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What is A/B Testing and How Can You Use It?

A/B testing is like the scientific method for websites. It allows you to run experiments to determine what on your site works and what doesn’t, and through continued testing can significantly increase your revenue and conversion rate.

What Is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is very simple in concept. You have your current website “A” that acts as a control for this experiment. You then make a small change to your site—add a button here, change some colors, rearrange the layout, etc. This is version B, your “hypothesis.”

You set up both pages, and then divert a percentage of your site’s traffic to version B. This could be a small number or anywhere up to 50%. You could even run multiple tests, with a version C, D, and so on.

You let your experiment run for a set amount of time, and at the end you can use analytics software to measure how well each version performed. Usually this can all be done under one software suite, and will be very easy to set up. What you’re usually looking for is a higher conversion rate (the percentage of users buying your product or achieving your goal).

You may find that version B with an extra button here or there performs a bit better than version A. If that’s the case, you can replace version A with version B, and now your website is a bit better.

A major pitfall of A/B testing is what’s called the local maximum. It’s when you’ve A/B tested everything you can think of, and arrived at the best version of your original site, optimized as much as possible. But maybe your site doesn’t need refinement. What if it needs something entirely different? This is called the global maximum, which this chart from Optimizely shows quite nicely:

Optimizely

A/B testing won’t magically make your website fantastic—it’s only part of the development loop. You still have analyze results, make hypotheses about what you can change to make your site better, and implement those changes. But being able to accurately measure how changes impact your conversion rate and other stats is a huge part of this process.

A/B testing also isn’t just about marketing. You can run A/B tests to measure all kinds of dependant variables; for example, you could run a test with and without a CDN to determine how it impacts your site loading speed, and ultimately, your bounce rate.

What Is a Landing Page?

A landing page is a highly optimized page designed specifically for users to “land” on when they click an advertisement of yours or find you in search results. It’s different from the homepage as it’s much more streamlined and focused on. It’s a major area where A/B testing really shines, as you want your landing page to have a very high conversion rate.

For example, Shopify’s main site has a lot of content, a top menu with many pages, a login button, and a button to start your free trial.

But their landing page is much different. Instead, the menus are gone, the login button is gone. It’s assumed that the user is coming here specifically to be persuaded to start a free trial, as they wouldn’t have clicked an ad if they were already a customer.

The only thing on this site is a minimal amount of marketing info and taglines, along with a call to action above and below the fold. Nothing else is there to distract the user, and the only way to leave this site is to click “Start free trial.”

There are plenty of services on the market to help you build landing pages. Unbounce, Leadpages, and Instapage all feature drag-and-drop editors alongside prebuilt templates to make creating a landing page painless. If the tool doesn’t feature built in A/B testing, you can always use a standalone analytics service to run tests. For WordPress, there are free plugins like Elementor that let you build native landing plugins. For enterprises, there are services like Optimizely with huge analytics platforms behind their backs

How To Run A/B Tests

If you want to run A/B testing, you’ll want to make use of an analytics service to make this easier. The simplest service to use is Google Analytics, which is entirely free to use and supports A/B testing. You probably want Google Analytics on your site anyway, even if you don’t plan on doing a lot of testing.

Google Analytics calls A/B tests “experiments,” which you’ll find in the sidebar under Behavior. You can select which objective you’d like to measure (bounces, pageviews, conversion rate, purchases) and divert a percentage of traffic to the experiment page (page B).

If you’d to pay for a service, you can get many interesting features. Crazy Egg has the ability to generate heatmaps of your site, showing you where users are interested in, which can give you an insight as to how you should make changes.  It also has built in A/B testing support.

Most analytics software will feature A/B testing in one way or another. You can read our guide to analytics to learn more.

There are a few other areas you can run A/B tests. Facebook allows A/B testing on ads, called split testing, which can help you get the most bang for your buck. You can test ads on different audiences, different placements, and different types of ads. OptinMonster runs A/B tests specifically on sign up forms, with the intent being to maximize lead generation.

Anthony Heddings Anthony Heddings
Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times. Read Full Bio »

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