A lot of people cringe at the word “test.” Whether it reminds you of your days of schooling when you simply weren’t prepared or a medical scan, tests typically aren’t people’s favorite thing to do.
Of course, tests are important. In marketing, testing allows us to understand what is working, or not working, and why. A common approach to this is A/B testing for marketing optimization.
What Is A/B Testing for Marketing, Exactly?
In simple terms, A/B testing is putting forth, to your audience, two different versions of something—whether it is a subject line, piece of content on your website, or even an entire marketing campaign. You might also test the time of day you deploy an email.
Version A goes to one sector of the audience, and version B to the remaining. You might think of version A as the “control” group and version B as the “challenger.”
The data you get back on engagement helps you guide future marketing efforts. Overall, you’re looking at performance. Yet, we can break that down into a few different avenues. For example, for email marketing, you might look at the following:
- Did more people open your email with an A or B subject line?
- How long did people spend reading your email A vs. B?
- How many people clicked through to your website between A and B?
- Did any of either A or B emails generate an unsubscribe?
- Did A or B convert more prospects into customers/buyers?
Other possible elements to test might include:
- Blog post titles or blog table of contents
- Landing pages (copy, design)
- Calls to action
- Number of fields in a form
- Social media—both paid ads and organic posts
Conversion is probably the most influential for your bottom line, but it also relies on the marketing build-up. So, if you’re getting minimal conversions on either A or B, it’s probably time to look at the types of content you’re putting out there. Or, if you have the bandwidth to test your checkout page/process, that might reveal some gaps in customer experience. Abandoned carts are often due to logistics of the process, but there might be certain aesthetic aspects at fault as well.
Top Tips for Effective A/B Testing
If you’re thinking this process already seems a bit complex, let me reassure you. It is actually quite simple if you keep a few key factors in mind.
Choose one independent variable to test.
This is really important to adhere to, otherwise you won’t definitively know which variable was more (or less) impactful. So, if you’re testing email subject lines, don’t also change up the email messaging or the color/wording of your call-to-action (CTA) buttons.
This is not to say you can’t test multiple variables; just work on them one at a time. That said, there is a time and place where multivariate testing can be appropriate. But, for the purposes of this blog, we’re exclusively focusing on A/B testing.
Be specific in your testing goals.
What is the outcome you wish to achieve? It’s important to understand that goal even before you choose your “challenger” variable. If you don’t have a specific goal in mind before testing, you might not set up the test in the most effective way.
Let’s look at a possible scenario. If you’re testing a landing page on your website, what do you hope version A will accomplish? Is it more click-throughs? More time spent on the page? Getting people to fill out a form? Then, you can design version B with that in mind.
Hubspot provides a perfect example: “If you’re wondering whether adding a testimonial to a landing page would make a difference in conversions, set up your control page with no testimonials. Then, create your challenger with a testimonial.” Good idea, Hubspot!
Use equal and random groups (when possible).
Email is probably the easiest for equal audience splits. It’s also a great opportunity to start with a smaller subset of your database. This way, you can garner insights before sending to your entire base. If the small sample group responds significantly more favorably to version B over A, then you know the larger portion of your base likely will too.
But, remember, that will take some planning. If it’s a timely email, say a holiday promotion you decided upon at the 11th hour or a last-minute alert about a change in business hours, performing the initial A/B testing on the subset is probably out of the question. You just won’t have enough time to get an accurate picture.
Be clear about what you’ll do with the results.
Sometimes, testing doesn’t generate a significant enough difference to warrant a decision. What percentage of variation do you need to make permanent changes? Make sure to decide your threshold in the initial planning process.
The second part of this tip involves being realistic about timelines. Make sure you’re giving the testing period enough time to produce useful data. For email, you might allow a week before making an assessment. Organic social media? Maybe a few days. If you’re A/B testing content or design on your website, you’ll likely need a longer timeline—especially if your site doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
Consider qualitative feedback.
The data you collect from A/B testing is quantitative. There’s no harm in asking your audience for their feedback about the variables you’re analyzing. The quantitative aspect of A/B testing tells you the “what” but sending out a poll or questionnaire can help you understand the “why.”
Don’t stop at “results.”
It does take some effort to set up A/B testing and follow it through to insightful data. So make sure you use it! Otherwise, why even go through with the process? You’d never undergo a medical test and then just ignore it if something unusual was detected. The results you get from one test are often applicable to the next one in line.
Keep on testing.
There’s no “pencils down” directive in A/B testing. You should be testing as much and as often as you have bandwidth for. For small businesses, testing could be limited—so the smart approach is to look at your most potentially impactful-yet-underperforming marketing channel.
Email is a perfect place to start, especially because you get that one-to-one touch with your customers and prospects. And, as mentioned above, you can easily set up the smaller subset to maximize your email marketing efforts. Many of the email platform providers include A/B testing in their plans (sometimes for free).
A/B Testing for Marketing All Industries
One of the most attractive aspects of A/B testing is that it does not discriminate. You can be in any industry, whether B2B or B2C or product versus service, and still gain key insights about how your audience responds to your marketing efforts. And that, my friends, is incredibly valuable information. Not just for building up your own business, but also in terms of staying competitive in your market.
If you found this blog helpful, make sure to check out the others in the Crackerjack Marketing collection. There’s a ton of tips for all things marketing, whether email, blog content, social media, and so much more.
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