Lance Armstrong gets disqualified from the Tour de France, George W. Bush becomes president of the United States, and Google runs their first-ever A/B test — what do these events have in common, you ask? If you guessed “They all happened in the year 2000!” you’d be right.
Fast forward to 2018 — Lance has retired from cycling and George has since become a somewhat famous painter, but one truth remains the same: Google is still A/B testing. And while companies like Google and Amazon have been A/B testing for years now, most digital marketers at small businesses have really just started adopting this experimental mindset.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should be A/B testing your marketing efforts, read on to learn about why these tests are so helpful and how you can get started with them at your business! We chatted with some folks on our marketing team and compiled a bunch of ideas and best practices for getting started with A/B tests. So, let’s dive in!
A/B testing, also known as split testing, is an effective way to determine which variant of a test resonates most with an audience based on a set of chosen metrics. Why are marketers running these tests? Well, it’s actually pretty simple: marketers want to learn what works and what doesn’t, so they can optimize for the former. Many folks simply execute on campaigns without actually understanding the impact of their choices compared to others, and that’s why A/B testing is such an effective proxy for learning.
“Many folks simply execute on campaigns without actually understanding the impact of their choices compared to others, and that’s why A/B testing is such an effective proxy for learning.”
These tests allow marketers to learn on a granular level — even the smallest change can make a huge impact on conversion rates, sign ups, or other key metrics. If you’re looking to improve conversion rates on high-impact pages, like a pricing page, or even simply avoid making a costly marketing mistake, A/B tests can be your best friend.
Ultimately, when you fail to utilize A/B tests throughout your marketing, you’re really just taking a guess at what your audience might respond best to. That’s why it’s so important to continually test, so that you’re constantly learning and applying those insights to find a winning combination!
When your budget is on the line, A/B testing suddenly becomes that much more important. The different components you can test for paid ads are very similar to what you can test on social media, however the stakes are much higher! Small optimizations can lead to big results when it comes to paid ads. You need to be confident that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck — in other words, spending in ways that will yield the best results.
There are a ton of variations you can test within paid media. It could be as complicated as testing multiple versions of images and copy against different audience segments, websites, targeting methodology or even media attribution. There are endless opportunities, but for a marketer just getting started, there are a number of simple A/B tests that you can be doing right now — let’s get to it!
Here are some test-worthy paid ad ideas:
- Images — Can you choose a more compelling image? Image selection can have a huge impact on how people respond to your brand. One common test is using people in an image vs a product shot. If you find that a smiling person in an image leads to a better conversion rate, then you can conclude that including people in an image is more effective at generating engagement or a response from your audience.
- Copy — Is the value prop of your product clear enough? In most cases, you only have a few words to promote your product in an ad, so the pressure is on to make those few words really count. With such a limited character count, you never know until you test!
- CTAs — Can you get a little more creative with your CTA copy> Testing copy in your CTA is one easy way to conduct an A/B test. The words that you place in your button communicate to users what will happen when they click. Download, click to install, sign up now, register today, or reserve your seat, are just some of the direct-response oriented copy that you could test. Or, you could test a more playful approach, such as “take a peek”!
- Audience Targeting — Are you actually reaching the right people? Testing different audiences can help you understand what types of people are more likely to respond to your ads. Start off by testing the same ad set to a lookalike audience versus interest-based audience on Facebook, for example. Test both types and optimize to the best performing audience!
Let’s take a look at a real-life example to show how impactful A/B testing your paid ads can be. Take it away, Barb!
“I recently ran an A/B test on some of the paid media we used to promote our virtual conference, CouchCon. I used Facebook to promote the event, utilizing various audience targeting, placement, and ad formats. Within the ad formats, I tested a single ad vs video ad. I kept the copy the same, knowing if I changed the copy, then I would never know if test result was because of the copy or the image/video. Knowing that Facebook optimizes ad inventory to video ads vs other ad formats, I went into the test thinking that the video ad would perform better. And what happened? The single image ad outperformed the video ad! After two weeks, I paused the video ad, and reallocated all remaining dollars to the single image ad.”Barb Gagne
Director of Demand Gen
When it comes to email marketing, the competition is more fierce than ever before. That’s why it’s super important for marketers to be strategic with their email sends. Blast a somewhat irrelevant message to your entire list and run the list of losing hundreds of thousands of precious email addresses. That’s where A/B testing saves the day — start running tests on your email campaigns, and start sending better, more targeted messages.
If you’re just getting started with A/B tests in email campaigns, there are a number of experiments you can run. From messaging and design, to user flows and content variations, there are many ways you can optimize your emails for success.
Here are some examples of easy-to-run email A/B tests:
- Changing the “From” copy — Will a more personal email handle increase open rates?
- Subject lines — Will a clear and concise subject line work better than a descriptive one?
- Video thumbnails — Will using a video thumbnail encourage more clicks?
- Buttons — Will changing the button CTA affect click through rates?
- Design layout — Could the placement of different elements affect performance?
- Personalization — What effect does including the person’s name have?
- Body text — Is less more or should your email take a more explanatory approach?
As always, you want to ensure that you only have one variable per test. Keep everything else in the email versions exactly the same.
“Keep in mind that many of your email tests may have results that are inconclusive. Don’t stress — remember that not every single test you run will lead to a major break through or ah-ha moment. However, you might be surprised with what you do learn from running a test! It’s all about being open and willing to experiment with different copy, formats, and more. If you feel like your results aren’t pretty evenly split more often than not, you might want to try conducting a bigger test, like letter form vs. an HTML-styled email, to get results faster.“”Robin Panish
Email Marketing Manager
Last but not least — test your landing pages! When it comes to landing pages, your goal is to quickly convince your viewers that they’re in the right place, at the right time. Many times social media posts, paid ads, and emails point to these pages, so if you’re testing all of those other marketing activities, it makes sense to optimize your landing pages, too. But, before you start testing, make sure you choose landing pages that can have a high-impact on your company.
“But, before you start testing, make sure you choose landing pages that can have a high-impact on your company.”
For instance, you probably don’t need to test the layout or format of your “team” page, but a pricing page test, on the other hand, could yield some impressive results. Another factor to consider? Traffic. If no one is visiting the page, it’ll be hard to get substantial enough traffic to the page in order for the findings to be statistically significant.
Here are a few ideas for landing page tests you can run:
- Page headers — Is your copy aligned with the ad your visitor clicked on?
- Forms — Are you asking for the right amount of information up front? Too much or not enough?
- FAQs — Does your landing page need more context or information?
- Stats and social proof — Are you missing some key points that could help tell your story?
- Button copy — Will changing the button CTA affect click through rates?
- Media types — Are videos more effective at getting your message across than static images?
- Mobile optimization — Is your page optimized for mobile? If not, what effect does having a responsive page have on conversions?
Since landing pages are often used in conjunction with paid ads, we thought we’d share Barb’s thoughts on landing page optimization and A/B testing. Here’s what she had to say:
“If you want to test conversion rates from your paid ads, you really need to test your landing pages. One simple test is to split your ads, and have one group click through to a relevant page on your website and have the other set click through to a dedicated landing page. I always thought that paid ads should click through to a dedicated page — a page that has less distractions and only one desired action, but I’m often surprised to see that sending ads to the account sign up page or even the pricing page on the main website can have better results than a dedicated page. That’s why it’s so important to test!”Barb Gagne
Director of Demand Gen
So, you’re ready to start A/B testing your marketing campaigns! That’s awesome — we’re happy you’ve decided to take the plunge. But, before you put that lab coat on, keep these best practices in mind so that you can ensure your tests run smoothly.
- Define success. Before you run your test, determine what you’ll learn if the test is successful or not. That way, no matter what the outcome is, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about your marketing in the future.
- Be confident in your test. Always be sure that the element that you changed is actually what caused the test to perform one way or another by keeping all other variables consistent.
- Don’t think too small. Changing the color of a button might give you +1% conversion rate, but overhauling the whole page could do way more for your brand in ways that are less measurable. Test to validate your thinking, but don’t let the pursuit of marginal gains drive the agenda.
- Put a system in place. Marketers should write out exactly what you want to test, why, and what you’re going to learn regardless of the outcome. Having a system in place is the difference between getting better and getting lucky.
- Don’t get discouraged. In the end, your results will speak for themselves. Keep testing, and even when you find a winning combination, don’t stop there. Make it a part of your team culture to test and learn, and when you fail, fail quickly, so you can take those learnings and try, try, again! Either way, you’ll gain valuable insight into the impact of your marketing decisions.
There you have it! Four ways you can get started with A/B testing at your business. Remember that running a winning test is great, but understanding why it was successful is even better. Do more of what works and everybody wins!
Take the time to set up your test properly, get a good system in place, and try not to jump the gun on choosing a winning variation. Be patient and let the test do the hard work for you! Now, go forth and test.