Anyone who deals with marketing regularly knows that you can’t maintain the status quo forever.
That’s a fact whether you’re talking about a tactic that is working brilliantly or struggling spectacularly. Inevitably, your high-performing asset will start to decline in effectiveness. And on the other end of the spectrum, you can’t afford to keep investing time and money into a low-performing asset. Something’s got to give.
A good marketer knows that it’s crucial to monitor the performance of every marketing channel and adapt if results aren’t meeting expectations. Decisions should be based on data, not intuition. Resources are wasted when “gut feelings” drive changes. You’ll never maximize ROI by throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
The proven way to evaluate your marketing and make it better is by doing A/B testing.
In this article, we’ll summarize what A/B testing is and expand on what you have to gain by doing it. You’ll also learn how to perform an A/B test so you can begin doing it for your business or improve your current approach.
What is A/B Testing?
A/B testing (also known as split testing) is the process of comparing one marketing variable (A) against another (B) and measuring the performance of each to determine which variable produced better results.
It’s a scientific process in which a randomly assigned audience is presented with variable A (the control variable) while another randomly assigned audience of the same or similar size is presented with variable B (the challenger variable).
An example of an A/B test is a Facebook ad campaign in which two ads utilize the same copy and offer but feature different images. The “winning” ad would be the one that generates superior results related to your ultimate goal. In this example, that likely means the winner is the one that gets more engagement (likes, comments or link clicks).
We’ll provide additional examples of marketing elements that can be A/B tested later in this article.
A true A/B test focuses on a single element at a time. In some marketers’ books, A/B testing also includes comparing an existing marketing tactic (a webpage, for example) to an alternate version (the same webpage with several different elements).
Testing a single element at a time ensures maximum optimization but takes longer to complete if there are many elements you want to test. Conversely, testing multiple elements at a time can be completed more quickly, but the tradeoff is you won’t know to which degree each element change impacted the data.
What are the Benefits of A/B Testing?
As mentioned in the introduction to this article, A/B testing takes the guesswork out of marketing. Rather than taking action based on hunches, it enables you to act based on data, which is MUCH more reliable. In fact, Campaign Monitor found that A/B tests improve conversion rates by 49%!
Increasing conversions is just one of the benefits A/B testing can help you realize. Here are some others:
- Increased web traffic – Determine the titles/headlines that generate the most interest, as well as the copy and CTAs on your distribution vehicles (email, social, etc.) that will get people to visit the article/webpage
- Decreased bounce rate – Identify the content that will grab and hold the attention of people and keep them on the page
- Higher engagement – Optimize to increase your clicks, likes, comments, shares, etc.
In short, A/B testing not only helps you determine which parts of your marketing are working and which ones aren’t. It also empowers you to take what is working and make it even better.
For more on increasing conversions as it relates to websites, check out our article Why You Need to Focus on Conversion Rate Optimization Today.
Frequently A/B Tested Marketing Elements
While you could realistically A/B test any element of your marketing, certain ones will move the needle more. You’ll want to focus your time and resources testing the variables that will have the highest likelihood of helping achieve your goals. For example, changing an image in an email will likely make more of a difference than changing a single word in the copy.
Below is a summary of some of the most frequently A/B tested marketing elements on which we would recommend you focus the majority of your attention as you optimize your website, landing pages, emails and social media ads/posts.
- Body copy
- Subject lines
- Hyperlink text
- Paragraph lengths
- Image overlays
- Text color
- Images & Multimedia
- Calls to Action (CTAs)
- Button shape
- Button color
- Button size
- Hyperlink color
- Form design
- Number of fields
- Order of fields
- Information requested/questions
- Number of required fields
- List segments
- Target audiences
How to Conduct an A/B Test
Now that you’ve got an idea of the kinds of marketing elements that you can do some A/B testing on, let’s take a look at how to conduct an A/B test. We’ve broken it down into seven steps.
Step 1: Select an Item to Test
Begin the A/B testing process by selecting the first item you want to test. Remember, your priority should be to optimize an element that is relevant to a marketing metric you want to improve.
For instance, if you want to increase your number of landing page form submissions, you could test a form with fewer fields. Or, if you want to increase email opens, you could test a different subject line.
Step 2: Determine Your Goal
In marketing, it’s always important to set “SMART” goals so that you not only know whether or not you’ve accomplished your aim, but also the degree to which you succeeded or failed. This analysis will help you set expectations and adjust for the future.
So, when you’re A/B testing, determine the goal of the element comparison. For example, your goal could be to create a variation of a landing page form that generates 10% more submissions than the existing form.
Step 3: Finalize Your Control & Create Your Challenger
After you’ve determined what you’re testing and what you want to accomplish, you can proceed to finalize the control and the challenger. If your test involves an existing element like an already established landing page form or an image that is currently being used on a webpage, that would be your control. The challenger would be the newly created element.
If you’re comparing two new elements that are being created and used for the first time, you can just assign one of them to be the control and the other to be the challenger.
Step 4: Prepare Your A/B Testing Tool & Split Your Test Audiences
To get conclusive results from your A/B test, the audience participating should be random and as close to equal in size as possible. This would involve segmenting your recipient list or audience into an “A” version and a “B” version.
On some channels such as email, you may be able to do this manually. Otherwise, the email or marketing automation provider, social media platform and website builder you’re utilizing also likely come equipped with A/B testing tools that can help you split audiences and collect data.
One example of a testing tool is Google Optimize. It allows you to test variants of web pages and see how they perform against an objective that you specify. Optimize monitors the results of your experiment and tells you which variant is the leader.
Testing tools are extremely valuable because they save you time, organize your data and make it easy for you to analyze your results when the time comes.
Step 5: Run Your Test
When A/B testing, it’s important to run your tests simultaneously. If you don’t, it could skew your results because people interact with marketing differently depending on the day of the week and even the time. This is why it’s common for marketers to research to determine the best day of the week and time to deploy marketing emails, for example.
Running both versions of your tests simultaneously ensures that the element you’re testing is the only differentiating factor. The duration of your test will vary based on the size of your audience and the metric you are measuring. You’ll want to make sure that you run the test long enough to accumulate sufficient data. Making decisions based on a half-day of data isn’t advised. For email, perhaps analyze the results a week after the email has deployed. For a social media ad, maybe let it run for two weeks to a month before coming to any conclusions.
Step 6: Analyze the Data & Determine a Winner
When your test concludes, analyze the data that has been collected for each variable to determine which one was the winner. You’ll have lots of data to sift through. For example, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, etc. for email and unique visitors, page visits, time on page, bounces, pages per session, etc. for websites/landing pages.
Don’t lose focus on the ultimate goal of your A/B test. Pay closest attention to the metric(s) that apply to the test you ran.
Step 7: Prepare Your Next Text
Once your first test has concluded and your champion has been determined, you can start making preparations for your next A/B test. Select a new variant, and follow the same seven-step process to continue fine-tuning and improving your marketing!
AMS Tip: At Adventure, we’ve found success for our customers by A/B testing audiences first to discover which one is most responsive. Then, we start A/B testing the creative elements to maximize engagement. This process ensures you are marketing to the right audience with the right messaging.
Never stop improving your marketing. If you don’t adapt to the ever-changing mindsets and shopping habits of consumers, your business will experience a decline. Make A/B testing a regular part of your process, and you’ll reap the benefits of continuing strong lead-generation efforts and sales.
Have additional questions about A/B testing or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.