Everything You Need to Know About A/B Testing

A/B testing is hot topic in online marketing. And honestly, there’s a good reason for that. Without A/B testing, your online marketing will never reach its full potential. At Disruptive, we’ve seen that firsthand with countless clients. With one test, we made a client $70,000 in just two weeks. With another, we produced more than $43,000 in revenue in a matter of months. Another test added thousands in revenue over a matter of weeks.

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And those are just a few examples of what A/B testing has done for our clients. The point is, if you aren’t A/B testing, you’re leaving money on the table. So what exactly is A/B testing? How do you use it? More importantly, how do you get these kinds of results for your business? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll be covering all of that and more.

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Sound like a plan? Let’s take an in-depth look at the world of A/B testing.

What is A/B Testing?

The idea behind A/B testing is fairly simple. You put a lot of time and effort into getting people to your website or landing pages. Why? Because you want them to convert—to do something that benefits your business. You want them to fill out a form, make a purchase, call you on the phone, visit your brick-and-mortar location, check out a certain page, sign up for your newsletter…the list goes on and on. The only problem is, you don’t know whether or not your site is helping or hurting your conversion rate.

It’s almost impossible to predict how people will respond to your website. No matter how much you love (or hate) your site design, you really don’t know what works—and what doesn’t—for your site traffic. The only real way to know is to show different versions of your website to your traffic and see which version produces the best conversion rate. And that, in a nutshell, is A/B testing.

With A/B testing, you create two different versions (version A and version B—hence the name) of your site or landing page. Then, you split your traffic between those two versions (also called variants). Once enough people have visited your website to determine which variant people prefer, you go with the winner…and start the whole process over.

Of course, all of this is just scratching the surface of A/B testing. Honestly, we’ve written dozens of blog posts about the ins-and-outs of A/B testing, how to come up with testing ideas and ways to improve your site design, but you don’t need all of that to get started. So, for the rest of this article, we’re going focus on the basics of A/B testing and how you can start using it to make more money from your campaigns.

Why A/B Testing Matters

Now, you might be thinking, I already know that my site needs work. Can’t I just find some best practice article, improve my site and get all of the benefits of A/B testing without all of the, you know, testing? That’s a great question. Unfortunately, even conversion rate optimization (another name for A/B testing) experts have a hard time predicting which changes will improve your conversion rate. To prove this point, we actually ran an A/B test on marketers at a conference a couple of years ago. We had recently run a successful A/B test for a client and increased form completions by 146.2%.

We, of course, knew which variant had produced the best results, but we wanted to see if the conversion rate optimization (CRO) experts at the conference could predict the winner. Here were the page variants they had to choose between. Which one do you think produced the best conversion rate? V3 was the winning page in our test, but guess which page our CRO experts picked? V2, not V3.

Now, these were CRO experts at the top of their game. When it comes to optimizing site design, these people really knew their stuff. But even with all of that expertise, well over half of them picked the wrong variant. Why? Because you are not your customer. No matter how much you like a particular site element or design, that doesn’t guarantee that it works for your customers. The only real way to determine that is through A/B testing.

How A/B Testing Works

A while back, we used A/B testing to improve a client’s conversion rate by 22%. At first glance, you might think, “What a great case study! How did you get those kinds of results?” And, if you really want to know what we did, the answer is fairly simple: we got rid of the testimonials. Isn’t that exciting? Testimonials reduce conversion rates! If you haven’t tested getting rid of your testimonials yet, you should go out and try eliminating the testimonials from your site. After all, your testimonials could be reducing your conversion rate by 22% or more…right?

Well, not really. On average, testimonials often improve conversion rates. In fact, when we first started working with this client, if you had told me their testimonials were reducing their conversion rate, I probably would have argued the point with you. So, if we were pretty sure that their testimonials improving their conversion rate, why did we try getting rid of them? It wasn’t just a random guess. We tested a lot of other hypotheses first… As you can see from this GIF, we worked through over a dozen versions of this page before we finally tried eliminating the testimonials.

Not every test improved the client’s conversion rate, but every test taught us something about our target audience and helped us uncover what our traffic really wanted out of their site experience. Effective A/B testing teaches you something with every test. But, if you want to learn something from every test, you can’t just test random ideas—you need to test strategically. With that in mind, let’s talk about the 4 basic parts of a solid A/B testing strategy:

1. Your Buyer Persona

Before you even start to brainstorm testing ideas, you need to create a detailed buyer persona. Essentially, your buyer persona gives you a structure for defining your testing hypotheses and a framework for understanding your results.

At a minimum, your buyer persona should cover the following:

  • Demographic information (age, gender, location, race, etc)
  • Budget
  • Motivations (responsibilities, goals, interests, etc)
  • Pain points (fears, frustrations, needs, etc)
  • How your business resolves their pain point(s)

You might need to talk to your current customers or your sales team to get this information, but knowing your target audience can help you produce great testing results much more quickly.

Case Study Notes: What We Knew About Our Target Audience

Thanks to some detailed discussions with this well-informed client, we knew a lot about the audience they were targeting. On average, our target audience was middle-aged men and women with money to invest. Our audience wanted to be smart with their money, but they also recognized that they didn’t know enough to invest their money wisely on their own.

With that knowledge in hand, we were ready to define some goals for our tests.

2. Your Goals

If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve with your test, it’s hard to build variants that produce meaningful results.

Now, you probably have a good idea of what you want to achieve with your tests, but let’s spell out a few specifics.

  • What does success look like? (more leads? more phone calls? more sales…hint, the best answer is more sales).
  • What steps do you want your customers to take? (what will help them move closer to becoming a paying customer?).
  • What specific results will your test need to produce to be “successful”? (see the first bullet point).

Defining your overall goals and the specific steps your potential customers need to take on the path to reaching those goals will give you clear insight into what sorts of changes you should be testing.

Case Study Notes: Defining Our Goals

In this client’s case, we defined success as increased sales (see, I told you “more sales” was the best answer). To achieve that goal, however, we needed the client’s website to produce more qualified leads for their sales team. Additionally, the client had a lot of different offers that potential clients could choose from, so the page needs to identify which option or options potential clients were the most interested in.

Now that we knew who we were targeting and what our goals were, it was time to come up with some hypotheses.

3. Your Hypotheses

At this point, your job is to try and guess at which factors on your site are preventing your target audience from doing what you want them to do and how you can eliminate or reduce those factors.

Case Study Notes: Generating Hypotheses

Here are some of the hypotheses we came up with:

  • Our offer was wrong. Maybe our headline or body copy wasn’t conveying the message that our audience wanted to hear.
  • The next step was unclear. Maybe people wanted to simply fill out our form instead of clicking through a series of information-gathering pages.
  • Our content was in the wrong order. Maybe our audience was getting lost in our page or wanted to see a particular page element as soon as they arrived.
  • We had too much content. Maybe all our content distracting or overwhelming to our audience.
  • We weren’t evoking the right emotion. Maybe our audience wasn’t resonating with our hero shot or color scheme.

Armed with these (and a variety of other hypotheses), we were ready to start testing.

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4. Document and Learn

Your testing strategy doesn’t end when your tests start. You need to document everything and use what you learn to develop new hypotheses and tests.

Depending on how you like to do things, your documentation can be fairly simple or quite complex, but your approach needs to be methodical—each test needs to teach you something that you can use to produce better results from your next test.

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