In Testing, Keep the Baby, Change the Bathwater

Mar 02, 2007 1:26 AM  By

(SearchLine) Prospective parents are accustomed to lots of tests: for the health of the baby, for its gender, and for the mother’s wellness. When BabyCenter.com, a content site aimed at parents-to-be, wanted to optimize its site to drive search traffic, it took a leaf from that baby book and did some testing of its own.

BabyCenter.com is one of the leading parenting sites on the Web; its combination of expert content, interactive tools, online community, and e-commerce attracts more than 4 million visitors a month, according to comScore Media Metrix. Expectant parents can enter their due date and then sign up for e-mail newsletters, including a popular one called “My Baby This Week” that details the developmental stages of their child from pregnancy through preschool. There’s no co-registration for these newsletters; the site makes its revenue primarily through on-site ads, sale of content sponsorships, and some selective lead generation using sweepstakes and special offers.

The site offers a number of useful tools, including an ovulation calculator and a pregnancy calendar, but one of its most heavily used is the Baby Name Finder, which is actually a suite of resources including lists of top 100 names, a search engine for finding names by origin or meaning, and a poll maker that lets parents test out possible names on their friends and family.

“Baby names are also an important part of our search marketing program,” says Heather Wajer, BabyCenter’s senior marketing manager. “Right now, 11 of our top 20 keywords are related to baby names.”

But until recently, visitors who clicked through those search ads didn’t arrive on a landing page relevant to baby names. As a result, BabyCenter was seeing a high dropoff from that page.

“It was a very general landing page with creative that talked about our developmental content, our newsletters and our free print magazine,” Wajer says. “The baby-name tool was only referred to by default in our site search query box. There was nothing to reassure visitors that they had arrived at a page relevant to their name search.”

So BabyCenter needed a new landing page for its name tool. That meant testing different layouts and creative. Site testing had proven too big a job for the small BabyCenter staff in the past, so they reached outside the company for the multivariate testing capabilities of Offermatica.

Using Offermatica’s platform and hosted content server, BabyCenter uploaded four new layout modules for the baby-name landing page and began measuring their performance, using the old landing page as a control. One of these choices offered the headline”Looking for baby names?” and added “Find the perfect baby name and much more at BabyCenter.com.” It also offered a search box that defaulted to baby names and a BabyCenter sign-up box.

The other three test pages added more detail about the naming information users could find on the site. One gave greater detail about the ability to learn names’ meanings, find the hottest trends in baby names, and poll friends and family; another provided that list but added more data about the other tools and services on the site. The last one actually teased the naming tool by listing the top five names for girls and boys in the previous year.

Wajer says BabyCenter was able to spot a winner within about eight days of initiating the test. Surprisingly, the simplest version produced the biggest lift in conversions (defined as users clicking through to the actual name-finder tool), with an increase of 67% over the old page. The pages that combining the baby-name headline with bullet-point details scored almost as well–around a 63% increase in conversions. Only the page with the list of top baby names failed to register any improvement over the former version.

Wajer and her team wasted no time in adopting the optimized landing page, and they are now planning to run similar tests for both the site’s content-specific pay-per-click ads and for its e-commerce store, using a monthly subscription to Offermaticaís hosted service.

“As marketers, we all think we know what’s going to improve conversions, but in reality consumers often behave differently than we expect,” Wajer says. “With a testing service such as Offermatica’s, we can put those ideas to the test and settle those issues within a week or two.”

And testing helped settle one long-standing Web question early on, to Wajer’s relief. “For as long as I’ve been here, there’s been this dispute as to what converts better, a picture of a baby or a picture of a pregnant woman,” she says.

As it turns out, the baby photo does much better. “Pregnancy is a very aspirational time,” Wajer says. “People want to see pictures of the beautiful child they hope to bring home. I was especially glad to get that issue wrapped.”

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