Optimizely's Matt Althauser: "You should never make assumptions online"

We spoke to Matt Althauser, the European general manager of Optimizely, the world's most widely-used do-it-yourself A/B testing tool, about how you can optimise your website for your customers.

Optimizely and other A/B testing platforms can be used to test changes to a website, and confine those changes to a certain percentage of users, or by geography. This allows web developers to test how design shifts affect customer behaviour.

"We give non-technical people the ability to make changes to their website, and implement optimisation,"Althauser told us. "Then their visitors are split between two versions of their website, and we use the statistics to show them which version will help them get more clicks on their articles, or help them sell more products."

"So if we know that you're a male, say, and we know that you're coming from an iPhone device, what we'll do at Optimizely is make sure that you're getting the services appropriate to your device, and your demographic."

But Optimizely's strength is in its ease of use, according to Althauser.

"I think the best part is that it's something that non-technical people can grasp," he told us. "A/B testing has been around for a while, but it's really been reserved for the top one per cent of companies, because it's so engineering-driven. We've democratised that process."

Optimizely worked with EA in the run-up to the release of SimCity 5, and unearthed some surprising results with that round of testing.

At the time, the EA digital marketing team was displaying a banner with a special offer on the SimCity microsite, giving $20 off a user's next purchase if they pre-ordered the game.

What the round of A/B testing uncovered was that if the banner was removed entirely, and no offer was given, the rate of purchases actually sky-rocketed a stunning 43.4 per cent. Users apparently preferred the "clean" version of the site, and found it easier or more tempting to make purchases without being cajoled by an offer.

"We found that the variations with the promotional offer actually performed worse than just a clean version of the page," said Mike Burk, senior online product manager at Maxis. "This was really surprising to us, but it had a pretty significant impact."

"You should never have assumptions online," Althauser told us. "That's real money, since EA do millions of dollars in transactions. You can do the math to understand the impact."

Optimizely was also used to help the Guardian's dating site improve its registrations by 46 per cent.

Althauser told us that Optimizely is based on the ancient Japanese notion of kaizen, meaning constant improvement, or "change for the best".

"Our tool starts at around £12 a month," Althauser said, "and it goes up from there."

Optimizely are also offering free 30-day trial of their service.

"We really want to stress the fact that anyone can do this on our platform, whether you're technical or non-technical. You can start whenever you want."

Image: Flickr (zzathras777)