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What can we learn from Google?

How many times have you heard a client say “We are very interested in conversion optimisation, but we want to relaunch our website first and then look at kicking off optimsation." Most of us have heard it all before, but undoubtedly this is what many website operators will say when they start grappling with conversion optimisation. Decisions concerning the website layout are often decided by gut feeling.

Designers, usability experts, store operators, marketers, or market researchers sit together and come to a quick fire agreement: the website should become more modern and easier to use. But do the results, deducted from the ideas to modify the website coincide with the users’ ideas? There is no general answer to this question, this is why there are two fundamental principles you should keep in mind when optimising your website:

  1. The behaviour, i.e. your customers’ reaction, is crucially important
  2. Laboratory tests are of little use, you need to look at the actual visitors to your page.

So what is the best way forward? Making a decision according to the best practice procedure, conversion tips, or gut feeling?

Decisions based on data

The answer is simple: You should base your decisions on data analysis. Google, for instance, has been aware of this for years. The search engine operator continuously optimises the display of its search results through A/B testing. You can see the continuously modified layout if you regularly use Google.

In addition, it’s highly likely that you, as visitor to the Google website, have participated in a test and been shown a different layout to other visitors. Of course, Google enjoys an immense volume of traffic which gives it a big advantage over other websites because they can receive meaningful results within a relatively short span of time. If you compare

Google’s interface in 2006 and 2012 you can see how analysis results influence the website’s layout:

 

Google layout 2006

Google layout 2006

 

Google layout 2012

Google layout 2012

After the test is before the test

A single test, however, does not usually do the trick. It is important to continuously test the website to see if it still fulfills your visitors’ expectations in terms of display and function. Google permanently tests its pages to find out if there is a tendency towards certain search layouts, or if new functions, such as Gmail, perform better. This way, trends can be identified at an early stage, and you can quickly respond to market changes.

Starting promptly with the optimisation

There is no reason to delay your conversion optimisation, for instance because your are performing a relaunch, or integrating new functions into your website. Continuous iterations allow you to identify trends at an early stage, such as a detail zoom on a product picture or a dynamic teaser on the home page.

Testing and analysing test results will give you insights that can be included into the next relaunch or next website update. This way of proceeding allows the website operator to be “as close as possible” to the user and to his expectations.



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