Split testing and marketing optimization

In digital business, driving conversions (getting users to do what you want them to do) is a science. And there are plenty of tools out there that can help. Experimenting should be a constant exercise in this respect. Take any discipline, anything competitive, or life in general and you’ll find benefit in testing the waters and adjusting your sail. Our ability to interpret that data is the bottle neck to making profitable decisions. The best lesson I’ve learned is that intuition is usually not enough. We’re better looking at the numbers and trusting data instead.

Over the years, I’ve used various marketing software for automation and optimization. The overall goal has always been to influence users through a funnel of action, finally leading to a “conversion”. Fundamentally, it’s a lever for persuasion and influence. I’ve been working on a product that focuses on this point. Optimizing conversions, sales, and leads can be broken down into a system based approach. That’s what SplitWit aims to achieve. It is a “software as a service” platform that helps you to split test your website. That means it allows you to make changes to your website, that only half of your visitors will see, and then determines which version leads to better results (be that sales, sign-ups, etc.) Through each campaign, you’ll see an increase in performance.

Here, I’ll highlight some features and talk through its development.

Registration engine and basic template

As a starting point, I used a template to quickly get things prototyped and working. I’ve made a few enhancements to this base code while building SplitWit. I will eventually merge those updates into the template repository – which I’ll highlight in another article.

The front-end design utilizes basic principles that focus on user experience. I iterated through various color pallets, and ended with a blue-shaded scheme. Subtle textured patterns applied to background sections help add a finished look. And of course, FontAwesome is my go-to icon set.

Code-wise, some dependencies include Bootstrap 4, jQuery Simple MobileMenu, and Google Fonts. An awesome CSS technique that I used for the first time was to set the main container of each page to have a minimum height of 100% of the viewport. This ensures that the page footer doesn’t end up in the middle of the screen if there is not enough content.

.main-content.container{
  min-height: 100vh;
}

Visual optimizer and editor

This part was fun to build. After setting up an account, you can create experiments that target certain pages of your website. The visual optimizer lets you make changes easily between the control and variation versions.

visual editor

The editor loads up your website as an iFrame on the right side of the page. Once your page is loaded, SplitWit adds an overlay to the iFrame. This way, instead of interacting with the page, your clicks can be intercepted. Any elements that you click on get loaded up as HTML into the “make a change” section of the editor. Any changes you make get saved to that variation, and will be displayed to half of your visitors.

Here is an example of the code that powers the overlay and connects it to the editor:

pageIframe.contents().find("body").prepend(overlay);
 
pageIframe.contents().find("body *").css("z-index", 1).mouseenter(function(){

  $(this).addClass('highlighted'); 

  testSelectorEl = $(this);
  

}).mouseout(function(){

  $(this).removeClass('highlighted');   

}).click(function(e){

  e.preventDefault();
  var value = testSelectorEl.getPath()
  selectNewElement(value);
  //scroll user to selector input
  $([document.documentElement, document.body]).animate({
    scrollTop: $(".page-editor-info").offset().top
  }, 1000);

});

The editor has lots of built in options, so you can change the style and behavior of your page without needing to know how to code. A marketer can use this tool without the help of a developer – which is clutch!

Metrics and statistical significance

A key feature of SplitWit is to measure conversion metrics and performance indicators. The platform determines which variation is a winner based on the metrics you set. Three types of metrics are offered: page views, click events, and custom API calls.

Algorithms calculate statistical significance based on the number of visitors an experiment receives and the conversion metrics configured. This makes sure that the result is very unlikely to have occurred coincidently.

The code snippet

Each project setup in SplitWit generates a code snippet. Once this snippet is added to a website, SplitWit is able to do its magic. Using JavaScript, it applies variation changes, splits user traffic between versions, and measures key metrics about the experiments running.

The platform uses a relational database structure, powered by MySQL. As you make changes to your experiments, the details are saved and written to your unique snippet file. When the snippet file loads, the first thing is does is check to see if there are any experiments that should be running on the current page. Each experiment can be configured to run on various URLs. The configuration rules contain three parts: a URL pattern, a type (target or exclude), and a match type (exact, basic, or substring). You can read SplitWit documentation to find an explanation of these match types.

experiment settings

Here is the code used to test a URL against an experiment’s configuration rules:

function testUrl(testurl, conditions){
			
	if(testurl.search(/(?:[a-z0-9](?:[a-z0-9-]{0,61}[a-z0-9])?\.)+[a-z0-9][a-z0-9-]{0,61}[a-z0-9]/) < 0){
		return window.inputError($(".test-url-input"), "Please test a valid URL.");
	}
	var valid = false;
	var arr  = [],
	keys = Object.keys(conditions);

	for(var i=0,n=keys.length;i<n;i++){
		var key  = keys[i];
		arr[i] = conditions[key];
	}

	conditions = arr;
	for (i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) { 
		var url = conditions[i].url;
		var matchtype = conditions[i].matchtype;
		var conditiontype = conditions[i].conditiontype;

		if(matchtype == "exact" && conditiontype == "target" && url == testurl){
			valid = true;
		}
		if(matchtype == "exact" && conditiontype == "exclude" && url == testurl){
			valid = false;
		}

		if(matchtype == "basic"){
			var cleanTestUrl = testurl.toLowerCase();
			var cleanUrl = url.toLowerCase();

			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("?") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("?"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("?") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("?"));
			}
			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("&") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("&"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("&") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("&"));
			}
			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("#") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("#"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("#") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("#"));
			}
			cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.replace(/^(?:https?:\/\/)?(?:www\.)?/i, "");
			cleanUrl = cleanUrl.replace(/^(?:https?:\/\/)?(?:www\.)?/i, "");
			cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.replace(/\/$/, "");
			cleanUrl = cleanUrl.replace(/\/$/, ""); 

			if(conditiontype == "target" && cleanUrl == cleanTestUrl){
				valid = true;
			}
			if(conditiontype == "exclude" && cleanUrl == cleanTestUrl){
				valid = false;
			}

		}
		if(matchtype == "substring"){
			if(testurl.includes(url) && conditiontype == "target"){
				valid = true;
			}
			if(testurl.includes(url) && conditiontype == "exclude"){
				valid = false;
			}
		} 
	}
	
	return valid;

}


A/B split testing

Conducting experiments with the goal of optimizing a metric is a powerful tool, and yields a large return on the time and money you invest in to it. The SplitWit platform can help digital goals come to fruition in short time. As new features are rolled out, I’ll continue posting updates deep diving into how things work behind the scenes. Follow @SplitWit for regular updates.

www.SplitWit.com

Building digital products

When writing about digital problem solving, I tell stories about past projects. On top of a tech perspective, I also dig into the business, design, marketing, and inter-personal aspects. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wide breadth of tech experience through my career. It has helped me dive deep into principles and ideas about building digital products. This range of experience was afforded by continually pursuing new work. Finding room for side projects and extra gigs is a great way to grow.

After a daily, hour-long commute I could barely sneak an hour or two for my creative projects and side gigs. But I always did. Side projects were often for paying clients, but sometimes just for fun. They would include not just programming, but also design, marketing, networking, and infrastructure. On top of this, I always made sure my hobbies would serve my overall goals. Reading good books, playing quality games, and being physically competitive all lead to a better life and career.

The key take-away is to work on a variety of projects. Be ready to try different technologies and new platforms. In general, keep trying new things.

Understand infrastructure. Survive some horror stories.

Web infrastructure and hosting setup are skills often missed out on by both casual programmers and professionals. Configuring domain names, email, web hosting, and load balancers is usually reserved for system administrators. Working as one-stop-shop, on your own or in a company, can give you the opportunity to manage all of these details.

I’ve gotten to work with many third-party services and vendors. I’ve seen the good and the bad, and even worse. AWS (Amazon Web Services) has been the best infrastructure provider that I have used. I’ve had horrible experiences from other companies.

Once having had my web servers infected by ransom-ware, HostGator wanted to charge nearly a thousand dollars, to solve the problem. This was the only solution they offered while multiple web properties were infected and out of commission. I fixed the issue myself in less than a few hours by purging all data from the servers and redeploying source code from version control. That was a nightmare.

Another time servers provided by OLM went down for multiple days. This was in 2014. During this time, they wouldn’t answer telephones, letting them ring. I stood on hold for at least 30 minutes, multiple times per day trying to get through. After nearly a week, things started working again, with no explanation provided. That was one of the most unprofessional experiences of my career. I will forever shout them out about this.

Get your hands dirty

Looking forward, I’m excited to explore more of AWS. I’m currently learning through online courses from Udemy: “Certified Solutions Architect” and “Certified Developer”, and plan to take the certification tests. Next, I want to jump into their “Machine Learning” and “Internet of Things” services.

I regularly use AWS services for cloud computing, storage, and databases. My go-to for a new project is to spin up a EC2 instance. If I know I’m using WordPress, I may use a Bitnami AMI. Other times, I’ll create a basic Linux box, and setup Apache, MySql, and PHP myself. Here is the documentation I regularly reference: Install a LAMP Web Server on Amazon Linux 2. This process usually includes configuring a domain name, and setting up SSL: Configure SSL/TLS on Amazon Linux 2.

I’ll continue this post as a series. I plan tell stories about my experiences in building digital products. I’ll cover topics such as design, marketing software, customization, and APIs. Follow me on Instagram for regular updates: @AntPace87

Top 3 graphic design apps for social media marketing

Modern software has given creators the tools they need to showcase their work to the world. Here are the best free apps that I’ve been using that will help your talent shine in 2019:

AppWrap – Do you want to feature your latest website or app design to your followers? Are you building a portfolio for the UI/UX projects you worked on? This app is a great way to wrap your screenshots in a mobile device view. You can add effects, backgrounds, and text to really polish the look and feel. Their template gallery will give you inspiration to make something gorgeous. http://www.appwrap.in/

AntPace.com mobile device view

Canva – This is one of my favorites. With a library of over 60,000+ templates, this app has something for every platform. Whether you need to create a great looking post, story, or cover image, this app has designs for Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and much more. If you want your online presence to look professionally designed, check this one out! https://www.canva.com/

Anthony Pace creativity takes courage

Hatchful – Do you need a logo for your brand, business, or product? This app let’s you create one quickly. By customizing templates, you can draft, and iterate designs. Having logo design done fast, cheap, and easily allows you to focus on the actual product. It’s important to not get hung up on the logo, especially early into your venture, and instead focus on the actual value your service proposes. https://hatchful.shopify.com/

antpace.com

I’ve used all of these apps, and personally gained value from them. What apps do you use for your graphic design?

BJJ Tracker, a fitness app

www.BJJTracker.com

BJJ Tracker is a fitness app for tracking Brazilian jiu jitsu training. It’s the sort of fitness app I was looking for, but couldn’t find. Version 1.0 is a bare bones MVP, but has a list of features on the way. Future versions will add gamification (including challenges and goals), UX/UI enhancements, training recommendations, and more.

The app allows users to record their training sessions, with details about drilling and sparring, as well as competition. This data is visualized over charts and calendars. The idea started from physically writing my training sessions onto an actual calendar, with a minimum goal per week. Building it has been a great exercise in digital product development, software design, and UI/UX strategy.

fitness tracker calendar

Software

BJJ Tracker is a web app, hosted on a AWS Linux server, running Apache, PHP, and MySql. I used Initializr to generate a bootstrap template to get my front-end started. One goal of this project was to build a web app framework that I could use to quickly get future projects running. This code would include user registration and login services, as well as other back-end concerns, on top of a front-end. I’ve cleaned most of this code into a generic repo on GitHub. You can read my post explaining its features.

Design

This app was designed with “mobile first” in mind, assuming that most users will be on a smart phone. The look and feel of the color palette, font-choice, and UI layout took some experimenting and visual research. It’s not final, and will be subject to split testing over time. I used Font Awesome to add icons as visual cues, giving the app a more finished look. The three lined (hamburger) menu in the top right comes as standard UI, using Simple MobileMenu, a jQuery plugin. Other UI elements include a top status message, and “In-Your-Face” status message, both of which are custom built notifications that I’ve wrapped as javascript plugins. Having a calendar section was important to me, and I consider to be a primary feature of the app. I use Full Calendar to generate the full month view. The homepage (dashboard) focuses on a week view. Google charts is used for the “techniques” graph.

logo design

The logo is a work-in-progress. The textual part was easy – pick a font, add a sharp outline, and a drop shadow. I always start with a 1024×1024 canvas. The symbol begins with simple shapes, triangles and circles. I left this process for last, saving my focus for the actual product. This allowed me to rapidly iterate design versions, and see how it would look directly in the user interface. Below is the current portrayal – and I’m excited for next versions.

bjj tracker

Challenges and next steps

One goal of this project was to get started fast, so people could begin using it. Deciding what to include out of a long list of ideas proved challenging. I could have kept adding features, and never been ready to make the site public. I meant to keep functionality basic, but still wanted the thing to be useful. The design needed to be simple, yet still had to look finished. I won’t know how close I came to getting this right until I analyze user feedback. The real plan is to do a little bit better next time, and to keep iterating. Using this as foundation will let future ventures start a step ahead. Already, I’ve begun implementing updates, and getting ready to deploy to the App Store and Google Play. Look out for coming updates and other products that are in the works! Don’t forget to visit the BJJ Tracker blog.

bjj tracker

Having a template for web apps and startups

Having a framework in place when you start up will let you hit the ground running. This applies not just to software, but also business, health, fitness, and just about everything else in life. Having the dots ready to connect helps you to draw the right picture.

I recently released BJJ Tracker as a web app. You can read about it here. I built it knowing that I would want to reuse its code, and have it serve as a framework for future projects. I cleaned it up into a GitHub repository, trying to make it as generic as I could. Here is the link: https://github.com/pacea87/ap-template.

BJJ Tracker

I wanted to create a template to rapidly roll out digital products and software. This source code is a starting point. The goal is to be quick and cheap, without sacrificing quality. It runs in a LAMP environment. If you want to run this software on your computer, look into WAMP or MAMP.

This code base provides a front-end that leverages modern web technologies and standard best practices. A basic layout is described, including a header, menu drawer, feature buttons, and detail pages. It uses Bootstrap, jQuery, Font Awesome, Google Fonts, and Google Charts.

The back-end is object oriented, RESTful, and secure. Code that talks to the database, or to 3rd party APIs, has been separated out into *-service.php files. It includes SQL to create a user database. The database interacts with a custom registration and login engine. It allows for anonymous users, so that data can be saved before signing up, and a password is not needed to get started. It provides a reset password mechanism for users. It seamlessly integrates with Mailchimp and Facebook login. Redirects are in place to force SSL and WWW, and to remove file extensions from URLs. Next versions will address technical SEO and new API integrations.

source code

If you’d like to contribute to this repo, feel free to fork it, and make a pull request.

GitHub