Oct 12, 2016

A Beginner’s Guide to A/B Testing: How to Optimize Your Approach

If you had to define digital’s unique advantage, the key characteristic that sets it apart from other sales and marketing practices, what would you choose? For most, it is measurability.

Digital’s unique advantage lies in its innate measurability.

The value of digital tools and techniques lie in the fact that they are data-driven. Unlike traditional advertising methods such as billboards and television, you can easily gauge the return on investment of a digital campaign. Being able to interpret this data will allow you to identify the campaign’s strengths and weaknesses. Being able to translate these insights into action will allow you to refine the performance of the campaign and maximize its success.

Regardless of your budget or overall objectives, measurement and testing is an essential component of effectively optimizing your digital marketing activity and its accompanying conversion rate. Interestingly, only 52% of companies test their website’s landing pages to find ways to improve conversions.

This blog article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the practice of A/B testing, and how you can implement it easily, in a variety of contexts, to maximize your digital marketing and ensure ongoing success.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing (also known as split testing) is the act of comparing two versions of a landing page to gauge your target audience’s preferences based on which version performs better. Based on the results of your A/B test, you can then make improvements in order to optimize conversion rates.

A/B testing involves taking two separate samples of your audience (A, and B!) to whom you will display two separate versions of a web page. The success of an A/B test is largely dependent on the size of the samples you choose to take. The bigger the sample size, the more confident you can be in the insights gained from your test. In other words, if you choose to use five people for your sample and three prefer a particular webpage, you can’t make the assumption that their selection serves as a strong enough indication of your wider audience’s preferences.

With bigger sample sizes comes greater certainty and stability, as A/B test results get closer and closer to accurately representing audience preferences. This means you can be assured that the changes you make to your webpages are the most positive possible.

Why should you use A/B testing?

The first step in any effective digital campaign is to set high level objectives, which serve as a baseline against which that campaign can be assessed. More often than not, an organization will cite driving more traffic to its website as a primary objective.

A seasoned digital marketer will recognize the importance of using analytics tools to assess the performance of their organization’s website. But what happens next? Your organization could enjoy a high volume of traffic to its website on a regular basis, but if it doesn’t convert, it is essentially redundant.

A/B testing provides you with insights that allow you to capitalize upon your traffic and avoid making potentially expensive mistakes. For example, before you run a display ad campaign that directs users to a product page on your website, conducting an A/B test on that product page and implementing the insights will give it the best possible chance to convert users without wasting money on fruitless clicks. To summarize - A/B testing can help you to maximize ROI, reduce costs and increase the number of quality leads generated and sales closed. Yet despite these tangible, easy-to-achieve benefits, only 22% of businesses are satisfied with their conversion rates, which suggests that the practice of A/B testing is sorely neglected.

What can you A/B test?

Though mention has been made of using A/B tests for landing pages, they can be used to optimize a number of different elements within a page.

A/B tests are particularly useful from a content perspective, as this can have a significant impact on SEO. The more relevant a web page’s content is to a user’s needs and preferences, the higher it will rank in a search engine. The higher a page ranks in a search engine, the more likely a user is to click on it, and if a user lands on your website, you instantly have a valuable opportunity to convert them. This means that strategic A/B testing can not only make the most of existing web traffic, it can generate new traffic too.

The text-based elements that you should look to A/B test and optimize on your website include:

  • Headings and sub-headings
  • Calls-To-Action [both text and button]
  • Hyperlinks
  • Images
  • Content above, near and below the fold
  • Positioning of text such as pricing, promotions and testimonials

It’s important to note that conducting too many A/B tests simultaneously should be avoided, as this can create confusion when it comes to identifying which variations made an improvement, and to what extent.

Test one change per page at a time, and you’ll be able to easily determine which changes have made an impact on your conversion rates. Slowly but surely, you can implement a series of positive changes from your A/B tests to create the perfect, converting user experience.

What is the A/B testing process?

 A heat map can help you find out how users are [or aren’t!] using your website.

You can carry out an A/B test in a few simple steps:

  1. Gather data: using analytics tools will help you to establish which specific areas of your website you should A/B test. For a more granular insight, you could use a heat map to find out how users are [or aren’t!] using your website to provide a solid starting point.
  2. Create two variations: whether it’s changing button text, re-wording a product description, or changing the colour of a banner image, the changes you decide to make should always be underpinned by a strong justification. Simply put, if someone asks you why you have made a specific change, you should be able to answer them confidently.
  3. Start the A/B test: your test should be run for approximately 3 to 4 weeks with a considerable sample size in order to garner realistic, representative results. Visitors to your website will be directed to one of two landing page variations at random.
  4. Analyse its effectiveness: arguably the most important part of the test process, as it enables you to apply what you have learned from the test results in order to make positive changes.

There is an abundance of A/B testing software available that will help you to set up, run and measure tests. Be sure to research a couple of options to find the one that best caters to your organization’s needs. It’s a small but powerful investment that will ultimately enhance your profit margins, especially when you consider that for every 92 dollars spent acquiring customers, only 1 dollar is spent converting them!

If you have had any interesting experiences with A/B testing, we’d love to hear about your experiments and success stories in the comments section below!

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