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Google Optimize 101

As nonprofit fundraisers, marketers, and digital organizers, you strive to find ways to improve your organization’s website to increase conversions. This might mean redesigning an online donation form to streamline the process for donors, making it easier for constituents to send a message to elected officials, or measuring what content inspires an audience to share your mission. Finding your “special sauce” requires experimentation and careful measurement to track what works and what doesn’t. The good news is, Google Optimize makes running experiments on your website and measuring the results easier than ever, and it’s a totally FREE tool.

Here is a quick rundown of Google Optimize basics and the features that make it an essential tool for improving your nonprofit’s website.

Setup and Implementation

Using Optimize requires that you already have Google Analytics installed on your website and that you’re using the Chrome web browser. Next, install the Optimize Chrome extension to use its visual editor tool to create experiments. The setup process is fairly straight forward:

  1. Create an Optimize account
  2. Link Optimize to your Google Analytics property
  3. Install the Optimize container snippet on your website. (Note: You can install the container either by working with your website developer to modify the global site tag, or you can implement Optimize via Google Tag Manager.)

Testing Types

Optimize gives you the ability to run three different types of tests. You can decide which type of test best fits with the experiment you want to run.

A/B Test

This is the basic test type you’re probably familiar with (think email A/B testing). A/B tests allow you to send a portion of your traffic to version A of a web page and the other portion of your traffic to a B version of a web page. This experiment type is best for testing two versions of the same webpage where a single element has been changed.

Example: two different photos on a donation form, or two different calls-to-action in the hero section at the top of your homepage.

Redirect Test

This is a different type of an A/B test that allows you to test different web pages against each other. Rather than serving up two different versions of the same web page, you split your traffic and send them to two different pages or URLs. This is useful for testing a complete redesign of a page or a very different layout that you can’t achieve in the simplified page editing tools.

Example: testing a single-step donation form vs. a multi-step donation form. You would build out both forms, and send half your traffic to the single-step form and half your traffic to the multi-step form to measure which form has a higher conversion rate.

Multivariate Test

This type of experiment allows you to test two or more elements simultaneously to see which combination works best.

Example: This type of test is great for figuring out what combination of images and copy work best together. If you have a large hero image on your homepage with a call-to-action or tagline, test a combination of three or four different headlines and three of four different images.

Creating Variants with the Visual Editor

The Optimize Chrome extension makes it easy for you to make changes to your site – text, images, colors, layouts, etc. – without developer level skills. There are limitations to the changes you can make with the editor, and that’s when to consider a redirect test rather than a standard A/B test.

You can rearrange your main navigation, adjust the size, color, and text of buttons, or test one-step vs. two-step donation forms. The visual editor makes it simple to complete these alterations, so you don’t need to know HTML to set up and run experiments.


It’s not just about 50/50 split tests. Optimize also provides advanced targeting tools for your experiments that allow you to get more sophisticated in segmenting which portion of your website visitors to run your experiment on. Options include targeting based on behavior, location, or devices being used. Imagine being able to execute these types of experiments on your nonprofit website:

  • Technology Targeting with a donation form – You suspect your one-step donation form works fine for users on desktops, but that you could improve conversions for mobile visitors by using a multi-step form. Technology targeting would allow you to only serve up the experiment for users who visit your site on a mobile device.
  • Referral targeting to customize your call-to-action – are users who are referred to your website from social media more likely to take one action versus another? Using this type of targeting you can run an experiment to find out.
  • Data Layer variable for testing thank you messages – if you’re using a data layer on your donation forms you could use this information, such as the giving amount, to target an experiment. For example, for major gifts over a certain amount you could run an experiment to show those donors a different thank you message with a different follow-up ask than donors at lower levels.

Objectives and Reporting

Remember that Optimize is linked to your Google Analytics account. The objective of your experiment (the conversion or action you want to improve) is chosen from a list of your Google Analytics goals. So make sure your goals are set up to track the things you want to run experiments on (donation conversions, email signups, advocacy alert submissions, event signups, etc.)

Because Optimize integrates with Google Analytics, you’ll be able to view all your data in one place. Once you’ve run an experiment, you can use the reporting features in Analytics or Optimize to see how each variant in a test performed. Now you’ll have the data you need to update your website with the winning versions based on actual user data.

This is important because we’ve all read a report that says the best practice is ‘x’ or your boss thinks ‘y’ is better, but you’ll never know for sure what works for your website and your audience until you run the test and measure the results. The more you know about your users, and what they respond to, the better equipped you are to populate your website with content, features, and calls-to-action that resonate with your community.

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