Anyone who has read my “69 Free or Low Cost Tools to Improve Your Website” post knows that I love tools. This past week I was excited to see a new list of tools with the just published “Which Multivariate?” a multivariate testing tool comparison guide. I’m happy they beat me to the punch in putting this list of tools together, because many people have asked me about the various testing platforms and tools, and I haven’t had a chance to get to it.

The Critical Parts of the Testing Equation

When it comes to a choice of testing tools, you can see there is a variety of testing software available other than Google’s Website Optimizer and Omniture’s Test and Target. When you finally decide to start testing, the tool should not be the first part of the equation. It’s like being an emergency room doctor and having lots of crutches around and trying to use a crutch to solve every one of the issues you face. It just won’t solve the problem.

  1. You first need to understand the business goals and problems you are trying to achieve.
  2. Then you must choose the right tools for that job. To select the right one, you have to weigh your needs and your company’s level of sophistication when it comes to running experiments against price, and keep in mind that the tool you start out with today may not be a good fit to solve all the challenges. So flexibility is key.
  3. The last critical part of the equation is: do you have the knowledge internally to decide what to test (things that really will move the needle) and do you have the resources to get the tests executed?

As you can see steps one and three are the most important to your success, the tool is just a tool.

What to Do Is More Important Than How You Do It

A MarketMotive conversion optimization certification student of mine, Philip Anderson, and I were chatting about this when he reminded me of this classic story. Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. When he went down to the engine room he felt the pipes with his hands, took out a stethoscope, listened to the pumps, and finally placed one of his hands on one of the gauges with his eyes closed. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed! A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for $10,000.

“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!”

So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:

Tapping with a hammer: $2.00

Knowing where to tap: $9,998.00

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.

Can You Get It Done?

Once again, to mitigate your risk and achieve the best conversion rate lift, you want to work with someone who has a demonstrated track record of using a variety of tools: reputable, on-demand testing tools that don’t rely heavily on software license revenues and will allow you flexibility to change the software as your needs evolve and your testing needs become more complex. As important as knowing what to do is, it does no good if you can’t do anything about it. It was obvious to me and anyone who saw me that I needed to lose weight, but if I didn’t put the resources and effort in place to do what needed to be done I wouldn’t have lost 70+ pounds since April of last year (you can see a recent picture of me here).

You must have resources in house or else hire an independent firm or contractors to either plan, set up, or execute the variations and creative for your tests. They should be able to fill the gaps you have internally in order for you to continue improving your business goals continuously. Testing is not a one-time event you check off the list. It needs to be part of your everyday culture to succeed.

I heard Guy Kawasaki say, “Execution is not an event – a one-time push toward achieving goals. Rather, it is a way of life.” The reason testing is so critical today is because the other business constant – change – is occurring at a pace much faster than ever before. If you can’t develop the corporate metabolism to test, change, and execute rapidly you are going to be left behind like the horse and buggy makers were by Ford. In the academic world they say “publish or perish,” but in today’s marketing world it is “test or die!”

P.S. Don’t miss my webinar on April 1st sponsored by testing services firm WiderFunnel: Don’t Be April’s Fool: Proven Techniques To Maximize Your Advertising ROI