If you keep your dashboard simple, easy to understand, and full of context and insights, you will have created an effective Google Analytics Dashboard, regardless of your industry or business goals.
The Google Analytics Dashboard is the first page that you see when you log-in to your Google Analytics account (well technically it’s the second page, as the first page lists all of your profiles). The Dashboard is the “homepage” of your Google Analytics account, and there’s quite a bit that you can do with it.
The Date Range Tool:
Starting from the top of the page, the first thing that you can control is the Date-Range Tool (or as a Google Engineer told me, the Date-Range “Slider”). That date that you see on your dashboard is the default setting for all Google Analytics profiles – the last 30 days. Clicking on the Date-Range Tool activates the menu:
From here, you can do a few different things. You can click on any individual day in the calendar, to be able to view data for just that single day; you can click on any one of those “half-circle” tabs next to each week to view data for each individual week; or, you can click on the name of any month to view data for that entire month’s time. To choose a specific date-range, click on the first day of your desired date-range, and then click on the last day of your desired date-range. When you’re finished, you can click on the top-right corner of the date-range tool (either on the date itself or the arrow pointing down) to close the menu.
You can also compare any date to a previous date range that is equal in length to what you have selected. First, select your desired date-range. Then, from the drop-down menu under where it says “Comparison”, choose “Date Range”, and you will see the previous date-range become highlighted in bright green. Click on the “Apply” button directly underneath the drop-down menu to enable the date range comparison. Look at what happens to the items on your dashboard:
How fancy! Now, every element of your dashboard, and every element of every other report in Google Analytics, will have this Date-Range comparison enabled. To disable it, simply click into the Date-Range Tool, change from “Date Range” to “Site” in the Comparison drop-down menu, and click on the “Apply” button. You should be back to a single date-range view.
Finally, you can click on the “Timeline” tab within the Date-Range Tool menu to see a trending graph view of the calendar function. You can drag the window back and forth, and you can contract or expand the window by click-and-dragging one of the two silver buttons on either side of the window. It’s a fancier version of the standard calendar view – I’m a boring guy, so I prefer the regular calendar table :).
Export / Email Options:
Your dashboard can be exported to a PDF or an XML file format. All you have to do is click on the “Export” button, which is located towards the top-left of your Dashboard. Once you click on the “Export” button, a sub-menu appears with your two options (Note: for every other report in Google Analytics, you can export in a PDF, XML, CSV, or a TSV file format).
Clicking on the “Email” Button will send you to the Email Management screen, where you can send the report to yourself and other email addresses; enter in a custom Subject and Description Line; and choose the file format which you would like to receive your Dashboard. Or, you can click on the “Schedule” Tab, and have your Dashboard automatically emailed to you daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. You can also choose to enable an automatic date-range comparison in your scheduled report from this tab as well.
If you receive your report in a PDF file format, Google Analytics will not only send you the dashboard, but it will also send you each individual report that you have on your Dashboard at that time (Keep Reading for more on that).
The Trending Graph:
Directly below both the Date-Range Tool and the Export / Email Options, you will see the Trending Graph (how can you miss it? :)) , which is available in almost every report in Google Analytics. With the Trending Graph, you can do a few different things. First, each point on the Trending Graph corresponds to one day – mousing-over any point will display a mini-window with that day’s date, and the number of Visits that occurred on that date. To change what the trending graph is graphing by, click on either “Week” or “Month” towards the right-hand side of the graph, and it will update accordingly.
Now, see where it says “Visits” to the far right of the graph? Click on that little arrow that’s pointing down to enable the Graph Mode menu:
From here, you can change which metric the trending graph is displaying simply by selecting any one of those six metrics listed. The link in the middle, “Compare Two Metrics”, allows you to do just that – compare two different metrics at the same time. The second metric will be represented by an orange-colored line in the trending graph. You can also click on the link to the right, “Compare to Site”, to compare any metric for one individual page or one set of pages against the entire site. This comes in handy when you’re looking at one page, or a group of pages, and want to see how they are doing in comparison to everything (as a whole).
The “Site Usage” Window:
Below the trending graph is the Site Usage window. These six metrics are the very basics of your website’s data. This report window is the only item in the dashboard that you can’t play with (sorry!).
The Report Windows:
Finally, below the Site Usage window is each individual report window. By default, Google Analytics gives you four default Report Windows: Visitors Overview, Traffic Sources Overview, Map Overlay, and Content Overview. When you create a Goal within your profile, Google Analytics adds a fifth window, Goals Overview, and when you enable Ecommerce reporting, it adds a sixth window, Ecommerce Overview.
All of these windows (or widgets, or reports) can be moved around to your liking. Simply click-and-drag the gray heading part of the window, and drop it wherever you’d like. You can also close any report window, thereby removing it from your Dashboard, simply by clicking on the gray “X” on the upper-right hand side. Finally, you can click on “View Report” to be taken to that particular report’s main page.
Any report in Google Analytics is available to be added to your dashboard, which will add one of these report windows for you to play with. This, in essence, “saves” your work, because when you click on the “View Report” link, you will be taken to the same report page with your exact same options that you had enabled or disabled when you clicked on the “Add to Dashboard” button.
Look for a follow-up post next week, where I will talk about creating an effective Google Analytics Dashboard, and what you can do with one.