Jan 09 12

Unbounce and Visual Website Optimizer as your Testing Platform


Summary: Unbounce and Visual Website Optimizer are both good candidates for a Testing platform. Each covers different aspects and has its pros and cons. In this post I will compare the two and explain why in my opinion, using both of them together is probably the best solution available out there at the moment.

Theoretically, I would have liked this post to be solely about the differences between Unbounce and Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) as testing platforms. However, they really are too different to be compared, as each tool addresses different aspects. That is why this post actually describes the synergy of using the two tools together. Let me explain.

I have been using AB and MVT tools for a long time. I first began with Google Website Optimizer, and managed to work with it for quite some time – providing I had a technical person to help me at all times. The fact that my technical person had to add a code to each and every page that I wanted to test was a pretty big downer, but I managed to live with it for few years.

Few months ago I was asked to implement a testing platform for a client, who wanted me to come up with both the tool and the methodology. This client had only one requirement – to be able to define and deploy tests without the involvement of a technical team. As this automatically disqualified Google Website Optimizer, I had to look for a different solution.

I had previously tried using both Visual Website Optimizer and Unbounce, but was not thrilled with either of them, due to the concept of a WYSIWYG editor, where the marketer could edit the page. At that time, I was concerned that the editor would not work properly with complex pages that had a JavaScript manipulation. In addition, the editor at that time was a bit shaky, and in many cases we could not achieve what we wanted without first having a JavaScript/HTML guru change the page layout and logic.

Following my client’s request, though, I decided to re-examine these tools. It turned out that over the past two years both tools had progressed immensely – so much so that today, these are the only two tools I would consider using for my testing platform – together.

In order to be able to use them together successfully, let me explain about each of the tools.

First things first. When using Unbounce, you have to first create the page that you want to test, whereas with Visual Website Optimizer you create a test for the existing page that you wish to test. This difference between the two tools has a huge impact on creating and managing tests, including who is involved and what kind of traffic can be included.

Types of Experiments – AB and MVT

Secondly, while VWO supports AB, MVT and split tests, Unbounce only supports AB tests. If you want to run a multi-variant experiment, Unbounce’s recommendation is to use the Visual Website Optimizer. This is rather odd, as Unbounce is supposed to be a holistic solution for landing pages – if I understand things correctly. Maybe they’re still trying to decide whether or not to add MVT to their solution, so in the meantime they have created an alliance with VWO, in order to provide this.

Unbounce has other partners and integrations, including KISSinsights, Wufoo, and MailChimp, which does make sense, as I don’t expect Unbounce to provide a survey tool. What I don’t understand is why Unbounce does not support MVT itself. MVT is, after all, a core aspect of the optimization phase – which is part of the Unbounce slogan: “Create, Publish and Optimize Landing Pages”, which appears on their homepage.

The problem is that it is really an option to use Unbounce’s AB and VWO’s MVT – as Unbounce suggests. It’s much too complicated – especially when you can just use VWO for both.

General Look and Feel

And now on to other aspects. Unbounce has an amazing user interface, and I think they have one of the most beautiful and intuitive platforms. Their WYSIWYG editor is rich with functionality and very easy to use. It has tons of features and you can achieve almost anything without any technical involvement.

Visual Website Optimizer has made huge progress over the past year, and now has a much more intuitive user interface than it used to have.

The WYSIWYG Editor

As mentioned above, the Unbounce WYSIWYG editor is first class and is required when creating a page from scratch. Their editor could easily be sold as an editor for website developers and designers.

VWO’s editor is much simpler – which is ok if all you need to do is create a variation on top of an existing page. However, I do think that VWO could benefit from an editor like Unbounce’s.

Goals and JavaScript API

Visual Website Optimizer allows you to define multiple conversion goals, which is great.
There are several ways to trigger the conversion goal:

  • It can be set to fire automatically when clicking on a link, submitting a form, visiting a specific page or staying on the page/site enough time.
  • You can fire the conversion goal pragmatically via JavaScript.
  • You can set revenue tracking, which will later allow you to see the revenue generated from a specific variation.

Unbounce offers a similar set of triggers – however what is really missing is the custom conversion using JavaScript, which is available (to some extent) from external pages (i.e., pages that are not hosted by Unbounce). You also don’t have the option to create more than one conversion goal per test. (Based on the comments in their Support Center, it is clearly something many people would like to see in Unbounce).

I have to admit that the implementation of the external conversion tracking code, which is available for triggering the conversion goal on external pages, is a bit strange. At first glance it looks like a classic tracking code:

<script type="text/javascript"> 
  var _ubaq = _ubaq || [];
  _ubaq.push(['trackGoal', 'convert']);

  (function() {
  var ub_script = document.createElement('script');
  ub_script.type = 'text/javascript';
  ub_script.src = 
    ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://' : 'http://') + 
  var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
  s.parentNode.insertBefore(ub_script, s);
  }) ();

When I first saw it I was sure I could call _ubaq.push whenever I want to trigger the conversion event, but unfortunately this is not the case. After a few attempts when I could not see any call to Unbounce’s server, I went into uba.js and found that it was implemented in such a way that once uba.js is called, you cannot push events into the _ubaq object. If you really want to force it to send the event, you have to call the ua.execCommands() after you push the event – but even then, I could not see any conversions for that test (although I did see a call to Unbounce’s server).

Another issue with the Unbounce event triggering is that when you choose to send the conversion goal when the user clicks a button or submits a form, the outcome is a set of javascript functions, plus a server call which reloads the page. I am not sure why Unbounce defined it this way, but when I tried to bind an event to the “submit” button, the event was added after their javascript calls, making it almost impossible to hook my own code.

For example, if you take one of the lead generator templates and want to add your own JavaScript validation prior to submitting the form, you have to dig deep until you can locate the correct place for adding it. In addition, if you want to do something AFTER the conversion goal has been sent, then that will only occur after the page is refreshed.

Also, there is no simple way of integrating Unbounce with Google Analytics or other conversion tools in order to document your goals per test and per variation. The only way to do so is by adding an extra code to each and every page, while specifically defining the test and variation names.


Both Unbounce and Visual Website Optimizer offer a free trial: With Visual Website Optimizer you can have up to 1,000 visitors for the first month for free, and then pay up to $250 per month for 100,000 visitors each month. With Unbounce you can have a free plan for 200 visitors a month, and then pay up to $500 per month for 100,000 visitors – which sounds to me like an expensive price to pay.

While we’re on the subject of pricing, I wish they would come up with a different pricing module that would take into consideration the conversion rate of the pages being tested. For example, I have a client with popunder campaigns (his site pops up in the background when the user searches for certain words – using all kinds of search engines). As you can imagine, the conversion rate for popunder campaigns is extremely low (sometimes even lower than half a percent). Therefore, if you want to test four different landing pages for a popunder campaign, and your conversion rate is around 0.5% plus you need about 250 conversions for each variation, then you will have to buy around 400,000 impressions and purchase the Unbounce or VWO Enterprise Edition. This costs around $1,000 per month. On the other hand, there are cases where the conversion rate is much higher (I have clients with a conversion rate of more than 60%) and therefore need much less traffic to run a test.

At the end of the day, AB and MVT platforms can easily show return on investment. If by using a testing platform I can show an increase in my conversion rate, then I can easily show how the testing platform has either saved me money (by achieving the same amount of users for less money) or has created greater revenue (by achieving more users for the same amount of money). I just wish the testing platform vendors would adjust their pricing module to the customers’ needs…

Wish List

Both tools are missing a few must-have features:

  • Running a test which includes changes in multiple pages – Let’s say I want to test my current bonus proposition against a different one. The bonus proposition appears (as banners) on my homepage and on a few other pages as well . When visitors visit my site and browse around, I want to show them the alternative bonuses (which appear on the homepage and on certain other pages). Although VWO provides a way to run a test on multiple pages, you have to first make sure all the pages have the same UI elements, in order to be able to define the differences across all pages.
  • Methodology – Neither tools provide supporting tools for documenting tests. VWO provides heat map and click map for each test, but that is not enough to be able to document and manage the tests in a methodological way. In my experience, the most important factor for a successful optimization process is implementing a good methodology that will help manage your optimization efforts.
  • Integration – I wish there was some kind of integration with content management systems such as WordPress and Drupal. With Drupal, for example, I wish there was a VWO module that I could use to define tests directly from the admin panel.


The main question you have to ask yourself is which approach suits you the best, as each approach has its pros and cons. Unbounce has a complete landing page management system. It has templates and a fantastic editor to create and change pages. All your landing pages are served from a separate subdomain and the fact that they provide you with a complete management system allows your marketing team to work without the help of your technical team – which is quite appealing. But on the other hand, the fact that you need to create your pages on a separate subdomain can be a problem when attempting to test existing pages on your site, without moving them to a subdomain. A great example of this problem is when you want to conduct a test for SEO or direct traffic.

Visual Website Optimizer provides almost everything you need from a testing platform and uses a much simpler approach. It assumes you already have your site and landing pages and all you have left to do is create variations of your existing pages, redirect visitors to different pages, and change the content, images or any other element on your existing site. You will need your technical team to create and manage the existing pages, but as far as creating and running tests, you will be able to do everything yourself, as with Unbounce.

If you ask me, the ideal solution right now is to use them both. If you do not have a problem paying for both tools, you should definitely do so: Create and publish landing pages on Unbounce and then optimize them on Visual Website Optimizer.

I must just apologise in advance: as these tools are constantly changing, there may be some features that I am not aware of. If I have written something in this post that is not exact, please let me know.

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