Website optimization: the hidden battle. Nobody wants to talk about it, it’s not a particularly sexy activity. But if a company doesn’t test its website, it’s probably going to fail to deliver at the customers’ moment of truth.
It’s an issue that online real estate market place Trulia is particularly aware of. The company has been working with testing and behavioral targeting solutions provider SiteSpect for nearly a year (though the partnership was just announced last week).
“Our role is providing the best information about the housing market and we wanted to make sure consumers got that information in a clean way, that the navigation is good in terms of getting on our site and landing on the home of their dreams,” says Dan Voorhies, Trulia’s director of analytics.
The Trulia site has an array of information: images of homes, listings, tax details, schools, crime, and more. The older version of the page was cluttered and Trulia knew, from survey and behavioral data, that customers couldn’t find the features they were looking for.
“We wanted to invest engineering and design time in redesigning that page, but we needed to measure what the right layout would be,” Voorhies says. “I won’t go into super-specific detail, but the thing that was definitely a big win on the test was the arrangement of features on the page. There were certain features that we knew from feedback were valuable, but they were down on the page. Moving them to a more prominent place on the right rail of the page, or right below the picture, helped drive a lot more engagement with the features.”
Testing isn’t easy. From a procedural standpoint, it requires the development of a hypothesis informed by behavioral data, survey data, and qualitative data. For Trulia, once the marketing team creates that hypothesis, they need to set clear objectives for a test. This can be tricky because websites exist on a tightly-strung economy; if you make a modification to one widget, it can adversely affect another.
So in testing, Trulia had to specify that a modification designed to drive engagement to a school module won’t have a negative effect on other metrics. “If it comes at the cost of other valuable engagement,” Voorhies says, “that’s not a win for us.”
Afterward, Trulia writes the test with SiteSpect and its engineering team, determines the length of the test—which varies depending on objectives. And some tests require more effort than others. Testing which colored button will have the most engagement is relatively easy to iterate. But building out a brand new module on a page, or a radical redesign, requires an engineering component and thus is more expensive and time-consuming.
SiteSpect, for its part, tries to simplify the testing process. One issue with website testing is that in monitoring user activity, it can slow down or otherwise affect site performance. SiteSpect tries to get around this, says company CMO Kim Ann King, by existing on a reverse proxy—essentially keeping the testing apparatus away from the actual site.
So far, Trulia’s optimized site seems to be reflected in its most recently quarterly earnings. It has 35.3 million monthly unique visitors, which is 42% more than what it had this time last year. Additionally, the service has 36,401 subscribers—about 4,300 more than it had the previous quarter.