Don’t Trust Your Instincts. Test ’Em. (And Optimize!)

As a person who’s been producing web content since the dinosaur days of 1996, I like to think that I have a certain level of expertise, hard-won knowledge, and maybe even a teensy bit of talent when it comes to my job. But whenever I start to perch too confidently on my high horse, WhichTestWon.com is bound to buck me off of it.

Each week, this site shows a sample of an A/B test that has been actually run by a company, and allows you to vote on which version you think performed best. The nature of the tests vary—maybe it’s two versions of a landing page testing conversion rates; or an email testing open rates with different subject lines. The purpose of each test are spelled out before you’re asked to vote.

For several weeks running, I’ve been faithfully going to the site, voting, and finding out that I’m DEAD WRONG! Not always, mind you, but often enough to get under my skin. And this disconcerting fact speaks to a basic truth of web content—you never know what’s going to work best until you test it.

Sure, we in the biz can create effective web environments—but too often we fail to perfect them with testing. Try as we might, we can never approach a project with complete objectivity. Nor can we magically jump into the heads of each target consumer and predict with 100% certainty what will cause her of him to click and buy. You could design the most beautiful page, write the snappiest copy—heck, even pile up a stack of industry awards, but it doesn’t mean you’ll maximize your results.

The only way to get a better insight into what works is to test, analyze, tweak, and test again. Thankfully, tools like Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer simplify this process immensely, and—dare I say—make it kinda fun. It’s fascinating to see how the smallest revisions and tiniest tweaks can send clickthrough and conversion rates through the roof.
So, no matter if you’re new to the world of web professionals, or are an old geezer like me, don’t trust your instincts. And don’t be afraid to put them to the test.

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