Site Testing That Isn't Tedious

Do you know what attracts your readers? What headlines they respond to most? Do they respond to pictures? Do they know what your offer is?

No doubt we all agree that testing is a good thing to do. We can see clearly if our ideas are working or not. But a lot of testing is, quite frankly, tedious.

Measuring user behavior patterns and visitor paths is, in most cases, worthwhile, but there is always a trade-off in terms of the time it takes to setup and run such testing verses the reward for doing so.

Here are a few cheap and cheerful testing ideas that don't take a lot of time, but can improve your site performance significantly.

1. Write Your Copy, Then Leave It Alone For A Day

One of the best ways to test the effectiveness of your copy is to simply leave it until tomorrow before you hit publish.

It can be very hard to read your own copy objectively, especially as you're writing it. It is often laced with emotion, and the impulsive desire to just finish the damn thing and get it out there.

By leaving it until the next day before you hit publish, you force yourself to re-read your copy in a more objective light. You allow yourself a mental separation between your writer and editor brain function.

When editing, replace long words with short words. Break up long sentences into short ones. Minimize. Eliminate duplication. All copy benefits from rewriting.

Leaving copy aside for a day is the cheapest way to get the objective help of an "editor", without actually having to hire one.

2. Get Someone Else To Read Your Page Aloud

It's a good idea to read your copy out loud. It helps you spot weaknesses more easily.

It's an even better idea to get someone else to read it aloud.

You'll experience your copy how other people will hear it in their heads. Does it get your message across when it is read by someone who doesn't know the point you are eventually going to make? Does it sound like they want to read what is coming next, or do they sound confused or bored? Are the most important points emphasized? Is it obvious what the desired action is?

It can be difficult to spot these factors when reading copy in your head, but blindingly obvious when someone else reads it back to you.

3. Basic Split Run Test Using Adwords

Even if you're focusing on SEO, Adwords is a great way to test the effectiveness of your your chosen keyword terms and site copy.

Once you have a keyword list for SEO, run a short adwords campaign against those keywords. Test the titles and descriptions you plan to use. Test the performance of your landing pages by swapping out one page for another on different days. You can then feed this information through to your SEO campaign. Run with the winners, and cut the losers.

Keep in mind the Adwords won't perform just like a SERP listing, because a lot of people ignore advertising. However, this method is likely to give you a rough idea on what people who search on your chosen keywords are really interested in. Chances are if it works in Adwords, it will work even better in the main SERPs.

Quite often, the keywords you imagine are the most important don't work so well in practice. Or perhaps the title tag you were planning on using might not be enticing enough. For a small sum, you can test keyword effectiveness before embarking on the long and involved process of SEO, link building and ranking, which you'll have to live with for years.

4. Are You Selling The Solution To The Problem

Say you want to build a mailing list by giving away a free e-book.

These days, that's a boring offer.

Unfairly, e-books have a bad reputation because they are often perceived as low value and are frequently associated with scams. "Free" on the internet is essentially meaningless, given that most things on the internet are free.

Instead, sell the solution. i.e "Do you want to know how to find the top five investment funds in any market? Do you want to find the funds that have consistently returned over 10% p/a for the last ten years? Sign up for our free e-book download that answers these questions, and more"

Much more enticing than "free e-book give-away". The form (e-book) is not the important bit, the benefit (finding the right investment funds) is the important bit.

The internet has a lot in common with direct marketing. Proven and tested direct marketing methods dictate we should "sell the sizzle", wherever appropriate. The idea is that people don't buy products and services, they buy the benefits of those products and services. They ask "what's in it for them?"

Does your copy always move towards answering this question? Read your copy aloud. If it doesn't, then rewrite until it does.

5. Does The Picture Sync With The Message?

Pictures are powerful attention grabbers.

But do you have the right image? The right image is the image that helps you sell. Grabbing attention doesn't necessarily translate into sales. Flickr is full of attention grabbing images that will never sell themselves, or anything else.

In terms of doing business, a picture, like words, should relate to the product or service. A picture's function is to increase sales. If it doesn't, it shouldn't be there.

The most obvious relationship is direct i.e a picture of the product or service. Modern advertising tends to focus on indirect relationships, such as implied association with people who use the product. i.e. a group of cool skater kids hanging out may advertise Vans footwear, even if you don't actually see the shoes in shot. The benefit for the audience is to become part of this cool tribe. More indirect methods tend to be used in brand building advertising.

The closer you are to direct marketing, the more direct the imagery tends to be. If you want to sell an Apple iPod Touch, you show a big picture of one. Basic stuff, right? But it's surprising how many sites use vague imagery that might look cool, but gives the viewer no idea what the site is about, or doesn't lead them to identify with your product or service.

Don't ask "Is this picture worth a thousand words? ", ask "Does this picture tell the customer a thousand words about my product or service?"

Got any more cheap and cheerful testing methods? Add them to the comments.

Published: May 19, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


May 19, 2009 - 11:07am

iPod Touch, not iTouch - arrrrrghhh, as a certified member of the interweb police, I come across this mistake constantly! Sorry if that sounds troll like, it just really grinds my gears.

Back on topic, leaving your copy for a day really does help, it's also far easier to proof read if anything. I find grammatical errors, typos and just plain junk wording much easier to spot. Still I find myself compelled to hit publish anyway.

I am not sure I agree about the AdWords method unless you can do it on a reasonably big scale.

May 19, 2009 - 6:50pm

time is indeed one of the best ways to avoid publishing weak copy. Great is reading it out loud. Sometimes, I also read backwards (from the last word back through the first) - as weird as it sounds, you can often find grammatical mistakes much more quickly when looking at things from this perspective. In normal reading, your mind knows a comma or a silent e goes there, so it puts it there and you might glaze right over the error.
In copyediting, I also have a few words I always target - words I know I have a tendency to use, but rarely need. The word "that" is a great example. I target passive words, like had, have and was and try to revise the thoughts into a more active voice.
And I use a couple sites I have carved out in blogspot, wordpress and other free hosting spots to test general theories before moving them to my less-risky sites.

May 19, 2009 - 9:46pm

"iPod Touch, not iTouch"

Heh heh. Sorry about that chief. Corrected.

May 19, 2009 - 10:27pm

Waiting a day before publishing is a wise advice. It is incredible how many mistakes I find the day after I write an article, even when the previous night I read and read and read the article many times.

May 21, 2009 - 10:05pm

Here is my question. After reading this article it seems that it's easier then one would think to test their site yet not so many are actually going through the motion and doing it.
What do you suspect if the reason behind this ?
This is what I don't understand. People put up a site and then just forget about it thinking it will take care of itself ? A website is like any other business, it has to have constant management and updates.

May 21, 2009 - 10:14pm

People work on different segments. The larger a site is and the more complex it is the more things there are to optimize
- user experience in member's area
- homepage
- sales letters
- welcome process
- page templates
- etc.

May 27, 2009 - 3:24pm

I have to admit, I have learned the hard way the importance of waiting a day before publishing information. It's amazing what your mind can discover when you walk away from something for 24 hours!

brian h
May 29, 2009 - 3:15am

I think you made a very food point with the "free e-books" becoming scams. I think that instead of offering a "e-book" (cause no one likes them), why dont you publish the information in a protected area of the website, where only people that just simply type in their email address gets access. Its the same as the downloadable e-book, to get email addresses. You can also get more pageviews and adsense exposure.

May 30, 2009 - 9:18am

If you publish information for AdSense earnings then I wouldn't recommend hiding it behind a registration wall. And I probably wouldn't put AdSense on content behind a registration wall because it likely cheapens the perceived value. I would rather use hand picked recommended affiliate links.

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