Preceden A/B Test Results: Apparently Folks Don’t Like Gradients

I’ve been running an A/B test on Preceden, my web-based timeline maker, for the last week to test the impact of gradient bars on the sign up rate.

Half the people saw solid color bars:

And half the people had a slight gradient fade added to them:

I measured the number of unique visitors who saw a timeline and considered it a conversion when the person signed up for an account. Note that the participant figures include anyone who viewed a timeline including existing users, people viewing someone else’s timeline, etc (ie, not just new users visiting the homepage). Because I’m just comparing the relative results, it doesn’t matter that the numbers include existing users, etc.

Users with non-CSS3 compliant browsers were also included in both test groups, but their browsers only rendered the fall-back solid color version. Since these people were evenly distributed between both test groups, it should not have an impact on the relative results.

I expected the gradient timelines to blow the solid colors out of the water, but the opposite was true (no = solids, yes = gradients):

The results per A/Bingo:

The best alternative you have is: [no], which had 102 conversions from 4166 participants (2.45%). The other alternative was [yes], which had 71 conversions from 4229 participants (1.68%). This difference is 99% likely to be statistically significant, which means you can be very confident that it is the result of your alternatives actually mattering, rather than being due to random chance. However, this statistical test can’t measure how likely the currently observed magnitude of the difference is to be accurate or not. It only says “better”, not “better by so much”.

Why did solid colors outperform gradients when (at least to me) gradients look much better?

My guess is that on average, the gradients look gaudy. People want simple timelines. Gradients are not simple.

If that is indeed the reason, it reaffirms what most of my previous A/B tests have taught me. Simple wins.

But I don’t know. Maybe I missed something. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Why I’m Building Simple Tools to Help Market My Web App

I’ve been making huge pushes lately on Preceden, a web-based timeline maker that I launched just over two years ago.

Today I’m trying something new as part of Preceden’s overall marketing strategy and I’d like to share my thought process because I think other web developers might benefit from it too.


As I noted above, Preceden is a web app let’s you create simple, multilayered timelines.

For example, here’s a screenshot showing the timeline of the events leading up to the crash of the Costa Cordia (you play around with the actual timeline here: Costa Concordia Timeline.)

Preceden is popular with students, teachers, researches, and genealogy buffs, to name a few groups.

Marketing 1.0

I love building tools, but I don’t love marketing them. By marketing I mean things other than building that contribute to getting new people to your site.

Marketing, however, is a huge huge HUGE piece of the puzzle and if you neglect it you’re going to be missing out on a tremendous amount of value. As Rob Walling notes in Start Small Stay Small: A Developers Guide to Launching a Startup, “Market comes first, marketing second, aesthetics third, and functionality a distant fourth.” In terms of how I’ve worked in the past, I almost reverse it: function first, aesthetics second, market third, and marketing a distance fourth. And I’ve learned the hard way how wrong I am.

Preceden has grown steadily with little effort on my part thanks to two things:

1) Word of mouth. People like it. They tell each other. On blogs, in class, etc.

2) Content generation. When people create timelines on Preceden, they can keep them private or, like the Costa Concordia example above, share them. The shared timelines get indexed by Google and over time the number of Google queries that Preceden ranks for has steadily grown:

So I started thinking about it: how else can I get more people to the site?

Marketing 2.0

There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement with respect to making Preceden easier to share (word of mouth) and SEO (content generation), but today I’m trying something new out that I think will be a big win.

Here’s the idea: Build free time-related tools on Preceden that attract the type of people who might convert into paying Preceden users.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Google Adwords Tool tells me that upwards of 800K people search for date to date calculator per month:

The top result for date to date calculator is from

The date calculator is garbage:

In my eyes, the things it does poorly are:

  • Different fields for the month/day/year
  • It asks me whether I want to include the end date in the calculation (why not just show me both results?)
  • If you want to include the time in the calculation, you have to go to another calculator that is even more complicated than this one
  • When you submit the data, it takes you to a different page with the results (why no Ajax?):

I spent today building a better version of this.

Here’s the result:

You can play with it here: Date to Date Calculator.

You can use the date picker to pick a date or enter one manually (optionally including a time) and it will Ajaximagically show you the result:


  • The page title and the H1 are “Date to Date Calculator” (go go SEO)
  • The start and end dates support a wide variety of formats (and I didn’t have to do any extra work for this because I had already written the necessary modules for Preceden itself)
  • The results are fetched via Ajax and rendered below the inputs
  • Below the calculator are a Facebook like button (which points to and FAQs to answer folk’s questions
  • And if you enter a date as the end date, it shows you the results including and not including that date:

Basically, I built a better mousetrap. And I hope people find it and like it better than the existing tools and some of them convert to paid Preceden users.

And there’s a lot more tools I can add to Preceden’s new Calendar Calculators page down the road too: Add and subtract from a date/time, countdown timer, etc.

How much of a difference will these tools make to my bottom line? Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter @mhmazur to find out :)

One final note: As software developers, I think a lot of us tend to get caught up on solving complicated technical problems. Lean Designs, an HTML5-based web design tool that I’ve also been working on, is just one example. While these pursuits may be intellectually rewarding, let’s not forget that there are thousands of simple, real world problems that we could eliminate if we only applied ourselves to them. More than 800,000 people search for date to date calculators each month. Think about that. It’s mind-blowing.

Update: As Simon points out below, the 800K number is for broad match. The number of people who search exactly for “date to date calculator” is closer to 2,900. I decided to change the page from “Date To Date Calculator” to “Date Duration Calculator” which I think is more meaningful.

[QUOTE] The good life is for the bold.

Great post on Reddit in a thread titled “Any Redditors 40+ living the life they imagined at 20? Why or why not? What advice would you give us 20 year olds that you wish you knew/followed?“:

To steal a line from the great philosopher Apollo Creed: “There is no tomorrow.”

Wishes/dreams are things that cannot wait. Act on them now. Right fucking now. There is never going to be a magical date when you will have a secure enough bank roll, a reasonable amount of free time, and few enough obligations to embark on your dream, whatever it may be. There is no “good” time.

It’s a fairy tail you tell yourself when you’re young. If I just had this much money as a cushion to start . . . if I just finish this one thing . . . once I get my family life situated, I’ll begin . . . ad infinitum. It will never be just right. You either have to suck it up and do it, risks be damned, or you have to take the easy path.

And, if you put if off once, it becomes exponentially harder to get started – you will always find a reason why your dream is impractical. There are millions of legitimate reasons not to pursue a dream – security, time with the people you love, etc. Those things grow as you grow older.

My son asked me last night why I didn’t stop being a lawyer and write for a living – which was my “dream” in college. I felt he was too young for the real answer: “Because your dad was a coward.” It’s moments like that in your later years that really ram home the consequences of the choices you make.

The advice I wish I had followed was that failure IS an option. It is OK to fail at something. It is cowardice not to try something because you fear you might fail. The good life is for the bold. In fact, the best advice I can give you is to FAIL. Get it over with and learn for yourself that you will still wake up the next morning, that you will figure out how to recover. And, once you have learned that this power you have given to the possibility of failure was a waste of your time, it will not be an obstacle. Failure is not the end – it is the beginning.

As practical advice, at 20, I would not be looking for that “safe” job – unless I was damn sure I wanted to be en engineer, doctor, or some other specific professional that requires a lot of upfront training. Take a couple of swings at the unlikely things — if you want to be a musician, NOW is the time to make a go of it. And, the same logic applies to just about anything anyone truly wants to try to be.

Another thing that turning 40 has brought home to me is: get fit and stay fit. Don’t come to 40 weighing 250. It feels like shit. Your life is diminished because of it. Give yourself a chance to enjoy life with your kids, people you love, etc. It’s not just shame I feel when I waddle around outside trying to kick a soccer ball with my boys, it’s also sadness. This stuff was fun when I was young, and I have fucking ruined it, now.

Last, understand what money is. All my life, I thought money was there to buy shit – shit that I needed and, especially, shit that was going to make my life cooler. At 40, I finally realized that money = freedom. You don’t see it now at 20, but you may end up on a path where you do not make much money. This is not a bad way to live your life. But, keep in mind, that no matter how small you live, it will still cost money: you will likely have to pay for food, shelter, and clothing. You will have to pay for healthcare in some way (or, I guess, just die). At least in the U.S., money gives you the freedom to tell that asshole boss to fuck himself (maybe not literally, since little good ever comes from telling of a boss). Money=choice.

I was going to bold the parts that stood out to me, but it’s all so damn good.

Lefort on Daily Routines and Analytical Minds

I ran across this comment by Lefort, a well known poker player, on a 2+2 thread (bold by me):

I’ve always thought that the biggest advantage to being a poker player is the huge amounts of “free” time we’re blessed with, given that it’s so easy for many of us to make $X00+/hr, any given hour of the day. This was awesome when I was in school and for a short time after when I was busy with projects and other life aspects. But as things slowed down and poker became my biggest focus, the massive amounts of free time almost become a burden in a weird way. It’s different when you have legitimate things to fill up that time. But when you don’t, I think too much “free” time is very unhealthy. And this is especially true for those people who are naturally extremely analytical, ie. good poker players.

I think to achieve true balance in a daily routine, one needs a certain level of time-related stress to experience feelings of accomplishment and self gratitude. As poker players, we literally have 90% of our time to divvy up however we choose, compared to maybe ~30% of someone with an office job. That means that we’re basically never under any sort of stress to get to work on time, eat our lunch briskly to fit in that workout, weave through traffic to make that dinner date, have a quick workout because we need to make the 8pm show, etcetc.. And as much as it seems awesome to not have to worry about these things by working when it’s easy and convenient, I’ve learned that for myself, it tends to breed a feeling of disassociation from society and is not a very good situation for breeding feelings of true success and accomplishment.

It’s very possible that this is just something exclusive to myself and not applicable to people with other personalities, but I thought I’d discuss anyway in the case that it’s not just me. My “best” days now are always the ones where I get up to the alarm clock early enough to have breakfast with and see off my gf to work, grind a few hours, rushing off to the gym for _pm for a workout, making it quick-ish to get back and do laundry or whatever else, fit in another quick session feeling fresh from getting the blood flowing, then having enough time to prepare an awesome dinner for the gf before hanging out with friends or doing something fun. Regardless of results, I enjoy the grind far more when I feel like I’m being active, as opposed to the days where I’ve been a slob that hasn’t showered or done anything but play poker in sweatpants and take breaks to eat toast and granola bars and over-analyze just about everything there is in my life to possibly over-analyze.

Basically, I’ve concluded that an overly analytical mind plus an abundance of time equals an unhealthy environment that tends to restrict balance and overall happiness. But maybe it’s just me, who knows.

What he’s saying is that when you have a lot of free time you still need to create a schedule for yourself in order stay healthy. Without deadlines, there isn’t as much pressure to get things done, and when you don’t get things done, you don’t experience “feelings of accomplishment and self-gratitude.”

As someone who has spent a lot of time working from home, I couldn’t agree more: my most productive days are the ones where I get up to an alarm clock, shower, and set tangible goals for that day. If I wake up at 11 and sit here surfing HackerNews and Tweetdeck without any clear objectives, the day flies by and feels wasted. And I’d say this applies to everyone, not just analytical people.

You can read Lefort’s full post here.