Nathaniel Ward

Be careful what you learn from your tests

Pilot programs and other trials can often lead us to the wrong conclusions, Megan McArdle warns:

This is one more installment in a continuing series, brought to you by the universe, entitled “promising pilot projects often don’t scale”.  They don’t scale for corporations, and they don’t scale for government agencies.  They don’t scale even when you put super smart people with expert credentials in charge of them.  They don’t scale even when you make sure to provide ample budget resources.  Rolling something out across an existing system is substantially different from even a well run test, and often, it simply doesn’t translate.


The importance of color to web design

Tommi Kaikkonen explains why so many websites have light-​​colored backgrounds:

The whole Google network of websites and applications is based primarily on white. They aren’t very exciting or arousing to our senses. But what if they switched the background color to a different one, such as red? My guess is that while the sites might look more exciting, you wouldn’t be as comfortable using them. The color red causes a non-​​conditional physiological reaction, increasing your heart and respiratory rate. This reaction is something we humans are born with.


Diving into Obama’s online campaign

Inside the Cave

Engage’s Patrick Rufini has put together a thorough analysis of the Obama campaign’s technology efforts.

Drawing on data from public sources and private briefings, the 93-​​page report covers:

  • How the campaign structured itself to directly integrate its online and data analysis teams, including its hiring practices;
  • The innovative techniques the campaign used to measure, analyze, and model its supporters and the electorate;
  • What the campaign did to optimize its online fundraising, including A/​B testing, so it could meet its $1 billion fundraising goal;
  • The campaign’s use of custom-​​built technology tools and cloud-​​based services to give itself an edge over Mitt Romney; and
  • How social media and online advertising played a big role in reaching voters and bringing them to the polls.

The report (behind a registration wall) is definitely worth your time.


See web typography in action

Simple typographical changes like line spacing and column width can affect your website’s readability. Tommi Kaikkonen has created an interactive guide so you can see these changes in real time.

(Via Inspect Element.)



Tradition lives on

Tim Stanley: “How reassuring to know that the British are still capable of carving up large parts of the world and renaming them after monarchs!”


Your gut instincts as a marketer are probably wrong

Obama landing pages a/b test

Time’s writeup of the Obama campaign’s online and data efforts, linked earlier, is fascinating reading.

Constant optimization with A/​B testing played a big role in the campaign’s fundraising efforts (emphasis added):

A large portion of the cash raised online came through an intricate, metric-​​driven e-​​mail campaign in which dozens of fundraising appeals went out each day. Here again, data collection and analysis were paramount. Many of the e-​​mails sent to supporters were just tests, with different subject lines, senders and messages. Inside the campaign, there were office pools on which combination would raise the most money, and often the pools got it wrong. Michelle Obama’s e-​​mails performed best in the spring, and at times, campaign boss Messina performed better than Vice President Joe Biden. In many cases, the top performers raised 10 times as much money for the campaign as the underperformers.

Chicago discovered that people who signed up for the campaign’s Quick Donate program, which allowed repeat giving online or via text message without having to re-​​enter credit-​​card information, gave about four times as much as other donors. So the program was expanded and incentivized. By the end of October, Quick Donate had become a big part of the campaign’s messaging to supporters, and first-​​time donors were offered a free bumper sticker to sign up.

The Obama campaign succeeded online in part because it didn’t know what worked–and admitted it. That’s the hallmark of a good marketer: humility about your skills, a willingness to constantly check your core assumptions.

To succeed as a marketer, you have to take risks and put your ego on the line. As Pixar president Ed Catmull reminds us, “if we aren’t always at least a little scared, we’re not doing our job.”


What you should remember when running A/​B tests

A/​B testing can help you make great leaps in optimizing your online marketing, but it’s not a panacea. It requires a lot of measurement, commitment and patience.

Peep Laja offers three useful warnings:

  1. Most A/​B tests won’t produce huge gains (and that’s okay)
  2. There’s a lot of waiting (until statistical confidence)
  3. Trickery doesn’t provide serious lifts, understanding the user does

This is spot on. Most of the tests I have run have failed to achieve any lift, while others were inconclusive statistically even after collecting considerable data. And his final point is critical: focus your testing not on the quick win but on how you can best convince your customers to buy.

If I had to add a fourth point, it’d be this: Run tests only to learn something, not simply for the sake of testing. What question are you trying to answer with your test, and how would the results lead you to do things differently in the future?


Fire your SEO company and hire a writer

The way to boost your site’s Google ranking, Paul Boag says, is to write quality content that your customers want to link to. Don’t waste time with consultants’ SEO voodoo.

[I]t all comes down to content,” he writes. “If you create great content, people will link to it, and Google will improve your placement. It really is that simple.”


How to weed out bad job candidates

When hiring, finding job candidates with the right technical skills is the easy part. Bryan Goldberg offers advice on how to separate the merely adequate applicants from the all-​​stars:

[I]f a candidate can’t even tell you why they liked their last job, or what they got out of their college experience, or any of the million other questions that speak to their basic humanness… Then no amount of experience will make them valuable.