As a direct marketer, you’ve tested print and e-mail, but have you used multivariate testing on your website? In a multivariate test, variations of your site’s content are presented to visitors, whose behavior is tracked to determine how each content variation affects your marketing goals, such as conversions and registrations.
While multivariate testing is an effective and proven technique for optimizing a site, some sites can be made easier to test than others. Doing so will help you out-test, out-learn and out-optimize your competitors.
Here are three tips to prepare your site for multivariate testing success, which represent the fundamentals of making content testable:
1. Use cascading style sheets (CSS)
CSS is a popular choice for Web design consistency and standardization, and that’s great news for multivariate testing. Among other things, CSS centralizes site-wide styles such as text and headline specifications (font, style, color, size), page layout, and positioning of elements. So when you make a CSS change, you change it in one place and the style is updated everywhere on the site. This makes it much easier to test multiple variations of site elements, because you don’t have to wrestle with changes in multiple places.
For example, a recent test for a B-to-B site revealed that by increasing the font size of copy by 20 percent, the time-per-visit increased by 21 percent and pageviews-per-visit increased by 18 percent. This test was highly fruitful, and because only one line of CSS was changed, it was very easy to design and deploy.
2. Employ text-oriented navigation
In the past Web designers often relied on images or Flash for navigation text elements, particularly for sites that were built before 2004-2005; browser technology was such that CSS couldn’t be relied on for precise positioning or stylization of text and labels. Unfortunately, using images or Flash for navigation has the side effect of making it difficult to test alternate text labels—for example, to test “My Preferences” vs. “My Profile” vs. “My Settings.” In the last few years, however, browsers have become much better at supporting most CSS standards, so there’s little reason anymore to rely on images or Flash for navigation. Text links are much easier to modify and control, and thus are much easier to test and optimize.
3. Apply fluid design
Another important tip to keep in mind is to use fluid design wherever possible. Fluid design is a general approach where a site’s elements can be added, removed or rearranged without interrupting or breaking the layout of the surrounding content. Besides being a good design principle that makes the site more accessible across varying screen sizes, fluid design makes multivariate testing much easier because you can determine which layout is most effective.
The truth about layout is that different types of visitors scan content in different ways. For example, older visitors who grew up without computers may view a page’s sections in a different order than younger visitors who have been “wired” since birth. Similarly, behavioral differences exist based on gender, education level and language spoken. By making it easy to adjust page layout through the use of fluid design, you’ll be able to test and optimize for the audience that is unique to your site.
Overall, you’ll want your website to be modular, flexible and easily testable. These are the qualities that make a site usable for your visitors and will support thorough testing and optimization towards reaching your online marketing goals.
Eric Hansen is the founder and CEO of SiteSpect, and the chief architect of the firm’s non-intrusive technology for multivariate testing, behavioral targeting and digital marketing optimization. He can be reached at (617) 859-1900.