HowTo: WordPress Multivariate Split-testing With Google Website Optimizer

WordPress Sales & Affiliate Themes

I spent the better part of a week and a few hundred dollars ($300-$400) on various WordPress sales letter and affiliate themes – I came to the conclusion that they weren’t something I would use.

  • Some I would class as pretty but lacking substance (polite version of crap)
  • Every single theme was designed around the concept that you run a single theme on your blog at a time
  • They all suffered from what I regard as a horrible plague – theme option pages – if you need to set up lots of options after you have uploaded a theme, you have lost a sale, unless I can also import and export settings.
  • The worst aspect of theme options pages is using them for the content that might appear on a page, because it is a nightmare to set up split testing, and when editing, you really want all the words on the page in front of you.

So I set about creating a solution for myself…

I started of with Thematic which I had already been playing around with for a good 8 months. Themeatic is an offshoot or branch of Sandbox of which I was also a fan, but built upon a grid system that hopefully I won’t totally destroy when I finally get around to theming on this site.

The first challenge was custom CSS for every page, and navigating my way through the maze of which functions initialized at which time within the WordPress core, such that the style sheet used is determined by the page selected in the default custom layout selector.

The end result is only 160 lines of code in functions.php, plus some in individual custom theme pages, and that may well get shorter as I optimize things, but the end result is something unique and useful.

I am a strong believer in doing things once

Once I have created a custom sales page theme for this system, though it is not limited to sales pages, it can be used without any setup overhead other than selecting it within a dropdown list and hitting save.

And of course, everything is created based upon a child theme of Thematic, thus when Thematic has one of its frequent updates, there will be very little if any pain in upgrading.

WordPress Split Testing With Google Website Optimizer

There are a number  of plugins that claim to provide support for Google Website Optimizer. Most only work with A/B split testing as the authors couldn’t figure out the best way to add tags to post content.

In addition often the GWO code was placed in the wrong place in the header, it needs to be after Doctype, but before the CSS to effectively fully replace the CSS – I realise CSS is meant to be cascading, and you can force your way through when it doesn’t quite work out, but sales pages are meant to load fast.

So our single CSS file by default no matter what style the page is gets wrapped with GWO selectors by default. The most important element on the page, the post title which most of the time is used as a headline also gets wrapped in selectors by default.

You don’t have to test them all the time, but they are there when you want them. 

I eventually selected one plugin solution, from an Italian company who do landing pages. I may end up tweaking things more, moving various thing from functions.php into the plugin, though many of the hooks I have used are specific to thematic, even the one I ended up using within the plugin to get the correct placement of the GWO code in the header.

Whilst I claim that this video would only be 5 minutes at the start, it is actually 8 minutes, but demonstrates the full process of setting up split testing with my current solution.


I am sure you are also curious about how it works, so here is the demo sales page from the video, with split testing currently enabled.

The reason I haven’t yet implemented shortcodes are 2-fold.

  • I don’t need them
  • Using PHP, it is quite easy to use most of the work I have done with any other split testing software, either javascript or PHP based, for those with tin-foil hats (most affiliates using Adwords extensively?)

The PHP plugin I discovered rocks – I tweeted about it a couple of weeks ago.

Implementation for other theme frameworks isn’t immediately planned, and code after some more tweaking will be made available in various ways (for the geeks whose shoulders I had to climb on to get this far), and I will probably package things in some way for those less technically inclined looking  for a “solution, along with modified versions of various themes I have rights for.

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  1. says

    I’ve also been setting up some Word Press blogs and wishing I knew how to customize it more. I hate the default template. But it’s free software so complaining is a little tacky on my part. I try to stick with what’s clean and simple as you have done with this blog. I wish I could do the more complex things that you talked about in this article. I’m getting there!

  2. Bukugan says

    I agree with him about the templete and i do the same wish i new how to customize it a bit more. Through time im sure ill find out how to work them a bit more.

  3. says

    I had loads of problems selecting themes for my blog too. The free ones are just not good enough, which you need to pay for premium ones before being able to test them as you’ve done here. Thanks for the tips though, will check them out.

  4. says

    Hi Andy, is the blog back in operation again? If so, glad to have you back.

    Just checked by your Twitter profile and saw the tweet for the new post. Good stuff, hope I’ll get time to try it out. Just retweeted this too. Cheers!

  5. says

    I recently just switched over to thematic and a customized child theme called Commune. I now have a seo optimized site with auto resize pictures, no need for custom fields, no includes files to screw around with…I love it! And will likely be switching more and more sites to thematic soon.

  6. says

    I must admit that I didn’t even understand half of what you just said but since I have long been wondering why nobody had done anything to use Google optimizer for split testing in WP now I think I know why… very few people know how to do that.

  7. says

    I am tired of the standard themes as well.. and that video demonstration helped heaps, I have always wondered about this google service. Thanks..
    Also do you recommend the thematic theme..?

    • says

      Yes, i totally agree with Timon – the video helped a lot. However, i’m not too sure about the thematic theme – it seems fairly complex. Thanks anyway for the post!

  8. says

    Andy – split testing is something I need t learn more about. Google’s tool for this seems very helpful, and your video puts things into a bit clearer perspective or me. Thanks!

  9. says

    Thanks for posting your experience with testing landing pages on blogs. It can take so much time to customize a blog and then if you want to change things up, you have to start all over again. I’m still using blogger because it seems more straightforward to update themes, but it’s obviously a lot less flexible in the long run than wordpress. One of these days I will have to bite the bullet and invest some time with wordpress — I imagine that the results will be well worth it once all is said and done.

  10. says

    Andy thanks for sharing this information, and thanks for the video, I am a big fan of the video demonstration. I am a visual person, helps to see it.


  11. says

    I have been playing with thematic and it took me a few times to get the hang of it but it is a very good “must have”. I used it to make a few themes and during tests so far so good.

  12. says

    Wow… that made my brain hurt but once I’ve re-read it a couple of times I think I’ll just about get it. I can see the benefit of using different themes on the same blog but tbh just HOW you do that and then measure the benefit had always puzzled me a little. This seems like a plan that could work well.

  13. says

    Thanks for sharing this article which was really informative to me and at same time helpful too.Iam aware of some new features by reading your article.Excellent posts!

    • says

      Split testing is key. Every commercial you see has already been tested to death or is a testing campaign. I get my best ad copy lines watching highly tested commercials. As usual Andy is right on.

      @Matt @Website Design, most of Andy’s posts make my head hurt. LOL

      Chris Lang

  14. says

    It’s about time you got back to work, the Internet was a less interesting place with out you blogging.

    I started a Google beta test and it asked me my preferred sites. This is the list it offered.

    Add – Add – Add – Add – Add – Add – Add – (that’s all G suggested BTW)

    There in the list was and low and behold you are back. Pretty weird even for my level of conspiracy theory.

  15. says

    Thanks Andy, this was very informative, I have always wanted to split test but I’m a very impatient person. I am definitely going to give this a go

  16. says

    I love the Thematic theme you used however recently I have been using Artisteer to make my own customized themes which has resulted in not only themes that are my own creation but an unlimited way to customize them the way I want.


    • says

      I have been tempted to look at Artisteer a number of times, but to be honest I have never liked the look of the code created. I actually have a number to convert over to Thematic.

  17. says

    Google Website Optimizer really is fantastic! If you are looking for something that is simple to use and do not have much in the way to split-test, then it is definitely a great option. I have been personally using it for quite some time and I really enjoy it!

    I have tried other PHP-based scripts and products as well, but I really like Google Website Optimizer. Plus, you can’t beat the price!

  18. says

    Thanks for introducing me to Thematic. I will definitely give it a shot. The example child themes look refreshingly different from the commercial themes I am used to seeing. I love it.

    • says

      I haven’t given Thematic a good look at yet either. Most of my blogs are niche oriented so the same theme all the way through hasn’t posed any problem for me, pus I design my own headers.

      That said it could be nice to be able to switch it up a bit. It’s definitely worth a look see, with so many people blogging online it’s important to stay ahead of the pack and keep things fresh and interesting.

  19. ohmelayu says

    ehm. i guess i will give a try first. Never heard something like this before. Really new to me to do that split testing.

  20. mirror bingo says

    Nice article for sharing, It was really very informative. I am agree with you about template because design can interact visitor to stay on. Nice tips stay continue.

  21. Free iPhone says

    Interesting post mate, I will give this a try, nice to read a good flowing post though on the net, not many good writers now days!

  22. says

    Great post, I do enjoy your template, its really unique and stands out in the make money online field, but im not sure how hard it would get when it comes to customizing – i know close to nnoyhing when it comes to programming.

    My blog uses the “Minima” template right from blogger. If you check it out you can see that it’s pretty customized, please tell me what you think Andy!

  23. says

    I have to agree that a lot of this goes over my head… I’d say there is a great market for someone who can simplify :)

  24. says

    Very nice post, its my first time in here, and I really liked it, im going to try the php plugin, thanks.

  25. says

    First off, your blog theme is one key to attract and make your visitor feel relax and cozy while reading your blogs. Great tips! I love how the way you explain it, makes it easier for us to understand.

  26. says

    Big fan of the thematic theme base. Use it on a few of our sites. Never even heard of Google Website Optimizer before. Thanks for this post. It’s wicked informative and useful.

  27. says

    I’m also into process of setting up my own WordPress blog but I have limited knowledge about customizing it more. I want to create my own WordPress theme but I don’t know how to make it yet, for the meantime I’m just using the available templates in wordpress. I’ve also tried Thematic and been testing it for 2 weeks already. I guess I still have a long way to go before I finally learn how to make my own wordpress theme. I’m not sure if Thematic will work for me but I’m giving it a shot now.

  28. Cheap Sunglasses says

    I’m not a great fan of the themes, I’m not very familiar with PHP so I’ve been using the ready made themes as well. I think that some of them are designed very nicely, but they lack a lot of things that I would like to have on my site. I guess I’ll just have to familiarize myself with PHP.

    nice post.


  29. says

    I feel your initial pain! WordPress is a great platform for developing websites, but short of Goolge Adsense it offers nothing to affiliates.

    I had to go to the extreme hassle of creating multiple custom templates to pull in feeds and make my site affiliate friendly. It was worth the effort though because it converts well.

  30. Abitur says

    Nice plugin, I will try it. Very good and an easy to read article. I never heard about Split-testing bevor! Thanks a lot!
    Abitur from Germany

  31. LI Computer Repairs says

    isnt the php plugin opening up the site to be more vulnerable?

  32. says

    A good template with good content will not hinder the importance of having a highly unique custom design. Thanks for pointing out Thematic will take a lookie over there.

  33. Detox King says

    Hi Andy,

    I completed a major multivariate test project with a large dating company as a client. I found the best tool was “Split Test Accelerator” and could easily be used with WordPress. The tool does require a .php file and has a robust function set.

    I did use the the Google website optimizer and found it a disaster when doing multivariate testing. This Google tool will only do A/B testing well.

    — Brian

  34. says

    I think it’s going to be pretty useful too and if used well should increase ROI for websites as well as helping Google’s bank account grow a bit larger. Being able to test and measure more accurately is one of the things that sets apart business online and offline. Small businesses aren’t going to have the money to just throw marketing and advertising out there in the hopes that something works. While you can test things offline it doesn’t compare with how much more you can know about your visitors online. Testing if done properly and well can help small business owners to not only optimize their websites, but also their budgets as it’s much easier to find out what is and isn’t working.

  35. Ignition Systems says

    Such is the give and take with open source software. Everyone has the freedom of expression to implement their theme their own way. But theme option pages are the worst, some with those hidden gotchas that keep the theme from working right out of the proverbial box. I appreciate they’ve given some thought to a declarative way of driving their themes, but the theme needs to be ready to go without a lot of setup.

  36. jeffpaulinfomercial says

    I enjoyed reading your post! I’ve been looking around for such material as I’m new in internet marketing. I have a background in web designing and now I’m stepping into online marketing

  37. clementyeung says

    Thank you for this post, it's really helped me understand how I could use Google Optimizer with WordPress.

    I really appreciate all the time and effort you've put into letting us know about this.

    Great content man :)

    Clément Yeung

  38. richardabelson says

    Detox King,

    I am trying to figure out how to use STA with WordPress and could use your help.. please email me!