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The Ultimate A/B Testing Guide

Updated: Jun 3, 2023


A/B testing, also known as split testing, refers to a randomized experimentation process wherein two or more versions of a variable (web page, page element, etc.) are shown to different segments of website visitors at the same time to determine which version leaves the maximum impact and drives business metrics.

Essentially, A/B testing eliminates all the guesswork out of website optimization and enables experience optimizers to make data-backed decisions. In A/B testing, A refers to ‘control’ or the original testing variable. Whereas B refers to ‘variation’ or a new version of the original testing variable.

The version that moves your business metric(s) in the positive direction is known as the ‘winner.’ Implementing the changes of this winning variation on your tested page(s) / element(s) can help optimize your website and increase business ROI.

The metrics for conversion are unique to each website. For instance, in the case of eCommerce, it may be the sale of the products. Meanwhile, for B2B, it may be the generation of qualified leads.

A/B testing is one of the components of the overarching process of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), using which you can gather both qualitative and quantitative user insights. You can further use this collected data to understand user behavior, engagement rate, pain points, and even satisfaction with website features, including new features, revamped page sections, etc. If you’re not A/B testing your website, you’re surely losing out on a lot of potential business revenue.



Why should you consider A/B testing?

If B2B businesses today are unhappy with all the unqualified leads they get per month, eCommerce stores, on the other hand, are struggling with a high cart abandonment rate. Meanwhile, media and publishing houses are also dealing with low viewer engagement. These core conversion metrics are affected by some common problems like leaks in the conversion funnel, drop-offs on the payment page, etc.

Let’s see why you should do A/B testing:


1. Solve visitor pain points

Visitors come to your website to achieve a specific goal that they have in mind. It may be to understand more about your product or service, buy a particular product, read/learn more about a specific topic, or simply browse. Whatever the visitor’s goal may be, they may face some common pain points while achieving their goal. It can be a confusing copy or hard to find the CTA button like buy now, request a demo, etc.

Not being able to achieve their goals leads to a bad user experience. This increases friction and eventually impacts your conversion rates. Use data gathered through visitor behavior analysis tools such as heatmaps, Google Analytics, and website surveys to solve your visitors’ pain points. This stands true for all businesses: eCommerce, travel, SaaS, education, media, and publishing.


2. Get better ROI from existing traffic

As most experience optimizers have come to realize, the cost of acquiring quality traffic on your website is huge. A/B testing lets you make the most out of your existing traffic and helps you increase conversions without having to spend additional dollars on acquiring new traffic. A/B testing can give you high ROI as sometimes, even the minutest of changes on your website can result in a significant increase in overall business conversions.


3. Reduce bounce rate One of the most important metrics to track to judge your website’s performance is its bounce rate. There may be many reasons behind your website’s high bounce rate, such as too many options to choose from, expectations mismatch, confusing navigation, use of too much technical jargon, and so on. Since different websites serve different goals and cater to different segments of audiences, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing bounce rate. However, running an A/B test can prove beneficial. With A/B testing, you can test multiple variations of an element of your website till you find the best possible version. This not only helps you find friction and visitor pain points but helps improve your website visitors’ overall experience, making them spend more time on your site and even converting into a paying customer. 4. Make low-risk modifications Make minor, incremental changes to your web page with A/B testing instead of getting the entire page redesigned. This can reduce the risk of jeopardizing your current conversion rate. A/B testing lets you target your resources for maximum output with minimal modifications, resulting in an increased ROI. An example of that could be product description changes. You can perform an A/B test when you plan to remove or update your product descriptions. You do not know how your visitors are going to react to the change. By running an A/B test, you can analyze their reaction and ascertain which side the weighing scale may tilt. Another example of low-risk modification can be the introduction of a new feature change. Before introducing a new feature, launching it as an A/B test can help you understand whether or not the new change that you’re suggesting will please your website audience. Implementing a change on your website without testing it may or may not pay off in both the short and long run. Testing and then making changes can make the outcome more certain. 5. Achieve statistically significant improvements Since A/B testing is entirely data-driven with no room for guesswork, gut feelings, or instincts, you can quickly determine a “winner” and a “loser” based on statistically significant improvements on metrics like time spent on the page, number of demo requests, cart abandonment rate, click-through rate, and so on. 6. Redesign website to increase future business gains Redesigning can range from a minor CTA text or color tweak to particular web pages to completely revamping the website. The decision to implement one version or the other should always be data-driven when A/B testing. Do not quit testing with the design being finalized. As the new version goes live, test other web page elements to ensure that the most engaging version is served to the visitors. What can you A/B test? Your website’s conversion funnel determines the fate of your business. Therefore, every piece of content that reaches your target audience via your website must be optimized to its maximum potential. This is especially true for elements that have the potential to influence the behavior of your website visitors and business conversion rate. When undertaking an optimization program, test the following key site elements (the list, however, is not exhaustive):

Copy 1. Headlines and subheadlines A headline is practically the first thing that a visitor notices on a web page. It’s also what defines their first and last impression, filling the blanks whether or not they’ll go ahead and convert into paying customers. Hence, it’s imperative to be extra cautious about your site’s headlines and subheadlines. Ensure they’re short, to-the-point, catchy, and convey your desired message in the first stance. Try A/B testing a few copies with different fonts and writing styles, and analyze which catches your visitors’ attention the most and compels them to convert. You can also use VWO’s AI-powered text generation system to generate recommendations for the existing copy on your website. 2. Body The body or main textual content of your website should clearly state what the visitor is getting – what’s in store for them. It should also resonate with your page’s headline and subheadline. A well-written body can significantly increase the chances of turning your website into a conversion magnet. While drafting your website’s content, keep the following two parameters in mind:

  • Writing style: Use the right tonality based on your target audience. Your copy should directly address the end-user and answer all their questions. It must contain key phrases that improve usability and stylistic elements that highlight important points.

  • Formatting: Use relevant headlines and subheadlines, break the copy into small and easy paragraphs, and format it for skimmers using bullet points or lists.

Interestingly, experience optimizers can now take advantage of artificial intelligence to create website copies. GPT-3 or Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, is an AI-powered neural network that has the ability to produce nearly flawless text content relevant to any given context. Built by OpenAI, GPT-3 uses machine learning to predict and draft content just like a human. The best part? You can now integrate OpenAI’s GPT-3 with VWO Testing account and create variations for your website copy and deploy them without the help of an expert writer or IT, respectively.

3. Subject lines Email subject lines directly impact open rates. If a subscriber doesn’t see anything they like, the email will likely wind up in their trash bin. According to recent research, average open rates across more than a dozen industries ranging from 25 to 47 percent. Even if you’re above average, only about half of your subscribers might open your emails. A/B testing subject lines can increase your chances of getting people to click. Try questions versus statements, test power words against one another, and consider using subject lines with and without emojis.

Design and layout

Because everything seems so essential, businesses sometimes struggle with finding only the most essential elements to keep on their website. With A/B testing, this problem can be solved once and for all.

For example, as an eCommerce store, your product page is extremely important from a conversion perspective. One thing for sure is that with technological progress in its current stage, customers like to see everything in high definition before buying it. Therefore, your product page must be in its most optimized form in terms of design and layout. Along with the copy, the page’s design and layout include images (product images, offer images, etc.) and videos (product videos, demo videos, advertisements, etc.). Your product page should answer all of your visitor’s questions without confusing them and without getting cluttered:

  • Provide clear information: Based on the products you sell, find creative ways to provide all necessary context and accurate product descriptions so that prospective buyers do not get overwhelmed with an unorganized copy while looking for answers to their queries. Write clear copies and provide easily noticeable size charts, color options, etc.

  • Highlight customer reviews: Add both good and bad reviews for your products. Negative reviews add credibility to your store.

  • Write simple content: Avoid confusing potential buyers with complicated language in the quest to decorate your content. Keep it short, simple, and fun to read.

  • Create a sense of urgency: Add tags like ‘Only 2 Left In Stock’, countdowns like ‘Offer Ends in 2 Hours and 15 Minutes’, or highlight exclusive discounts and festive offers, etc., to nudge the prospective buyers to purchase immediately.

Other important pages whose design needs to be on point are pages like the home page and landing page. Use A/B testing to discover the most optimized version of these critical pages. Test as many ideas as you can, such as add plenty of white space and high definition images, feature product videos instead of images, and test out different layouts. Declutter your pages using insights from heatmaps, clickmaps, and scrollmaps to analyze dead clicks and identify distractions. The less cluttered your home page and landing pages, the more likely it is for your visitors to easily and quickly find what they’re looking for.

Navigation

Another element of your website that you can optimize by A/B testing is your website’s navigation. It is the most crucial element when it comes to delivering an excellent user experience. Make sure you have a clear plan for your website’s structure and how different pages will be linked to each other and react within that structure. Your website’s navigation starts on the home page. The home page is the parent page from which all other pages emerge and link back to each other. Make sure your structure is such that visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and do not get lost because of a broken navigation path. Each click should direct visitors to the desired page. Mentioned below are some ideas to help you step up your navigation game:

  • Match visitor expectations by placing your navigation bar in standard places like horizontal navigation on the top and vertical down the left to make your website easier to use.

  • Make your website’s navigation predictable by keeping similarly themed content in the same bucket or in related buckets to reduce your visitor’s cognitive load. For example, as an eCommerce store, you may be selling a variety of earphones and headphones. Some of them may be wired, while others may be wireless or ear-pods. Bucket these in such a way that when a visitor looks for earphones or headphones, they find all these varieties in one place rather than having to search for each kind separately

  • Creating a fluid, easy-to-navigate website by keeping its structure simple, predictable, and matching your visitors’ expectations. This will not only increase the chances of getting more conversions but also create a delightful customer experience forcing visitors to come back to your website.

Forms

Forms are mediums through which prospective customers get in touch with you. They become even more important if they are part of your purchase funnel. Just as no two websites are the same, no two forms addressing different audiences are the same. While a small comprehensive form may work for some businesses, long forms might do wonders for their lead quality for other businesses.

You can figure out which style works for your audience the best by using research tools/methods like form analysis to determine the problem area in your form and work towards optimizing it.

CTA (Call-to-action)

The CTA is where all the real action takes place – whether or not visitors finish their purchases and convert if they fill out the sign-up form or not, and more such actions that have a direct bearing on your conversion rate. A/B testing enables you to test different CTA copies, their placement across the web page, toy with their size and color scheme, and so on. Such experimentation helps understand which variation has the potential to get the most conversions.

Social proof Social proof may take the form of recommendations and reviews from experts of the particular fields, from celebrities and customers themselves, or can come as testimonials, media mentions, awards and badges, certificates, and so on. The presence of these proofs validates the claims made by your website. A/B testing can help you determine whether or not adding social proof is a good idea. If it is a good idea, what kinds of social proof should you add, and how many should you add. You can test different types of social proofs, their layouts, and placements to understand which works best in your favor.

Content depth Some website visitors prefer reading long-form content pieces that extensively cover even the minutest of details. Meanwhile, many others just like to skim through the page and deep dive only into the topics that are most relevant to them. In which category does your target audience fall?

A/B test content depth. Creating two pieces of the same content, one that’s significantly longer than the other, provides more details. Analyze which compels your readers the most. Understand that content depth impacts SEO and many other business metrics such as the conversion rate, page time-spent, and bounce rate. A/B testing enables you to find the ideal balance between the two.

What are the different types of A/B tests? Post learning about which web page elements to test to move your business metrics in the positive direction, let’s move ahead and learn about the different kinds of testing methods along with their advantages.

Ideally, there are four basic testing methods – A/B testing, Split URL testing, Multivariate testing, and Multipage testing. We’ve already discussed the first kind, namely, A/B testing. Let’s move on to the others.

Split URL testing Many people in the testing arena confuse Split URL testing with A/B testing. However, the two are fundamentally very different. Split URL testing refers to an experimentation process wherein an entirely new version of an existing web page URL is tested to analyze which one performs better.

Typically, A/B testing is used when you wish to only test front-end changes on your website. On the other hand, Split URL testing is used when you wish to make significant changes to your existing page, especially in terms of design. You’re not willing to touch the existing web page design for comparison purposes. When you run a Split URL test, your website traffic is split between the control (original web page URL) and variations (new web page URL), and each of their respective conversion rates is measured to decide the winner.

Advantages of Split URL testing

  • Ideal for trying out radical new designs while using the existing page design for comparative analysis.

  • Recommended for running tests with non-UI changes, such as switching to a different database, optimizing your page’s load time, etc.

  • Change up web page workflows. Workflows dramatically affect business conversions, helping test new paths before implementing changes and determine if any of the sticking points were missed.

  • A better and much-recommended testing method for dynamic content.

Multivariate testing (MVT) Multivariate testing (MVT) refers to an experimentation method wherein variations of multiple page variables are simultaneously tested to analyze which combination of variables perform the best out of all the possible permutations. It’s more complicated than a regular A/B test and is best suited for advanced marketing, product, and development professionals. Here’s an example to give you a more comprehensive description of multivariate testing. Let’s say you decide to test 2 versions, each of the hero image, call-to-action button color, and headlines of one of your landing pages. This means a total of 8 variations are created, which will be concurrently tested to find the winning variation. Here’s a simple formula to calculate the total number of versions in a multivariate test: [No. of variations of element A] x [No. of variations of element B] x [No. of variations of element C]… = [Total No. of variations] When conducted properly, multivariate testing can help eliminate the need to run multiple and sequential A/B tests on a web page with similar goals. Running concurrent tests with a greater number of variations helps you save time, money, and efforts and come to a conclusion in the shortest possible time. Advantages of Multivariate testing Multivariate testing typically offers primary three benefits:

  • Helps avoid the need to conduct several sequential A/B tests with the same goal and saves time since you can simultaneously track the performance of various tested page elements.

  • Easily analyze and determine the contribution of each page element to the measured gains,

  • Map all the interaction between all independent element variations (page headlines, banner image, etc.).

Multipage testing Multipage testing is a form of experimentation where you can test changes to particular elements across multiple pages. There are two ways to conduct a multipage test. One, you can either take all the pages of your sales funnel and create new versions of each, which makes your challenger the sales funnel, and you then test it against the control. This is called Funnel Multipage testing. Two, you can test how the addition or removal of the recurring element(s), such as security badges, testimonials, etc., can impact conversions across an entire funnel. This is called Classic or Conventional Multipage testing.

Advantages of Multipage testing Similar to A/B testing, Multipage testing is easy to create and run and provides meaningful and reliable data with ease and in the shortest possible time. The advantage of multipage testing are as follows:

  1. It enables you to create consistent experiences for your target audience.

  2. It helps your target audience see a consistent set of pages, no matter if it’s the control or one of its variations.

  3. It enables you to implement the same change on several pages to ensure that your website visitors don’t get distracted and bounce off between different variations and designs when navigating through your website.

Which statistical approach to use to run an A/B test? Post learning about four different types of A/B testing experimentation methods, it’s equally important to understand which statistical approach to adopt to successfully run an A/B test and draw the right business conclusion. Ideally, there are two types of statistical approaches used by A/B/n experimenters across the globe: Frequentist and Bayesian. Each of these approaches has its own pros and cons. However, we, at VWO, use, support, and promote the Bayesian approach. The comparison between the two approaches given below will help you understand why.

Frequentist approach: The frequentist approach of probability defines the probability of an event with relation to how frequently (hence the name) a particular event occurs in a large number of trials/data points. When applied to the world of A/B testing, one can see that anyone going with the frequentist approach would need more data (a function of more number of visitors tested and over longer durations) to come to the right conclusions. This is something that limits you in scaling up any A/B testing effort. According to the Frequentist approach, it is essential to define your A/B test’s duration based on sample size to reach the right test conclusions. The tests are based on the fact that every experiment can be repeated infinite times. Following this approach calls for a lot of attention to detail for every test that you run because for the same set of visitors, you’ll be forced to run longer duration tests than the Bayesian approach. Hence, each test needs to be treated with extreme care because there are only a few tests that you can run in a given timeframe. Unlike Bayesian statistics, the Frequentist approach is less intuitive and often proves difficult to understand.

Bayesian approach: As compared to the Frequentist approach, Bayesian statistics is a theory-based approach that deals with the Bayesian interpretation of probability, where probability is expressed as a degree of belief in an event. In other words, the more you know about an event, the better and faster you can predict the end outcomes. Rather than being a fixed value, probability under Bayesian statistics can change as new information is gathered. This belief may be based on past information such as the results of previous tests or other information about the event.

Unlike the frequentist approach, the Bayesian approach provides actionable results almost 50% faster while focusing on statistical significance. At any given point, provided you have enough data at hand, the Bayesian approach tells you the probability of variation A having a lower conversion rate than variation B or the control. It does not have a defined time limit attached to it, nor does it require you to have an in-depth knowledge of statistics. In the simplest of terms, the Bayesian approach is akin to how we approach things in everyday life. For instance, you misplaced your mobile phone in your house. As a frequentist, you would only use a GPS tracker to track it and only check the area the tracker is pointing to. While as a Bayesian, you will not only use a GPS tracker but also check all the places in the house you earlier found your misplaced phone. In the former, the event is considered a fixed value, while in the latter, all past and future knowledge are utilized to locate the phone.

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