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Optimizely Knowledge Base

URL Targeting: Choose where your experiment runs

relevant products:
  • Optimizely X Web Experimentation
  • Optimizely X Web Personalization
  • Optimizely X Web Recommendations
  • Optimizely Classic

This article will help you:
  • Choose which URLs a visitor needs to use to determine whether the experiment will run
  • Use the URL match types available in Optimizely: simple, exact, substring, and regular expression (RegEx)

URL Targeting at a glance

After you've created your variations in the Editor, you'll tell Optimizely where the experiment should run on your site. Use the match types described here to target a specific URL or a group of URLs.

Key tips

  • Use simple match when testing a single page
  • Use exact match only when adding query parameters or hash parameters to the URL significantly changes how the page displays 
  • Use substring match for experiments that change one element across multiple pages or your entire site
  • Use regular expression to target complicated URL structures 

What to watch out for

URL Targeting specifies the pages where an experiment or campaign should run. You can target specific URLs or groups of URLs, depending which match type you select.

In Optimizely X, use reusable pages to set up URL targeting that you can quickly add to experiments and campaigns. Here's how to set up a page.

In Optimizely Classic, here's where to find URL targeting:

  • From the Home page > Experiments. Select your experiment. In the right sidebar, select Edit next to URL Targeting.

  • From the Optimizely Editor, select Options > URL Targeting.

 
Note:

Use URL targeting to determine where experiments run on your site. To control who can see the experiment, use audiences.

Here's how to use URL targeting to edit a sitewide element like a button in the navigation bar or a CTA in the footer.

Want to see the URL Targeting feature in action? Check out our two-minute video on URL Targeting:

 
 
Tip:

Have a question about targeting? Head over to the Optimizely Community to join the discussion.

URL match types

In the URL Targeting menu, you can enter URL match specifications that tell Optimizely where the experiment should run. 

Each URL match you enter can be one of four types:

  • Simple match: This is the default match type. It's useful for testing a single page.

  • Exact match: Use only when adding query parameters or hash parameters to the URL will significantly change how the page displays for visitors. To target visitors who are using a certain query parameter, use an Audience Condition instead of an exact match

  • Substring match: Use to match specific strings of texts within a URL. It's useful for experiments that change the same element site-wide or on multiple pages.

  • Regular expression: Use to target complicated URL structures that aren't easily captured by the other URL match types. If a regular expression match doesn't work for you, consider using Custom Tags on the pages you want to target.

 
Note:

Regular expressions are case-sensitive. Simple, exact, and substring matches are not case-sensitive.

Read on to learn more about each match type.

Simple match

Simple match is the default URL match type, and it's ideal for running experiments on single pages. A simple match will run when visitors land on a URL, even if it has these variations:

Simple match ignores these changes (because they usually don’t change the way your page displays) and runs your experiment on the page.

To use simple match, enter the full URL of the page you want to target—the absolute URL, not a relative URL like /products/general.html. Here are examples of common variants that will pass a simple match:

URL Targeting copy.gif

These examples match because they run on the same page as the original URL. Even adding query (?) or hash (#) parameters doesn't generally change the page.

What won't match the original? Examples of changes that simple match won’t ignore include:

  • Changes in subdomain (aside from www).

  • Adding .html or other extensions.

  • Adding or changing subdirectories.

Here are some examples that won’t pass a simple match:

These examples won’t match the original URL because they are not the same page:

 

Example: User account page with many dynamic/unique query string values

You want to run an experiment on a “My Account” page for all of your customers. However, every account URL includes query parameters that are unique to a particular user’s information. A sample Account URL would be:
www.match.com/myaccount?account_id=1234&location=san_francisco

To set it up:

  • Identify the static and dynamic portions of the account page URL.

  • In this case, the URL to the left of the “?” is always the same (static), and the parameters to the right of the “?” are unique to each user (dynamic).

  • In URL Targeting, select Simple match from the dropdown. Add the account URL, excluding all query string parameters (in this case, www.match.com/myaccount).

  • A simple match ignores anything to the right of the question mark in the URL (all query string parameters). In this case, ?account_id=1234&location=san_francisco would be ignored, which is what we want since this is the dynamic portion of the account page URL.

  • This setup ensures that your experiment will run on all account pages, regardless of the unique user who is viewing the page.

 

Example: Visitors who land on only two of many landing pages

Visitors who land on only two of many landing pages
You have about 10 landing pages live at any one time, and you want to run an A/B test on only two of these pages. You know there will always be unique UTM/query parameters added to the URL from paid search traffic, but you want the experiment to run regardless of which campaign a visitor comes from.

To set it up:

  • Identify the two specific URLs you want to test and how they differ from other landing page URLs on your domain.

  • In URL Targeting, select Simple match from the dropdown and add the URL of the first landing page.

  • Click the “+” icon and add the URL of the second landing page as a Simple match.

  • Because a simple match ignores anything to the right of the question mark in the URL (all query string parameters), this set-up ensures the experiment will run only if a visitor lands on the first landing page URL or the second landing page URL.

Simple match may also be handy for excluding certain URLs from a substring match that targets many pages at once.

In these examples, those that includehttp://www.example.com/ignorethispage are excluded because the targeting is set to exclude that URL as a simple match.

Exact match

Exact match will run an experiment only when users load the exact URL.

Like simple match, exact match ignores trailing slashes at the end of your URL, http/https protocols, and www. Also like simple match, exact match doesn’t ignore subdirectories, extensions, or changes in subdomains (www.example.com vs blog.example.com or www.example.com/blog).

Unlike simple match, exact match doesn’t ignore changes to query or hash parameters.

Enter a full URL when using exact match—the absolute URL, not a relative URL like /products/general.html.

In this example, www.example.comhttp://example.com/https://www.example.com would be included because exact match accepts these common variations.

These URLs would be excluded:

If you specify a query or hash parameter, exact match allows only that exact parameter into the experiment.

Exact match may come in handy when you want to exclude specific query or hash parameters from a simple match.

Substring match

Substring match runs an experiment when the URL contains a set of characters that you specify. This set of characters is called a substring and can be present anywhere in the URL. 

For example, if you want to target an element on all product pages, look for a part of your URL that is consistent across all product pages. If the substring '/products' is in every product page, run a substring match on '/products'. 

Substring match ignores trailing slashes that appear at the end of your URL and http/https protocols, but it doesn't ignore subdomains (including 'www'), subdirectories, extensions, or changes to query or hash parameters.

Unlike simple and exact match, substring match doesn't need a full URL to match. You can substring-match on a word, query parameter, subdirectory, or any other substring that might appear somewhere in the URL. This makes substring match ideal for targeting entire categories of pages or your entire site (for example, to make a change to your global navigation menu).

Here's how a substring match targets the experiment when you include www (or another subdomain):

In this example, only the URLs that include the string www.example.com are included.

But when you remove the subdomain or 'www', the substring match targets any page on your domain where the snippet is implemented:

You can target an entire category of pages by including the directory that appears in their URL:

In this example, all strings that include the stringhatsare included.

With substring match, you can also target a certain parameter anywhere it appears:

In this example, all the strings that include the string utm_campaign=springpromo are included.

 

Example: Testing on categories of pages

You want to run an experiment on all product detail pages, but you want to be sure that your changes do not also show up on other pages of the site. You know that all product detail page URLs look similar (for example, http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/...cket?p=84673-0, where everything after “product” is dynamic).

To set it up:

  • Identify a common URL structure for all of your product pages that is unique to those pages.

  • In URL Targeting, select Substring match from the dropdown and enter the portion of the URL that is guaranteed to be the same across the desired set of pages (for example, patagonia.com/us/product).

  • This ensures that the experiment will run on any URL that has the string patagonia.com/us/product in the full URL. The substring match will apply even if values are added before or after this string.

  • If your product pages do not have a common URL structure, consider using Custom Tags instead of a substring match.

 

Example: Run site-wide, except for a certain subset of pages

You want to run a site-wide navigation bar change across all the main pages on your site. However, a subset of “news” pages do not follow your site’s standard layout, so you want to exclude these “news” pages from the experiment.

You know that the “news” pages all have a URL that begins with http://www.yellowpages.com/news. The dynamic topic and article name are appended after “news/”.

For example, a full URL might be: http://www.yellowpages.com/news/home...ment-projects/

To set it up:

  • Start with the bigger group of pages that you do want to include in the experiment. In this case, set a substring match to www.yellowpages.com to ensure the experiment runs site-wide.

  • Identify a common URL structure for all of the pages that should be excluded from the test.

  • In URL Targeting, under Exclude URLs, select Substring match from the dropdown menu. Enter the portion of the URL that is guaranteed to be the same across the set of pages you want to exclude (in this example, www.yellowpages.com/news works).

  • The experiment will run on pages on your domain that have the substring www.yellowpages.com, but not pages that have the string www.yellowpages.com/news.

  • When using Exclude URLs in URL Targeting, both positive and negative conditions must be met. In other words, to be included in the experiment, a visitor must land on a page that matches the included condition and does not match the excluded condition.

Regular expression match

Expert users can use regular expressions ("RegEx") to specify a set of pages on which an experiment should run. For example, to target all pages on your site where the snippet is implemented, use a regular expression match and enter .* as your match condition.

It's impossible to cover all of the different possibilities that regular expressions allows, but we'll provide a small sample.

Let's say you want to target your experiment to pages in your /products/shoes, /products/hats, and /products/shirts sections, but no others. You might write a regular expression that looks like this: /products/(shoes|hats|shirts).*

Regular expression matches are evaluated using JavaScript's built-in regular RegExp module. Your expression is matched against the full page URL and will be evaluated as a substring match up until an escaped character in your expression. Alternatively, you could write the regular expression in this example entirely in RegEx:\/products\/shoes|hats|shirts.*

Your expression does not need to match the full URL to trigger your experiment using Optimizely. For example, the regular expression 'x=y' will match the following pages:

If you're trying to target a series of pages that can't be included neatly in a substring match or regular expression, consider adding Custom Tags to the pages you want to target and targeting visitors who land on a page that contains that tag. Custom Tags are an Audience condition, not a URL Targeting condition, but they can be used to accomplish the same purpose.

Query parameters

When we evaluate a URL using the RegEx match type, Optimizely strips the Optimizely query parameters. For example, if you’re trying to create a RegEx to match http://www.example.com, the added Optimizely query parameters might look like this:

http://www.example.com/?optimizely_token=b0a1ff184499db5eba13276b436f7a9c04422c85ed08ac7cb83b8214768b37be&optimizely_x=7961690747&optimizely_x_audiences=&optimizely_preview_layer_ids=7597420149&optimizely_snippet=s3-7428110562&optimizely_preview_mode_CAMPAIGN=7597420149

The stripped URL we evaluate would be http://www.example.com/?. Optimizely doesn't remove the /? when stripping the Optimizely query parameters due to inconsistent behavior among browsers.

To match the URL http://www.example.com, you may want to include matching for the trailing /?. You could use example\.com\/?\??$ to match with and without the trailing forward slash and question mark and to not match if there’s an actual query parameter in the URL, like a UTM campaign.

URL Match Validator: Double-check your targeting

To check your targeting conditions and ensure that your experiment will run on the expected pages, use the URL Match Validator. The URL Match Validator tells you whether the sample URLs you enter match the URL Targeting conditions. A match means the experiment will run. A non-match means the experiment won't run.

The URL Match Validator allows you to quickly confirm whether a URL Targeting condition or pageview goal will correctly target the URLs you intend. Click the “+” icons to add as many sample URLs as you want to validate. Try checking for URLs that you do and don't expect to match in your experiment.