What if there were simple changes to your website that could increase online revenue dramatically? You would make those changes, right? Well a site is never complete, and there is always room for improvement. All you need to do is follow a process that helps determine what changes will improve your site’s performance. By implementing A/B testing, marketers can experiment with various changes to a site and measure the impact of each change.
A/B Testing Success Story
One of Blue Magnet’s clients, a hotel in Florida, was experiencing a period of low occupancy. As their Internet marketing manager, I was tasked with the challenge of increasing reservations during the hotel’s need period. To begin, I took a step back and examined the hotel’s website as a consumer, rather than a marketer. Working with a website day in and day out can sometimes make marketers overlook issues obvious to visitors. Since the hotel’s challenge dealt with online reservations, I decided that a closer look at the hotel website’s booking widget was probably a valid starting point.
The original reservation widget contained a white and green call-to-action button reading “Check Availability.” Since the entire site’s color scheme is white and green, it seemed like the button was getting lost in the background. As a visitor to this website, I would expect the most important button on the site to command much more attention. As a marketer for this site, I wanted to see if a different color button might prove more compelling.
After some initial research, I chose red for the alternate version of the button. From what I gathered and inferred, red is a highly visible color. That’s why stop signs, fire trucks, and other things that need to be noticed quickly are painted that color. Contrasted with the green background, a red “Check Availability” button seemed like it would pop off the page, catch the eye of visitors quickly, and draw more clicks, but I needed to be sure before I made such a significant change to the site. Enter A/B testing.
Original White Button (A)
Red Button Variation (B)
I set up an A/B test to show the original button to some users and the alternate red button to others, and let me tell you, the results were exciting. After just a few weeks, the new red button was reveiving 13% more clicks than the white button. After reaching the 95% confidence threshold, I switched the button over to the red version permanently and monitored the next month’s performance. In 30 days, the total number of people clicking the button to check rate for this particular hotel improved 38% YOY which translated into 65% increase in booked revenue YOY.
Percentage of visitors that checked rate on variation A vs. variation B during the experiment.
This simple color change contributed to thousands of dollars of revenue for the hotel. If you want to make some quality changes to your own website, read on, and I’ll teach you how to implement A/B tests to improve your site’s performance.
What is A/B Testing?
A/B testing is a randomized experiment that takes two (or more) variants of a web page (A and B), presents them both to different members of the audience, and then tracks the differences in performance.
How to Implement A/B Testing
Before you decide what feature to change on a specific page, you need to determine how you want the site to improve. Think about the goal of that particular page. What purpose does it serve to your website as a whole, and what metrics indicate how the page is performing? For example, if you are trying to generate more revenue from a specific special offer, you may look at how many clicks that particular offer has compared to other offers in the same time period. If the offer has fewer clicks than you’d expect, start thinking about different page elements that could be affecting its results. Is the copy compelling? Can users clearly see where to click? Is the page layout confusing or cluttered, making it difficult to find the offer? Once you have determined what aspect of the page you want to improve, follow this simple 5 step A/B Testing process to produce a higher converting site:
1. Making an Educated Change to the Page
Once you determine what the goal of your page is, decide what the “B” in the A/B test will entail. This decision requires some thought. Don’t make a rash judgment, but don’t let this step bog you down either. Spend some time considering what changes on the page will fuel changes in site performance. Try to view your website from a visitor’s perspective. How does this page look to you if you landed on it for a specific search query? Is the information you’re searching for easy to find? If you were directed to this particular page from another page in the site, what would you expect to see? As a visitor, is there an action that you can take to accomplish your goals (e.g. contact for more information, click a button to check out, etc)? If this exercise does not help you discover an element to change, it may be useful to get a fresh set of eyes on the page and hear from an outside perspective. Ask a friend, family member, or some of your top customers for their valuable feedback.
As a fellow marketer, I know your time is valuable. I wouldn’t want you to read this article and then set up A/B tests that make little to no improvement to your site’s performance. Do your initial research and use your best judgment to determine your “B.” Whatever you decide to change, it doesn’t always have to be huge, but it should be purposeful.
2. Setting Up an A/B Test
Google Analytics makes setting up A/B tests simple. First, you need to create a duplicate page to test against the original. This duplicate page should contain your variation(s). While your duplicate page is still being tested, I would recommend that you set it up with a meta noindex, nofollow tag so it doesn’t appear in search results.
Once you have the duplicate page ready:
The objective you select to measure for the experiment should be a metric that indicates the page’s strength. Google Analytics allows you to pick from your present goals, some site usage statistics such as bounces, pageviews, and session duration, or you can create a new goal for the experiment (e.g. contact form completions, check availability clicks, wedding form RFP submissions, etc.).
There are a few other options to determine how your experiment will be run and measured. You can choose the percentage of traffic you want to participate in the experiment, and you can also choose how the two pages will be distributed to your site’s traffic. Google’s default will show the page that is performing better more often, but if you wish, you can choose to show the two pages evenly. Finally, select the confidence threshold you want to reach before the experiment is stopped. The higher the threshold, the more confident you can be that the changes you are making will produce improved results.
Next, paste the URL of the original page and the URL of the test page into the provided boxes. I suggest naming them something that reflects the variation of that page, such as White Button vs. Red Button.
Finally, Google will provide you with a snippet of code that you need to paste into the header of your original page. This code will redirect certain visitors to page B, your test page. You may need to have some technical knowledge or work with your developer to implement these changes into your Content Management System, such as Joomla or Wordpress.
Once you have set up your A/B test, you can sit back and analyze the visitor behavior!
3. Tracking How the Site Change Impacts Visitor Behavior
Google does a great job of clearly laying out the experiment statistics. The data will include the number of sessions (visits) for each page version, the number of conversions, the conversion rate, the difference in conversion rate compared to the original page, and the probability of outperforming the original page (that’s your confidence threshold). It’s fun and useful to monitor this fairly frequently. If your test page is not producing improved results, you may want to end the experiment earlier than you had intended and try implementing a different change instead of holding out hope for months on end. If you changed the color of a “Check Availability” button and didn’t see an increase in number of click in two weeks, maybe you want to keep the original button color and try different verbiage, such as “Book Now."
4. Implementing the Improved Version
This is a no brainer. Once the A/B experiment is finished, pick the version that performed better (depending on what your goals are) and make that the default page. Voila! You have just made your site better and will soon have the measurable results to prove it!
5. Repeating the Process
It is awesome that your site is performing better, but the job of an online marketer is never done. Now that your page is producing improved results, set up another test to beat the new version or take what you have learned from this experiment and apply it to a similar A/B test for another page. Winston Churchill said it best: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “
Have you tried A/B testing on your website? Tweet us at @Blue_Magnet and tell us about your experiments.
Posted in Online Marketing on July 02, 2014 by Maggie Meyers
At Blue Magnet Interactive, we try to stay up-to-date in the SEO, social media, and online marketing world by attending educational industry seminars and events. From networking receptions to conferences to happy hours and more, we enjoy meeting other marketers with innovative ideas and varying perspectives. So the Blue Magnet team was excited at the opportunity to attend a cocktail hour and networking reception sponsored by Bing and Inc. at the Wit Hotel for some Search + Social education.
The panel for the event's Q+A session included Maisha Walker from Message Medium, Bruce Clay from Bruce Clay INC., Marty Weintraub from aimClear, and Duane Forrester from Bing. The lively group of panelists welcomed questions from the audience, all of whom were concerned about one thing: the future of their business online. The attendees' knowledge level concerning SEO and social was quite varied which made for some great questions. The panelists shared a ton of valuable information and insights at the Bing event, so instead of hitting every talking point, I will give you 5 key takeaways on how to best market your business online.
1. The Importance of Usability
There are billions of websites. So what will set your website apart from that of your competitors? Why would a customer/guest/user stay on your site (and convert) instead of turning to another site? Well, there's no one absolute, but if you want to increase the likelihood of users staying and converting on your website, you need to ensure that your site is easy to use. Usability is a crucial element of your site's performance and it is important to think like a customer when designing or redesigning your website. The panelists suggest performing usability tests at several stages throughout the development of your website. You want to catch and correct user experience and usability issues while your site is still in development to save time and money. The panelists recommend asking a group of users in your target demographic to participate in these usability tests. You then supply the "test" user a list of tasks to complete on the website so they can give you feedback on their experience. Once you know what kind of issues users are having you can fix accordingly and watch your conversion rate skyrocket!
2. Target "Shopping" Keywords
As many SEOs and content marketers know, it's easy to get wrapped up in Google's Keyword Planner tool, searching for as many relevant keywords to insert into site content. At the end of the day though, users typing queries into a search engine are just people like you and me. One of the panelists gave a solid example to drive this point home. Let's say you are brain surgeon. What service do you perform? Brain surgery. So, as a brain surgeon looking to drive more traffic to your website, you may immediately think to target consumers searching for 'brain surgery' as a primary keyword. But, someone searching for a trusted doctor to perform this very serious surgery, is probably not simply typing 'brain surgery' into Bing or Google. A high school student doing a research paper on the topic might type this query, but a patient shopping for the best surgeon is probably not going to search this way. So what "shopping" keyword should you target in this instance? Ask yourself, 'What is the prospective patient actually looking for? 'A brain surgeon! Targeting 'brain surgeons in [your city or state] is a much more relevant search query for your target audience and will prove to be a much more effective keyword for your website.
The brain surgery keyword concept applies to the hotel industry as well. While it is likely that a prospective guest would type in 'San Francisco Hotels' to begin their search, it is also likely that they hone in on a specific area within San Francisco when they are closer to booking. Target their "shopping" queries by focusing on keywords like 'Hotels near the Golden Gate Bridge' or 'Hotels close to Fisherman's Wharf' to increase conversions.
3. Content is King
Once you have determined your "shopping" keywords, it's important to include them in your content. But instead of stuffing keywords in your page like you have been taught to do in the past, focus on writing compelling content that naturally incorporates variations of your "shopping" keywords. When you keyword stuff, your visitors are going to be frustrated that your page has nothing to do with what they searched, and your page will eventually be penalized by search engines for blackhat SEO techniques. Keep in mind the quality of your content at a high level as well; check for typos, grammatical errors, and accuracy. Make the content useful and informative from a consumer stand-point and update it frequently. As the panelists reiterated, having outdated information on your site will confuse users and eventually turn them away.
4. Relationship Building > Link Building
As most SEOs are well aware, link building is an effective way to prove the authority of your site to search engines. Trusted sites typically link to other trusted sites, so finding relevant link opportunities for your site can lead to better exposure in search results. Acquiring trustworthy links is easier said than done, and, as the panelists advised, it is best to think of this crucial SEO initiative as relationship building rather than link building. Find a way to make it mutually beneficial to both parties involved, rather than simply asking that the site add a link to the desired page. For example, check for broken links on their site and include that information in your email to the webmaster when requesting a link for a bit of give and take. Also make sure to explain why adding your link is in their best interest. Does your hotel offer a free shuttle to that destination? Can you offer a lower rate for customers of that business or service? Fostering a relationship and offering something of value in return makes your link building request more appealing.
5. Paid Search Can Be Pointless
Allow me to clarify, paid search is NOT pointless, in fact it can often be very lucrative for your business. However, as panelist Bruce Clay stated, "If you don't understand reporting of paid search, it's of no use to you." Invest in an online marketing partner that manages your website and can actually interpret the data from your paid search campaign and refine the strategy. Typically, the first phase of a paid search campaign is defining your goals and budget. Your paid search team will then perform extensive research to determine what keywords and ad groups will be most beneficial for your campaign using Google Keyword Planner and design attractive and relevant ads. When your campaign is active, it is crucial to analyze your data to ensure you are achieving your goals and that it is as worthwhile investment of your money and time. You can run ads all year long, but if you do not continuously analyze the performance to optimize your ads and refine your strategy, your campaign becomes pointless. Use the reporting Bing and Google AdWords provides, paying attention to ad impressions, clicks, and conversions. Optimize your target keywords and ad strategy accordingly. The panelists suggest staying up-to-date with the latest changes in reporting through industry blogs and learning more about interpreting the data through free webinars and courses. Taking the time and energy to understand your paid search campaign will result in the most bang for your buck.
There are countless ways to increase the exposure, credibility, and conversion rate of your business through online marketing. By understanding some of these key takeaways shared by the panel of industry experts and implementing them in your business's online marketing strategy, you'll be taking the reins and controlling your online presence with more knowledge and confidence.
Posted in Online Marketing on June 24, 2014 by Andrea Mann
If you have thought about going on a diet before, you have probably done some initial research to determine the right diet plan for you. And, like most people who finally decide to pull the trigger on a diet, you were probably hoping to find something that promises to deliver fast results … as in, yesterday. While you were investigating these self-proclaimed miracle diet products or meal plans, you probably noticed how easy the ads always make it look. They all claim “Just eat or drink [this] twice-a-day and never diet again” or “ban [this] from your diet forever and drop 10 pounds”. Just like these popular dieting fads, there are always new buzz words, trends, or social media sites emerging in online marketing that immediately catch hoteliers’ eyes and seem to be the “answer” that they have been searching for. They get laser-focused on that one new “it” thing. They pour all of their resources into that one marketing channel, whether it is SEO, Pinterest, or something else they have read about, and they expect a quick-fix. They expect, or at least hope, that their hotel will immediately begin ranking #1 on Google for hundreds of keywords, and their hotel will be at 100% occupancy every night. But of course, that’s not realistic, and deep down they know it.
Why doesn’t a fad diet/marketing strategy produce ideal results in the long run? Because these strategies are not focusing on the big picture and long term investment. My mom has always preached “everything is okay in moderation” and “haste makes waste”, and I think she is on to something here. (Yes, mom, you were right.) I have tried several short-lived diets, and I have even succumbed to a torturous juice cleanse in the past, and I always lose the weight only to gain it back as soon as I start eating a normal diet again. I have witnessed similar mishaps in the online marketing world. Everyone starts talking about the importance of linkbuilding. And then an SEO gets the bright idea to try to produce a miracle by cheating the system. They begin implementing some spammy linkbuilding tactics to speed up the results – what marketers refer to as “black hat SEO”. They go out and solicit any site and every site for free links back to the hotel’s website, most of which are completely irrelevant to the hotel. While the hotel may reap some benefits and rank well in Google for a few days or weeks, it won’t be long before Google catches wind of the gimmick and penalizes the hotel for failing to adhere to standard guidelines. What happens when Google slaps you on the wrist? The blackhat SEO plan backfires, the hotel drops several pages in Google’s rankings, guests can’t find the hotel’s website organically, and online bookings plunge rapidly. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we strive to create a holistic, multi-channel online marketing strategy for every hotel that we partner with because all of the various marketing components are always much more effective and produce much better results when working in tandem. Our team always follows best practices, even though that often requires more time and resources, because doing online marketing correctly the first time is a much better long term investment for the hotel.
Creating a diet/multi-channel marketing strategy that works for your hotel
It all boils down to finding the healthiest marketing mix for your particular hotel – a marketing mix that will help your hotel achieve its specific goals. When it comes to dieting, everyone has their own goals, whether it is losing weight, getting toned, or running a marathon. Everyone also has their own dietary requirements depending on their health, lifestyle, and fitness regimen. If you run 10 miles a day, you might aim for a larger carbohydrate intake than the person sitting next to you. While it is important for every hotel to have a strategy in place for its website content, SEO, social media, paid advertising, and email marketing; the actual strategy and investment in each strategy should differ from hotel to hotel. In order to determine what multi-channel marketing strategy is going to be most effective for your hotel, your hotel team needs to assess its current marketing strategy, establish realistic goals, and determine areas of improvement that are of utmost priority. If your hotel does not have a beautiful wedding space and scenic room views, you may find that you can cut Pinterest out of your marketing budget. If you realize that your hotel has been spending $1000 on a paid search campaign but your hotel doesn’t have a user-friendly website with informative content, you may realize that it’s best to halt your paid media spend and invest in a website redesign and content refresh before paying for more traffic. Once you have determined your marketing goals and needs, you can work with your hotel marketing team to put a multi-channel strategy in place for the next several months – knowing that it is going to take some time before your hotel is sold out every night. But if you continue to follow best practices and invest in a healthy strategy, you’ll get there in due time! You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run – no one expects you to be running a marathon tomorrow. As with dieting, you will continue to “weigh-in” regularly and refine your hotel’s online marketing strategy.
We were honored to be invited to attend and present at a hotel management company’s leadership conference in Annapolis, Maryland this past week. Our presentation deck below uses this dieting/marketing analogy to visually depict how Blue Magnet Interactive approaches a multi-channel marketing strategy to maximize your hotel’s online visibility and drive online revenue.
When creating your hotel’s marketing plan, it’s important to examine the journey a consumer takes when traveling, because, at a high level, it is very similar for all consumers. They begin dreaming about taking a trip. They start doing their research and planning. Eventually they book their hotel, flight, rental car, etc. They travel to their destination and have an experience. Whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, they will likely share their vacation stories and photos with friends, family, and anonymous strangers, which will then inspire the next person to begin dreaming about a much-needed vacation. For a hotel to successfully master a multi-channel strategy, they need to optimize all of the various channels that consumers interact with during any of these stages of travel. The deck below gives multiple examples that show how a hotel can diversify their channel marketing and optimize each channel with consistent, informative, and unique content in order to deliver the best possible experience, both online and offline.
Posted in SEO on May 21, 2014 by Patrick McCarthy
Yesterday, Matt Cutts announced that Google was introducing a new algorithm update called Panda 4.0. As indicated by the name, this is not the first Panda update that Google has implemented (in fact, Search Engine Land has confirmed 24 previous Panda updates), so although we do not yet know the specifics of Panda 4.0, we can make some informed predictions based on past updates.
What is Panda?
Panda is an update to Google’s search algorithm that first launched in 2011 and targets low-quality sites and sites with “thin” content. Before Panda, it was possible for sites to rank high in the SERPs for specific keywords by creating pages with keyword heavy but valueless content. Panda was designed to push these kinds of sites and pages out of the top rankings and reward high-quality sites by moving them up in the rankings.
What is Panda 4.0?
As with past Panda releases, Panda 4.0 is a refinement of the Panda algorithm, designed to continue the process of improving the quality of Google’s search results. It is likely intended to identify and penalize low-quality sites that previous updates missed. There is also some evidence that the update may boost the visibility of high-quality sites (although this could be the result of low-quality competitor sites losing visibility rather than Google directly rewarding high-quality sites).
Should my hotel be worried about Panda 4.0?
Search Engine Land has indicated that approximately 7.5% of English language queries will be affected by this update, which makes it a relatively major update (the majority of the 24 updates mentioned above affected around 1% of English queries) and means that it could potentially affect sites in your market; however, if you have been following the SEO content best practices that we have outlined on this blog though the years and have a hotel website full of high-quality, valuable content, you not only do not need to worry but you might have reason to celebrate. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we took a random sampling of the websites that we work with and found that none of them have seen any drops in traffic or visibility from Panda 4.0. In fact, all but one of the sites we sampled actually saw a significant increase in organic traffic starting on May 19th, when MozCast first registered large changes in rankings likely due to Panda 4.0.
On the other hand, if you have a hotel website that is full of pages that were created only for SEO and contain little to no unique content or keyword-stuffed content, your site is likely at risk of being negatively affected by Panda 4.0; and even if you do not see immediate declines from this update, you will almost certainly be affected by a future Panda update and should take this as a spur to start updating your website, rewriting your current content, and creating new unique content.
Check back for the latest news or follow us on Twitter for Panda 4.0 updates.
Hotel Website FAQ #3: What is the Difference Between Responsively Designed Websites and Separate Mobile Sites?
Posted in Mobile Web on May 15, 2014 by Patrick McCarthy
There are countless blogs, articles, and presentations about the importance of mobile channels and mobile optimization for hotels, so I will not repeat that information in this article. Indeed, most hoteliers who I talk to do not need any more convincing that they need a mobile solution; instead, they are much more concerned with making sense of the overwhelming amount of mobile information and products that they encounter and ultimately choosing the right solution for their hotel. In order to assist hoteliers who are drowning in this sea of contradictory and confusing arguments, pitches, and claims; I will attempt to give a simple breakdown of the two essential forms of mobile-optimized websites - Sites that use responsive design and sites that use separate mobile URLs.
There are two basic ideas that you need to understand in order to effectively evaluate mobile solutions and products. First, there is no single "correct" way to build a mobile website, and anyone who tells you otherwise will probably coincidentally be selling a product that uses that supposed "correct" way. Second, as with most facets of online marketing, there are countless different terms and variations that companies use to differentiate their products and impress consumers; however when you boil it down there are only two basic forms of mobile websites - responsively designed sites and sites with separate mobile pages. These two forms come in many variations and levels of quality, but, generally, both are equally viable. Here is how to spot each kind of site:
At its core, responsive design simply refers to websites that, without changing the URL, rearrange or reformat pages based on how users view the site. There are many different ways that responsive design can be accomplished. It can be based on the type of device a user is browsing on (smartphone vs. desktop computer) or on the size of their screen. It can be done by adjusting the formatting of the site with css files or it can be done by sending completely different code for a single URL depending on a user's device. Responsive design can also be called adaptive design, RESS (Responsive Design with Server Side Elements), or a number of other variations. Regardless of what it is called, if your site looks different when viewed on a mobile device than it does when viewed on a desktop computer but the URL does not change, your site uses responsive design. If the URL changes or the site looks the same, you do not have a responsively designed site.
Responsively Designed Website