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How A/B testing works and why it’s so powerful

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Last editedAug 20212 min read

It’s natural to measure your success against the successes of others. It can be a helpful way of deciding on your long-term business goals and what level you want to be aiming for. But what about measuring two potential versions of your business against one another? This can be just as valuable and is the foundation of what A/B testing represents.

What is A/B testing?

In essence, A/B testing is the only reliable way to evaluate your conversions. It’s a way of getting data directly from customer behaviours and if you’re not using it then you could be doing yourself a disservice.

Also known as split testing, A/B testing refers to the process of directly comparing two versions of one thing (which could be anything from a website to a blog post), and then measuring their performance against one another. This is generally done by trialling one version with group A and one version with group B and then seeing how they stack up against each other like a competition.

The theory is that the one that performs best is the one you go forward with. It’s a tactic that has been used by businesses for decades, but is particularly useful when it comes to digital marketing.

A/B testing benefits

As long as it’s well planned and well implemented, A/B testing can significantly boost the effectiveness of your campaigns and content by narrowing down the most effective elements. By combining these, you can also create something that pulls the best elements from both.

It’s a proven way of gathering empirical data and improving bottom-line conversions that lets you know what works and what doesn’t work, and backs that up with usable evidence. This allows you to make more informed decisions and takes a lot of the guesswork out of marketing.

A/B testing example

If you have two different marketing strategies to choose from, then A/B testing will allow you to pit them against each other. Target one strategy at group A and the other at group B and then use whatever metrics you prefer to figure out which performs best.

Planning an A/B test

  1. Figure out what you want to test and whether it’s going to be an off-site or an on-site test.

  2. Make a list of all the variables you’ll be testing. These can include anything from the text in a piece of ad copy or an email, to the colour of a logo for a website design or where you decide to place an advertisement in a digital marketing campaign.

  3. Decide on the metrics you’ll be using.

  4. Have a clear idea of the results you’re looking for. Use your current results as a baseline and work up from that.

  5. Run your tests simultaneously to account for timing variations and to avoid having to factor in any of the variables that could change from day to day.

What can you test?

The great thing about A/B testing is just how flexible it is. If you can change it then you can test it. For e-commerce, it could be sales while for B2B it could be lead generation. When it comes to copy, you can test anything from headlines and text to calls to action and where certain things are placed on the page. Be aware, however, that testing more than one thing at a time (known as multi-variate testing) can be quite complicated.

A/B testing tools

Google Analytics is comfortably the most widely used tool for analytical comparison when it comes to A/B testing, as it is very powerful. There are free versions available. If you wish to take it further, however, there are dozens of tools online such as Optimizely and Leadformly that offer more unique and specific features.

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