The Golden Age of Conversion Testing

Anyone who makes their living online will readily agree that Web success doesn't come without hard work and constant awareness of the virtual landscape.

The biggest challenge most of us face is the rapidly changing nature of the technologies and strategies that we incorporate into our daily routines, and in no area of Web work is this more true than design and development.

Working on the Web in a design/development role means adapting to new situations and going well beyond creating functional sites that please the eye. Much time is spent trying to keep up with the constant evolution of the growing organism that is a website, and a major aspect of the process today should include testing how specific elements of a site's design impact a business' objectives and how they can be improved to increase conversions.

First impressions are everything

There's no doubt that Web success, at least in part, hinges on the visual elements of a site. And, like it or not, most users are going to judge your business from their very first impression of the website.

"Design is critical because half of our brain is devoted to visual processes," says Tim Ash, CEO of conversion rate optimization firm SiteTuners. "How a page looks and how we perceive it is key."

Users will form an impression about a Web page in only a fraction of a second, so it's largely up to the design of that page to gain their trust almost immediately. The best way to do this, says Ash, is to keep it simple.

"As an aesthetic choice, we tend to favor bland, boring sites," he says. "When a site has flashy design elements, they have to compete for attention."

Where to begin

To eliminate the competition for users' attention that Ash speaks of, successful website designs highlight the most important elements of each page. But the challenge for designers, of course, is that identifying what is most important to users is like trying to hit a moving target.

"In this day and age, users have moved beyond a need for images and graphics," says Eric Hansen, CEO of website testing and optimization firm SiteSpect. "The aesthetic appeal is not as important as compelling copy is today. Designers should focus on cues that will visually help identify content so that they know what to read more in-depth."

But how can website owners and designers really know which elements of their designs are having the greatest impact on conversion rates? The answer, of course, lies in conversion testing. Business owners and website designers should identify approximately 5 to 10 design elements that are most influential to converting visitors, and then focus on continually refining and improving those aspects through testing. There is no way to know which parts of your website impact conversions without testing, and every minute they go ignored is money lost from the business' bottom line.

So, where do you begin? It depends on what your website is trying to achieve, according to Mark Simpson, president of multivariate testing, personalization and optimization firm Maxymiser.

"When deciding what to test, when and how, it's important to keep the business goals top-of-mind," explains Simpson. "High-traffic areas and revenue/conversion generators like landing pages, search results and, most importantly, checkouts should be a priority."

Regardless of where a company begins, the goal is to test different versions of the various elements that users will encounter along the path to purchase, determine which ones produce the highest conversions to gauge customers' most pressing wants and needs, and then use that information to further optimize those elements.

Where to look for help

So, where should businesses turn to for help with conversion testing? There are numerous options available, but your decision may depend on what kind of testing you're going to conduct.

A/B testing uses two versions of a live Web page in which one specific variable is different on each page to determine which one performs better and thus which will appear in the final design. Multivariate testing is a method that simultaneously examines multiple elements of a Web page at once to see how a larger variety of combinations compare and influence one another to impact conversion rates.

Maxymiser offers an A/B and multivariate testing tool with personalization solutions for segmentation, behavioral marketing and product recommendations for Web and mobile sites. Called MaxTEST, the solution serves multiple variants of content and structure to site visitors while monitoring and measuring the impact each option has on conversion rates and revenue.

SiteTuners offers a product called AttentionWizard, a tool that works like a heatmap without requiring companies to put their sites in front of users. By leveraging data gathered from brain studies, AttentionWizard can predict where users will look when they arrive at a website, allowing designers to gain insights on branding, colors, images, layout and buttons, and use this information to better meet the company's business goals.

Being successful in Web business requires being highly adaptable, and designers have to embrace this trait as much as anyone else in the industry. And the only way to take full advantage of a fluid website design team is to be constantly testing for the hot or cold spots that affect conversions and, ultimately, the success of your business.