Seeking Edge, Websites Turn to Experiments

11 July 2014
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1-800-Dentist is a small company facing a big decision. What picture on its Web home page will get the most people to fill out a form with their names and phone numbers?

At many Web publishers, such decisions can lead to impassioned arguments, fruitless debates, even hurt feelings. But 1-800-Dentist doesn’t leave it to chance or opinion. Instead it runs an experiment. It launches two or more versions of a Web page, and then watches as users react. After thousands of people have visited, one version will have edged out the others with a statistically significant improvement in the number of sign-ups.

Such optimization testing is quickly spreading across the Web. And as companies gain access to tools that let them run their businesses like ongoing science experiments, it’s changing not only how decisions get made but what the Web looks like. “There used to be a battle of opinions in our company,” says Elliot Kharkats, the Web analytics and testing manager for 1-800-Dentist. “The designer would get upset. The boss would intervene. But we don’t have a story like that anymore. No one is really committed to their version anymore, because testing proves over and over again that the smartest people in the room are just wrong.”