A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Optimizing Your Web Program with A/B Testing

A big message we try to deliver to our clients is that the launch of your new website is the beginning of the project, not the end.  Your web program is an ongoing campaign, not a finite process like the production of a print brochure.  For your web program to reach its potential, you should enter into a cycle of experimentation and optimization based on results. 

An important tool in improving your website after it is launched is A/B testing, which involves changing variables on a web page in an effort to measure the impact on response rates.  Let me give you a real world example. The Barack Obama website has a landing page (screenshot below) that encourages folks to sign up for their email list.  You see this page the first time you visit www.barackobama.com and if you click on a link to the site from online ads.  From visiting the site often over the last few years, I can tell you that they are constantly optimizing the page to improve response rates.

obama

To A/B test this page, you first need to identify the variables that are in play.  The variables are generally a combination of message (photos, wording) and geekier stuff like the physical placement of elements on the page.  Here are the important variables I can identify on the page above.  

  • The picture that is used. 
  • The placement of the sign up box.
  • The language used to encourage you to sign up – “Join the President”.
  • The language used on the sign up bottom – “Get Started.”

To maximize the number of sign ups this page attracts, you would create a variety of versions  with different variable combinations.  Use different photos.  Move the location of the sign up.  Change the language on the button from “Get Started” to “Join Us.” Experiment with the “Join the President” text.   You would be shocked at how much all these little variables can change the percentage of people that fill out the form to give you their email. 

After experimenting for a a few weeks with a few different options, commit to the version of the page that has the highest conversion rates (in this case it would be the percentage of users who give you their email).  Revisit in a few months to see if things have changed. All of this is made pretty simple using Google Optimizer

The great thing about the web is that concrete metrics are readily available.  You should use that data to constantly improve your website.  By using tactics like A/B testing to continually optimize, you can go a long ways toward insuring that you get the most out of your investment in your web program.

Why Google TV is Not That Great

When my valued colleague Alla first proposed a blog post praising Google TV, “Is Google TV Great? Here’s Why” I mentioned that while Google’s marketing team can do a good job with just about anything, Google TV might, in fact not be all that great.

google-tvOf the many of the excellent reasons cited by Nicholas Deleon in his Oct. 7th posting on CrunchGear, “Am I Blind, Or am I Just Not ‘Seeing’ What’s So Great About Google TV” his strongest point is that while Google TV will bring the Internet to your TV, you most likely already have, or could very easily have the Internet on your TV.

Given that just about every laptop and flat screen TV now include VGA and HDMI ports, connecting an old laptop to your TV is an easy fix.

With the addition of a wireless mouse and keyboard, you can then have the entire Internet available on your TV! As Nicholas also alludes too, the only real downside of this approach is that is is difficult to watch certain cable channels and live sporting events. However, if you are willing to spend a few minutes searching for “Free TV Online” staying up to date with your favorite shows like Mad Men or Eastbond and Down isn’t a problem.

Thus instead of spending $299 for the Logitech Revue, use that extra VGA or HDMI cable you already have and pick up a used laptop and wireless keyboard / mouse for under $100. Most new Blue-Ray players have Wi-Fi capabilities that allow you to access Netflix & YouTube. Here the only real advantage of Google TV seems to be if you happen to already be purchasing a new TV that includes it, but again you could probably get a better deal on a bigger TV and use the cost savings to purchase a new Netbook.

Finally in regards to some of my colleague’s other points:

  1. While Google is incredibly useful for email and I look forward to switching from a Blackberry to an Android; Do you really want a single company knowing everything about you? Even if there is no personally identifiable data, your viewing habits are certainly going to be logged and used by advertisers. For some background on this, Eli Pariser’s PDF2010 keynote on the “Filter Bubble, or How Personalization is Changing the Web” embedded bellow is  must see YouTube TV.

  2. In terms of features I you wish your phone had, is working as a remote control one of them?  If anything, having an FM radio tuner on your phone would seem to be more useful. Whether or not the government should step in and mandate this functionality is a matter of intense debate. 

  3. In terms of Apps, if you already are paying for cable, you probably have a fairly decent programming guide that includes a DVR. From what I can tell, it does not look like Google TV is very useful without cable. Thus you are essentially paying for something another cable company already provides, or spending extra for a few neat features. Secondly, just as it is not much fun to watch someone else use apps on their smart phone, I can’t imagine wanting to hang out an watch someone else play with their apps on Google TV.

  4. As someone who has never bought an Apple product, I am sure Google TV is or soon will be better than the alternative. For something like this, being open source is a definite plus. However one must wonder- What about apps that make it easier to find and download cable shows without actually having cable? I would imagine the industry will hit back hard.

  5. On the plus side, advertising on Google TV could be a blessing for smaller organizations and small businesses that might be intimidated by the world of traditional media buying. For bigger companies and political campaigns, Google TV could be an excellent way to share your latest web ad without paying the hefty commissions typical of most ad agencies.Likewise Google TV’s integration with the current Ad Words platform should be welcomed by anyone managing online ad campaigns.

Bivings Debate: Is GoogleTV Great? Here’s Why

(this is part 1 of a 2 part BivingsReport Debate on the merits of Google TV)

Argument #1: The new tv platform from Google has the power to legitimately revolutionize the way we watch TV. Unlike AppleTV, Google and its platforms have effectively permeated most facets of technological life in this country. With the proliferation of the Android phone operating system, the the Android market – Google set itself up to begin market domination in the entertainment sphere aside from just our mobile phones. Thanks to ease of use and the fact that many of us have already outsourced most of our data storage function to Gmail/Google Aps, the company’s foray into delivering us a well-made TV programming portal is likely to be successful (at least among early adopters).  It is for these reasons as well as the ones listed below that I am exceptionally excited about the GoogleTV entertainment platform.

The features we’re pumped about:

  • Using an Android-based phone as a remote control. Finally provides a solution to losing your remote in the couch cushions – because you can always call yourself to find the remote.
  • It’s open source. At the Bivings Report, we are huge fans of open source development platforms (ie Drupal)
  • The App market looks great. If its growth mirrors the current Droid market in any way, consumers will be in for an interactive treat in terms of breath and quality of applications.
  • Chrome browser to surf the web and Adobe Flash to see dynamic content.
  • It’s better than AppleTV

 

AppleTV

Google TV on Logitech Revue

Video Content

iTunes, Netflix, YouTube

Netflix, Amazon VoD, YouTube, NBA Game Time, Blip.tv, VEVO
Flash nope
Recording nope
Apps not currently
Non-video Content Flickr

Pandora, Napster

(chart content is from Cult of Mac)

Imagine- soon we’ll be able to Google Search for TV shows, update our twitter accounts, and instantly stream Netflix right to our tv.

Is Bing More Innovative Than Google?

Google may still command over 60 percent market share when it comes to searches, the Microsoft-owned Bing is making steady headway ever since its introduction in June 2009. However, current data shows that Bing and Yahoo search engines’ share in the marketplace is growing – as the expense of Google. Yet due to its smaller size, Bing is quicker to innovate with new features, like the brand-new taxi cab fare calculator, as well as its intuitive answers and shopping engine. In recent months, Bing has continued adding more features – like integrating Twitter and Facebook status updates into its search results.

The change toward making search sites more user friendly (and more insightful with information) is enhancing the search experience for the average internet user.  To give users an idea of what’s going on around their neighborhoods or in interesting parts of the country, Bing has partnered up with Foursquare to provide geo-location based  information about restaurant specials and user recommendations. Bit by bit, these social media innovations help Bing stand out among its competitors – and woo social media junkies away from Google’s grip. Bing is also the official search engine within Facebook.

Further applications – whether it be the Bing Shopping iPhone app (with bar code scanner) or the Bing Health section – continue enhancing Bing’s search capabilities.  Thus far, Bing commands only 12% of the search engine market share – but its rate of growth suggests that big things may be in its future. If nothing else, Microsoft’s innovative use of social media data (twitter, foursquare, and Facebook) shows its understanding of the power that user-generated content can have on search engine traffic.

For a side by side comparison of the two sites, check out – http://www.bing-vs-google.com/

A New Age of Crisis Reporting?: Media, the Oil Spill, and You

As the oil from the BP Gulf coast spill continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, the attention of the nation seems to focus on it more and more. As one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever seen, it is garnering huge media attention across platforms and is sure to be one of the biggest news stories of the year.  Now in the age of always-accessible information, people seeking factual, unbiased details from the spill area are left wanting.

The Washington Post reported last week that several major news organizations were being blocked from comprehensive coverage in myriad ways, including restriction of flight access and chaperoning of reporters in newly-restricted areas. Information has also been slowed by comprehensive gag orders written into contracts between BP and employees, including clean-up personnel and local boat owners. In addition, BP is "using paid search to influence public opinion" according to the Huffington Post . Every time a Google search is launched using relevant terms-including "oil spill", "gulf coast" and "BP disaster", the first sponsored link directs to BP's "Gulf of Mexico Response" page, offering corporate-tinged updates.

Although Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the federal government, told ABC News' "This Week" that he produced a written order for the media to be allowed "uninhibited access", the mainstream media is still being blocked in several avenues. This is where you come in.

In the age of citizen journalists and Web 2.0, every-day people are stepping up to the challenge of reporting one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Using facebook, twitter and brand new social media tools, non-credentialed civilians are keeping tabs on the spill and it's effects. The twitter hashtag "#oilspill" has been trending for weeks, with discussion spurred by pictures and tweets sent from the area affected by the spill. A Facebook group advocating for a boycott of BP has over 400,000 "likes" and user-uploaded photos of protests, affected animals and damaged coastline.

In addition, people looking for ways to document and share news of the spill have a brand new avenue-the mobile application OilReporter . Developed by CrisisCommons with Intridea and Appcelerator, OilReporter allows for mobile mapping, photo-documentation and real-time reporting of injured wildlife, oil-stricken beaches and wetlands. It even has a sliding scale with which the user can report exactly how much oil is in each location, and the ability to cross-check your location and information with the Federal Government, State Government, and Google Crisis Response data sources. With this new tool, normal people can report on the spill as it affects their lives directly, and share information with people all over the world concerned with the ramifications.