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How to Set Up and Run a Web Experiment - Part 2

By Charles Hofacker, Professor of Marketing, College of Business, and
Jamie Murphy, a student at the College of Communications, Florida
State University.

Hofacker and Murphy frequently publish research and commentary on
internet marketing in scholarly journals and the New York Times Online.
They operate New South Network Services,
an ISP and Web Creative Firm in Tallahassee, FL

We have been running experiments on the world wide web since the Fall of 1996, and it never ceases to amaze us how unpredictable surfers are. We have found experimental research on web pages endlessly enlightening. You never know "what makes people click."

In our last column Who Knows What Pages Work Best?, we made a case for defining your site's goals, and then finding out empirically which site design best achieves these goals. The direct marketing industry has been doing this for years, constantly fine tuning their message and tinkering with their format.

We have initiated research in the area of optimal page design on behalf of a number of our clients at New South Network Services using a simple methodology that could be adopted by other sites.

Most sites have a page called "index.html" which functions as the main entry point, or home, for a web site. When a visitors asks for, the server looks about on the main document directory of for "index.html" and sends this file to the visitor. We replace this page with a Perl script named "index.cgi."

The script contains a list of two or more files which represent alternative versions of index.html. For example, one version may be white on black and a second version might be black on white. The script creates a random number, and picks one of the files based on this number. It then opens the chosen file and writes it out. That file is the opening page the viewer sees.

In addition, before finishing up, the script logs the visitor's domain name, IP address, time and date of access, and the file which was randomly chosen. That way it is possible to determine which version of the home page each visitor saw. The log file can then be mined for differences in behavior between the random visitors to the several versions of index.html in terms of links visited or other desirable goals.

Let the winner be proclaimed the official index.html!

ReSearch Guru



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