Last week I was asked by a colleague to recommend a site testing solution for a friend's tech product review site. The following is my response (edited to protect our agency's exclusive relationships, pricing, etc.):
In recent months, Tier I players like Optimost and Omniture Test & Target have dramatically reduced their prices. 1-year technology contracts are now half of what they were a year ago. But don't be fooled - they try to make up for these steep markdowns by trying to charge for costly services models. These solutions are only great values if you have a skilled site optimization expert or agency partner operating these tools.
A Tier II player like Widemile or SiteSpect incur minimal monthly charges, without an annual contract. They make it easy to scoop up their tool for just a few months with a low learning curve, and are very eager to compete with their larger rivals. As a result, these players will tend to be flexible on price and provide plenty of free education and technical support. Widemile in particular has a pretty sweet, Flash-based user interface, suitable for even a novice. Definitely gets high marks. SiteSpect's big advantage is that no tags need to be implemented on the page. But be wary of implementation at a DNS level. Your larger organizations' IT teams will be shaking in their boots!
Ah, and of course Google’s Site Optimizer tool. Free, free, free. I don’t believe this is any less or more turnkey than Tier I or II solutions. Speaking from first-hand experience, this tool nicely complements Google Analytics' free solution, and is currently running live tests on my site. I've only just implemented this, so will update with my long-term satisfaction.
A general working knowledge of HTML is necessary for most of the above solutions. So in the context of this prospect -- a simple tech review site, supported by ads with no ecommerce or clear conversion…. then, err, free is a nice way to start. I think Avinash Kaushik's logic can be applied: a free analytics solution is practical for starters, if only to get your feet wet.
Disclaimer: We’re not talking about “big client” millions of media budget at stake in the above scenario, so I’m being very liberal with my recommendations. I think it takes a very careful evaluation of a business' goals, objectives, dedicated staff and technical limitations to make a consultative recommendation.