Taking Advantage of Google’s Website Optimizer

As an SEO, one of the main objectives of my job is to drive traffic to websites.  Content, linkbuilding, and traditional SEO are all among the techniques you can use to help you increase traffic and sales.  At the same time, you can also use conversion rate optimization to help you increase each visitor’s value and get the most bang for your buck.

Conversion rate optimization focuses on making your website more effective at getting visitors to perform desired actions.  Whether you want a visitor to download an eBook, sign up for a newsletter, purchase a product, or just move on to another page, conversion rate optimization puts buttons, text, and images in the right place, at the right size, and in the right color to induce a greater number of conversions.

While there are some fairly reliable rules for conversion rate optimization (use white space wisely, make your button contrast with the rest of your website colors and jump out) what exactly works for your site will vary.  After all, each site has its own layout and objectives.  Fortunately, you can figure out what works by testing your tweaks and layouts against one another as part of A/B or multivariate testing.  Google’s recent incorporation of their free testing product, Google Website Optimizer, into Google Analytics has made this easier than ever.

To use Website Optimizer (now called Content Experiments) log in to Analytics and make sure you are on the Standard Reporting dashboard.  Click on Content and you’ll notice a new tab for Experiments.

This is where you find Google's Content Experiments in Analytics

To set up your Experiment, you’ll have to create Goals in Analytics (or use existing ones).  If you want to increase the number of visitors who submit a Contact form, for example, you will need a Goal that tracks how many visitors get to the Thank You page that appears when you submit your Contact form.  If this is already set up, you can move on, if not, establish your Goal (visit here for official instructions from Google on Goal setup).

Now let’s say you want to figure out if a layout of your homepage with a different “Contact Us” button performs better than your current homepage.  Testing this out with Content Experiments is easy.

First, create a page on your website with the new layout that you would like to test and name it (let’s call it yoursite.com/test.html).  Once you have the URL, you plug it and the control page (the version of the homepage that is currently live on your site) into Content Experiments.Choose experiment type in Website Optimizer

As you can see, if you have other variations you’d like to test, you can.  Plug in up to 5 variations of the page you are testing against.

Once this is done, you select the Goal you are using for the experiment (in this example, how many people get to a contact form’s Thank You page), and how many of your Visitors you want included (50%, 100%, etc.).  At this point, depending on your familiarity with coding, you may need to contact your developer, hosting company, or SEO company (hi!) to install some tracking code on your site.  With new Content Experiments, the amount of code required for installation is extremely small, and Google will auto-generate it for you.

Once your code is setup and validated, your Experiment is ready to go!  Visitors participating in your experiment will be randomly served either your original page or one of the variations you provided.  Google will then track which of the variations is the most successful at meeting your Goal.  One of the best things about having Content Experiments incorporate into Analytics is that checking in on the Experiment and generating Reports is especially simple.  You’ll be able to see the experiment’s progress as it is running and get a sense as to which page is winning out.Example report from Google's Content Experiment

(Image taken from Google’s Content Experiment setup instructions https://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1745152)

Once the experiment is over, you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision about which version of your homepage is the best.  The winner might surprise you; often our personal design preferences are not necessarily those of others, and in many cases a site owner can just be too close to their site to see where they are losing visitors.  It may be obvious to you how to download a newsletter or get to the Contact page, but your users may be experiencing some difficulties.  With Content Experiments you can learn a lot about your visitors and improve your site’s usability.  And now with Context Experiments integrated into Analytics, it’s never been easier to set up an Experiment or access the data.  What’s not to like?

It’s Back To School Season, Is Your Account Ready?

In a few short weeks, the back-to-school frenzy will begin. Parents and students will be on the prowl for the newest “must have” items such as trendy folders, writing accessories, apparel, electronics and more. With the years’ second largest shopping season on the horizon and an approximate $70 billion to be spent during the next few months, how do make sure your site is ready?

Follow the tips below to keep guests onsite longer and sell, sell, sell during the busy back-to-school weeks:

Add New Keywords:  Research new keywords for your pay-per-click campaign. Try using specific products and model numbers in order to capture those already searching for your products. Then, keep costs down and relevancy high by utilizing different match types and adding expanding negative keyword lists.

Try Including Promos In Ad Text:  Attract the attention of penny-savers by promoting sales and specials in the ad text. Remember, parents aren’t the only back-to-school shoppers in the family so get creative to catch the attention of teens, tweens and college students alike.

Target Smartphones: In 2011, 27% of shoppers compared prices directly on their smartphone during the back-to-school season. Give yourself a competitive edge by creating a mobile targeted campaign. Be sure to offer special incentives and bid wisely to keep ads “above the fold.” Doing so could entice in-store comparison shoppers to abandon their real life shopping carts and purchase directly from their mobile device.

Have Fun With Your Landing PageCreate a unique landing page showcasing products, prices and popular items. Then, segment sections of the page into different audiences such as parents, elementary, high school and college students in order to develop customized shopping paths for each.

Experiment With Remarketing: Capture the attention of previous buyers or those who abandoned their shopping carts through a remarketing campaign. Placing a simple code on your site can track those shoppers and enable you to target them with unique ads encouraging them to complete a purchase or even buy more.

Utilize Your Fan Base: Encourage your existing fan base to purchase items from your website by engaging them on popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+. Try offering exclusive incentives, fun contests and more to get the conversation flowing and eventually feet in the “door” and onto your website.

Not sure how to implement these suggestions on your own? That’s why we’re here! Be sure to speak with an Account Manager today to prepare your online marketing efforts in time for the back-to-school rush.

Base 2011: Back to School Survey 5/12/11-5/19/11

PriceGrabber.com Back to School Survey

Are You Ready for the Google Shopping Experience?

Google, the leading search engine, is always on the brink of new inventions and changes. And now is no exception. Starting this fall, Google Product Search (once upon a time called Froogle) will be discontinued and will become Google Shopping. The name change, however, is not what has many current users worried. Google’s decision to shift their free product listings model entirely to an all-paid model comes as a surprise to many.

Why is Google shifting to a commercial model?

Google aims to simplify the shopping process by building relationships with merchants and creating a better shopping experience for users. This means encouraging merchants to take advantage of the product listing features through Google AdWords and as a result generating “higher quality data” to drive more traffic. Transparent, quality data will allow customers to eliminate additional steps in their purchasing cycle. Users will be able to research products, compare prices and connect directly to merchants through Google’s Shopping Listing Ads.  Google believes that by implementing a cost-per-click (CPC) model for product listings, they will be better able to monitor the quality of information and provide more trustworthy data.

What does this mean for current users of Google Merchant Center/Product Search?

Those who have used Google’s free listings will now have to shift to Google AdWords, in addition to their Merchant Center account, if they want to continue listing with Google. If merchants want to remain part of Google’s Shopping search engine they will need to pay.

How is Google getting merchants on board?

Hoping to entice merchants and smooth the transition, Google is offering the following incentives:

  • All merchants that create Product Listings Ads by August 15 will receive 10% credit for their total PLA spend through the end of the year
  • Existing Google Product Search merchants will get a $100 AdWords credit if they fill out a form (found here: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/shoppingcoupon/) before August 15

Google Trusted Stores program

To improve the quality of customer service, Google is implementing the Trusted Stores Program. Merchants qualify for this program by meeting certain shipping and customer services performance metrics and are rewarded with the Google Trusted Store badge to display on their Web site. These badges will reassure customers that only the best merchants are part of Google Shopping network.

Furthermore, Google will also offer customers a chance to opt in their Free Purchase Protection Program. This program will allow customers to resolve issues with retailers with Google’s help. Learn more about this program here: https://support.google.com/trustedstores/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1669901

What Google Shopping Listings will look like:

Google shopping listings example

How individual product listing details might look like on the sidebar:

“Today’s changes are a first step toward providing technology, tools and traffic to help power the retail ecosystem, “said Sameer Samat, Vice President of Product Management for Google Shopping.

What Makes a Quality Site According to Matt Cutts

The head of Google’s Search Spam team, Matt Cutts, was recently interviewed by Eric Enge on the subject of “What Makes a Quality Site.”  It’s a good quick read that should get you thinking about how you can improve your site and thus generate more traffic.  Written below is what I got from it.

We know that everybody with a website wants to rank higher in Google to generate additional traffic to their site.  And they want to accomplish the higher rankings as soon as possible and with the least amount of effort.  While in the past it has been quite easy to accomplish this by taking advantage of certain loopholes and ranking indicators, Google is working to make it more difficult.  And this upsets a lot of webmasters.

“Why should I have to work harder for something that was so easy in the past?”

The overarching reason for this is because Google’s search results serve up a lot of spammy, repetitive websites built to manipulate the results.  Pushing for sites to strive for quality is a way ‘to improve the quality of search results’.

What can we take away from this interview to help improve our sites?

  1. Rather than regurgitating the same content that already exists, work to bring additional value.
  2. Focus on what differentiates you.  Describe what makes you special.  This can be difficult for e-commerce sites that sell the same products as many other sites – get creative.  See number 1 above.
  3. Focus on distinguishing yourself in a niche area before going head-to-head with the big players.  If you follow the above steps, your unique content has a good chance at cracking the first page because Google values diversity in the search results.
  4. SEO isn’t really about ‘link building’.  Yes, acquiring links to your site helps achieve rankings but focus your efforts at a higher level.  Approach this at the PR/marketing level and you’ll avoid wasting time seeking out useless links.
  5. Infographics and other types of link bait might soon be devalued by Google.  This is yet another effort that has been used to garner a large quantity of links and thus used to manipulate search results.  While some/many infographics are useful and of high quality, there are, according to Google, too many that are unresearched and of low quality.
  6. Sites that have many entry pages, such as restaurants that have locations in many cities, have typically created pages for each city with virtually the same, redundant copy.  Cutts advises to cut the redundancy and replace with more unique content – even if its only 2 or 3 sentences.  Again, see number 1 above.
Creating content that will rank well will likely be less programmatic than it has been in the past.  While unique content won’t be easy for some sites, especially those with thousands of products, the sites that spend the time to be unique will likely benefit the most.

Google Getting Serious About Mobile

Google has finally released what many users have desired for years; an official Google Analytics mobile app. Additionally, Google Analytics has unleashed Mobile App Analytics beta reports which provide in depth statistics on mobile application activity.

With mobile usage continuing to grow and alter the way that people retrieve information, Google has finally found it expedient to join the mobile app party. Google has been reticent in releasing an official Google Analytics app, but following popular demand the official app hit mobile stores just last week. Google’s objective here is to transfer all the sophistication and thoroughness of the familiar Analytics desktop interface seamlessly into a mobile optimized display. However the space is certainly not untapped, as there are already plenty of apps in the Google Play store that show reports using the Analytics API. In fact, a few of these apps have grown quite popular and boast 4 and 5 star ratings. In the few days that it has been available the official Analytics app currently holds an average rating of 3.8, with much of the criticism regarding dearth of information, unfriendly interface, and a general notion that it is just “not there yet.”

The unimpressive initial reviews are not that surprising; Google has a history of hastily releasing products that are not at full potential. They also have a tendency to make rapid updates and improvements to products, so I would expect the reviews to become more positive over time. Nevertheless, this release underscores the increasing prevalence of mobile across the world.

The app release is also concomitant with Mobile App Analytics beta, which leaves one thinking that maybe this was the actual impetus for the Analytics app. Again highlighting the ubiquity of mobile, mobile app developers and marketers alike can now view in depth reports on visitor activity within mobile applications via the Google Analytics interface. The reports come packed with data goodies such as downloads, new users, retention, crashes, conversions, app sales, and in-app purchases. These reports can really assist developers in gaining a robust understanding of the consumer journey within their apps, and applying data-driven actions to ameliorate both the user’s experience and the app’s productivity. Discover where new users are coming from, which sources and devices tend to drive the most in-app conversions, how users navigate throughout their app usage, if and when your app is crashing, and priority areas for troubleshooting.

You can fill out a beta signup form to request whitelist access for the Mobile App Analytics beta for now, and Google anticipates the reports being available to all users by the end of summer.

Perhaps in the near future we’ll have the ability to interpret mobile app data while using the official Google Analytics mobile app on our mobile devices. Now that’s mobile meta.