What is A/B testing? A Practical Guide

What is A/B testing? A Practical Guide

13min read  

18 Mar 2021

Every business has its unique set of goals to aim for, but how to find the best path leading to them? Driving traffic to your site and ensuring a smooth customer journey often requires you to optimize the conversion funnel. Doing so with minimal risk involved is the specialty of A/B tests.

A/B tests allow you to experiment with ideas and make evidence-based decisions, eliminating the need for guesswork and uncertainty. They’re widely applied in fields like marketing, e-commerce, graphic design, and software engineering, among many others.

If you’re ready to learn the nitty-gritty of what A/B testing is, what benefits it has to offer, and how to perform it, then you’ve landed on the right blog post. Enjoy!

 

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is a method of testing that compares two different versions of the same asset (hence the name “A/B”) to see which one performs better. The versions are shown to users at random, and the user engagement results are measured and compared through statistical analysis.

For example, you may want to test which call to action performs better on your social media ad or which headline generates more leads. You can perform an A/B test on just about anything, from video thumbnails to ads.

The changes you make can be as subtle or prominent as you wish. You can test two variants of the same CTA button in different colors or rearrange an entire page layout on your website. The choice of which sections to modify and to which extend will depend on your marketing goals.

What is A/B testing?

 

The Benefits of A/B Testing

We already mentioned that A/B testing removes the need for assumptions by providing empirical data. But how can that data help you push your business forward? Let’s discover!

 

Understand Customer Needs

A/B testing allows you to understand the pain points of your target audience. People who interact with your brand have problems they want to solve. Tests give you the key data you need to understand what those problems are and how your business can solve them.

A/B tests can give you eye-opening insights into user behavior, which then you can analyze and apply to create content catered to your audience’s wants and needs.

 

Increased Campaign Efficiency

When you truly understand your customers’ preferences and buying behavior, it becomes that much easier to create campaigns tailored to them. Personalized content is more effective in catching the user’s attention and persuading them, which means increased campaign efficiency and a higher conversion rate for you.

target audience segments

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

 

Less Risk Involved

Use A/B testing to reduce the chance of failure when launching a new ad campaign, website, product design, and so on. Before investing all your resources into one project, try out several versions and choose the one that delivers the best results. 

For example, if you’re thinking about redesigning your website, you can run a test, or a series of them, to see if the improvements are worth implementing — no guessing and predicting, just pure data.

 

Lower Expenses

This benefit ties in with the previous one. By lowering the risk of your modifications, you also cut a lot of unnecessary costs. A/B testing gives you the opportunity to dip your toes into the water before diving all the way into a new campaign.

 

How to Perform A/B Test

If the above-mentioned benefits convinced you to start A/B testing, the next thing you’ll want to know is how to perform it. The A/B testing process comprises more than simply running the test. Below are four steps to help you complete a well-researched and developed A/B test.

A/B testing process

Source: VWO

 

  1. Research and Prioritize

Before you identify what to A/B test, you need to run an audit to see what’s working and what’s not. Collect all the data you can on the performance of your website, social media campaigns, or ads. There are a ton of research and analytics tools available both for free and with a subscription. Choose a tool that best corresponds with your needs and start digging up data.

The data you collect is imperative to determine what needs to be altered. By identifying any weak spots on your website, you can then pick the page or segment with the highest potential and see how you can tweak it.

You can’t test everything at once, so make sure to prioritize your projects according to the goals you’re trying to reach — be it higher CTR (click-through rate), increased time on page, higher quality of leads, or something else.

Google Analytics dashboard

Source: Google Marketing Platform

 

  1. Develop Variation

Once you have set your research-backed goals, it’s time to form your hypothesis. Plan a variation you’d like to test out against the original version (also known as the control). Depending on how many elements you want to change, you might end up with more than one variable. This is a slightly more complicated form of testing known as multivariate testing (MVT).

If you’re just getting started, it’s advised to focus on one variable — i.e., one thing you want to modify.

 

  1. Run the Test

So, you have your test variants and the goals you want to achieve; anything missing? How about determining the duration of your A/B test? Timing and duration are big factors in A/B testing and can influence the outcome quite a bit.

The estimations for the optimal test duration should incorporate the current conversion rate of an element, the expected improvement rate, daily or monthly visitor count, and the number of variants you’ve created. You can use an A/B test duration calculator to see how long it’s recommended to run your test.

test duration calculator VWO

Source: VWO

Once you have finalized your test and made sure it’s quality-assured, you’re all set to implement the experiment. As mentioned, your visitors will be divided into equally sized groups, each receiving a different variation or the control.

 

  1. Analyze Results

At this point, you should already have a winner unless the results come in so close that there’s little to no statistical significance in their difference. Either way, you can draw insightful conclusions from your experiment, which is why it’s important to analyze the results once they’re in. Careful outcome analysis will lay the groundwork for your future A/B tests and help you plan more informed operations.

A/B test result analysis

Source: MDirector

 

What Can You A/B Test?

Every small detail on a web page can be A/B tested, but what should you focus on to avoid wasting your time? Well, there’s no single answer that will satisfy everyone, as the goals you want to target will play a decisive role.

For example, if you want to increase the conversion rates of your landing pages, experimenting with CTA buttons is a great place to start. Similarly, to reduce the bounce rate on a blog article, you should divert your attention to the headlines, introduction, images and videos, and so on.

That being said, let’s explore some of the most common elements that can make a noticeable difference when enhanced through A/B testing.

 

Headlines

Most visitors spend less than 15 seconds glancing over articles or landing pages. That's why creating catchy and effective headlines has never been more important. Your headline is the first thing visitors see, and this first impression will determine whether the reader chooses to stick around and learn more about your offer.

Headline split test

Source: Kinsta

Whether you are writing a headline for an article, landing page, magazine, or something else, try to create several variations. Test different styles, wording, length to see what connects best with your specific audience.

 

CTA (Call to Action)

However powerful you think your CTA is, testing it is one of the most reliable ways to evaluate its performance.

There are many variables that you can test when creating a call to action. The button color, wording, length, placement — all these details can have a surprising effect on the performance of your CTA. For effective CTA testing, create several versions of your call-to-action button, changing only one element at a time. Test different formats, fonts, layouts, and copy to find out what works best.

Call-to-action button variants

 

Navigation Menu

The content and general appearance of your website’s navigation menu affect your visitors’ actions more than you might think. Long and wordy menus, for example, can look repulsive and discourage users from engaging with your website further. It’s recommended to have no more than 5-7 menu items. So if yours is on the lengthier side, test trimming it down.

 

Videos

There are a number of specialized testing tools you can use to A/B test your videos. However, many analytics programs and websites can be equally helpful in split testing your videos. Here are the most popular ones:

YouTube Analytics

YouTube Analytics doesn’t offer a testing tool, but it does offer powerful analytics tools that can give you insights into the key metrics of your channel’s performance. You can gather data from YouTube Analytics and combine it with TubeBuddy, a useful browser plugin that allows A/B testing.

TubeBuddy analytics

Source: TubeBuddy

TubeBuddy generates two versions of a single video with slightly modified metadata that’s alternated every day. The experiment runs for two weeks after which, you can look at the test results and find out which video version performed better.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics can come in handy for video A/B testing as well. To run an experiment, you need to have a website landing page with a video. Google Analytics helps you create two versions of the landing page and observe how each one performs. Have a look at Google’s guide to setting up an A/B test here.

 

Emails

An email campaign’s success depends on many elements, from subject lines to headlines and design templates.

Basic A/B testing for email can consist of altering the subject line to see which version generates a higher open rate. For more complex testing, you can edit the design elements, alternate the contents of different versions, add a video to your email, include social proof, and much more. 

As exciting as it is to have all those possibilities, make sure to change one or two things at a time so that you’re able to clearly understand what caused the change in your email’s performance.

Email variations

Source: Wistia

 

Conclusion

Producing high-performing copy and campaigns is a process of trial and error. But when you learn to optimize the trial, you minimize the error — that’s what A/B testing is all about. Whether you're a marketer, business owner, or an independent creator, this is an essential skill for you to develop.

Stay open and curious in your search for the best solution and make testing a regular practice in your craft.


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