Google’s Website Optimizer

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Yesterday at the E-metrics Summit in Washington DC, Google launched a new service under their Adwords brand, called Google Website Optimizer. It’s an automated A/B testing/optimization tool for Adwords advertisers to enable them to maximize the conversion rates they get from the keyword campaigns.

In essence, the system allows you to test the effect of changing various attributes of a particular page (the ‘landing’ page) on conversion rates later on in the site. You have to host the landing page on Google’s Pages service, so that they can auto-rotate the various attributes (title, image, body copy etc).

The Optimizer service then runs an ‘experiment’ which involves showing various combinations of the page attributes to a proportion of users, and measuring the associated conversion rates. Once Google has decided that they’ve gathered enough data, you can see the results in the following report:

This report shows that ‘Combination 11’ delivers the best up-lift in conversion rate (indicated by the green bar on that line of the report). You can also examine the performance of individual attributes which make up that combination.

So what do I think? Well, it looks neat – though the need to host your landing pages on Google Pages will limit the appeal. I haven’t actually tried to set it up myself, so I don’t know how easy it is to get going with.

I can see this having a lot of appeal to advertisers, which is where it seems to be targeted – people who are spending money with Google on Adwords and want better value. There’s been some talk that this would really appeal to publishers, but I’m not sure I see that myself – firstly, publisher sites don’t tend to have a well-defined conversion point, and secondly, the success of a publisher’s site can’t be distilled down in this way.

Publishers need to generate enough loyalty and (to use an old-fashioned term) ‘stickiness’ on their site to ensure (if this is their revenue model) that people will eventually see an ad that appeals to them, and click it. Plus, publishers need to understand how the actual content of their articles generates click-out behaviour on ads they’re hosting – this kind of service will help them to understand the best generic kinds of content, but not the specific content that works best.

So it’ll be interesting to see how the take-up of this service goes. And it’s very interesting for us folks at Microsoft to understand where Google’s focus is when it comes to web analytics.

2 thoughts on “Google’s Website Optimizer”

  1. Hey Ian – Congratulations on your new role at MS.
    Just a small correction on this post here…
    For the WSO, you do not need to host the landing page with Google. You simply use javascript snippets embeded into your landing page to control the content that is delivered from Google.
    It works in a very similar way to using Adsense on your web site. The javascript controls the content of a specific area on your page – inserting ads from the Adsense network in this example, or different content for WSO.

  2. Brian,
    Thanks for correcting me on that – that makes a big difference. Much of the chatter I’d read online about WSO had focused on the perception that you had to host the landing pages with Google; not having to makes the service a lot more appealing.

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