I remember looking at a picture with colorful tiles overlaid over a mock webpage. In the upper left there was a red-orange tile and another one right below. Across the top and down the left-hand-side of the page there were more orange and bright green tiles. As my eye gazed across to the right and down the mock page, the tiles got blue and finally purple. I was at Google in 2005 where my job was helping website owners figure out how to implement Google AdWords ads on their site. The picture that I was inspecting was a heatmap, which was derived from aggregate statistical data showing which ad placements resulted in the highest number of clicks.
I was astonished. I realized that design on the web was a big statistical game. Users had tendencies such as where they tended to look first on a screen and what colors tended to catch their eye. It was just a matter of using experimentation to figure out what those tendencies were and designing products that played to those preferences rather than worked against them.
This idea that we can test the effectiveness of product design resonated with me. Having studied physics and economics in college, I had a strong preference for proof and hard numbers over subjective intuition. My academic background led me to adopting a data and research-driven approach to designing user experiences for interactive products like websites.
I soon discovered testing tools such as eye-tracking, which allows one to track what a user is looking at on the screen, as well as A/B testing, which allows one to compare how effective two versions of a page are in relation to each other. I also read results of experiments that others were performing with headlines such as “Placing the security logo on the upper left between the search box and the navigation bar increased conversions 8.83%.”
Later, during my tenure as director of user experience in a Silicon Valley startup in 2007, I decided to use experimentation to drive product design. The startup was a document sharing site that was one of the most visited web properties in the world. I suggested to Senior Director of Product that we should try experimenting with the registration button on the home page. He laughed and told me not to waste my time, but luckily the founders were supportive of the idea, and we did it anyways.
One of the senior engineers (a brilliant gentleman that later became a very successful entrepreneur) developed our in-house A/B testing platform. First we figured that maybe moving the registration button to a more prominent place might help our conversions–the proportion of people clicking through to the registration page. So we moved the button from all the way on the right of the menu bar to the center. Lo and behold, our conversion rate increased by more than 70%! I was stunned that simply moving the button to the left of the page by a few hundred pixels (effectively about two inches on a monitor) made such a huge difference. I think we all were.
Given our initial success, we decided to keep going to see what other optimizations we could make through testing variations. We next decided to change the design of the button itself. Originally the button was a bland shade of blue, so we decided to try making it bright green based on the hypothesis that users would more readily notice a brighter color and would, thus, be more likely to click it. Another round of A/B testing revealed that the green version gave us about another 50% increase in conversion rate. This moment in time changed my life. At that moment, I thought that soon everyone would be experimenting and testing product design because it had such unbelievable potential to help businesses grow.
Over the next decade, two important trends occurred. First, leaders figured out ways to experiment with changes to not only product implementation but also to marketing and operations such as customer service. Second, many new tools appeared in the market allowing businesses to experiment with things like marketing messaging and even customer service process. Some companies have taken full advantage of the methods and tools to dominate their competitors. Unfortunately, these exciting advances have not yet reached a mass audience, and many businesses continue to fall behind.
In speaking to friends, clients, and colleagues, we heard the same refrain: the possibilities seem so numerous and the methods so opaque that many folks simply do not know where to start. In addition, many people had heard of terms like “growth hacking,” and incorrectly believed that they should replicate hacks that other businesses have used rather than adopting a broader process that they can contextualize to their business and implement to reliably grow their customer base and revenue. Our aim in writing this book is to give everyone an overview of the three pillars that make up growth science as well as practical tactics for growing your business.
Check in tomorrow for the next section of Chapter 1.