What You Can Learn From Amazon.com About Great Website Testing

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Amazon.com are not only the world’s biggest online store, but they are also one of the pioneers of website testing – they were doing this before there were even official testing tools! They quickly realised the benefits of making tweaks to their websites to increase revenue, and remains a key part of their business. And many agree that this testing played a major role in their success and dominance online (along with their fabulous customer service).

But what can online businesses learn and adopt from their testing efforts (and not just their test ideas!) – I have put together 5 best in practice things they do that your website testing and optimization needs to adopt for a fantastic chance of success…

  1. They are continuously testing! Amazon.com test multiple things at the same time, and rarely launch things without testing its impact first.  Many websites don’t do this, and often just launch new features or redesigns without testing it just because their user experience team thinks it will be better – sometimes making things worse. And testing at Amazon isn’t just a one off project – it’s embedded into their culture and organization.
  2. They iterate and learn from their tests. Amazon love to learn from the results of what they are testing, and iterate on their tests to drive even higher conversion lifts.  As an example of this, Amazon have tested their buy buttons many times. Why? Because they are always striving to do better and get even higher conversion lifts from this key element. And they also realize that not everything they test will win – but they learn from it if it doesn’t!
  3. They aren’t scared to think radically for their tests. Many online businesses are apprehensive to change too much at once. Not Amazon. They even moved their main navigation menu from the top to the left – now other websites have copied their success like Walmart.com! It’s important to do this radical testing occasionally to get radical increases in your conversion lifts. They also aren’t afraid to test something thats been working well for years – their original tab-style menu navigation was the industry standard for header navigation, but that didn’t stop them from trying to improve it!
  4. They do targeting with their tests to personalize their website. One of the highest impact things you should be doing while testing is doing targeting to show more relevant content to your visitors. Amazon do a great job of this – in fact they were pioneers in showing recommended items. This not only helps make your website much more personalized for your visitors, it results in much higher conversion rates. Even something like targeting and showing different content to new versus repeat visitors will have a big impact.
  5. They realize their website is never finished or perfect. Your website always needs to keep up with the latest online trends and features to remain cutting edge and competitive, so you always need to test making improvements – and Amazon do a great job of realizing this and moving with the times. One example of this is their recent big test in Sept 2011 to cater for the growing amount of users they have viewing via tablets. Very smart indeed – and hopefully you realize that your website is never perfect too – you can always learn from what other websites like Amazon are doing. Which leads me to an important mistake to avoid…

Word of warning: Don’t just copy what Amazon.com do though!

Don’t just copy what Amazon.com are launching and testing on their website and presume it will work on your website. Every website has a different business model and a different value proposition (for example, Amazon makes significant money from promoting their used items). By all means, test some of their ideas, but don’t just simply launch what they have done without testing it first. There is some great advice from Jakob Nielsen on this, explaining why you shouldn’t just copy famous websites.

This warning aside, Amazon.com really are a great role model for any online business to learn testing best practices from. And for much more on these best practices don’t forget to pick up a copy of my new testing and optimization book! It’s got some great praise from experts, and I promise you will love it!

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  • Alex

    Hi Rich,
    Saw you’re looking for a job on twitter – why don’t you start your own company to do conversion optimization?