To maximize the effectiveness of your digital marketing efforts, it’s important to be constantly testing and optimizing your campaigns. Creating different variations before deciding what will benefit your campaign the most is a good way to start, and this is where A/B testing comes into play.

A/B testing is a way for marketers to test different variables and see which is the most effective at accomplishing a goal, such as generating leads and conversions. A/B testing can provide actionable, measurable and (sometimes) immediate results. When it comes to details such as email titles, sometimes the smallest change can make a big difference. We’ll walk through the basics of A/B testing, what to test, what to measure and how to get started.

Defining A/B Testing

A/B testing is a pretty simple concept. It involves using two versions of an element and testing each version on a different sample of your audience. This could be something as simple as two different subject lines in an email or two different landing page layouts. One version goes to half of your test audience, the other version goes to the other half. In the end, the version that performs better gets used moving forward. For example, just changing the wording or location of a call to action button could dramatically increase your conversion rate.

Create a hypothesis

Before testing, you need to choose your evaluation criterion to ensure you are not swayed by the results later. Focus on one key performance indicator (KPI), write a hypothesis, and determine a specific audience to target. Choose a schedule, so that you aren’t tempted to look at data too early or make conclusions before there is significant information. You can gather data using a multitude of tools, but the most common ways are using website analytics through Google Analytics, heatmap technology, and email tracking systems. These tools will provide you with information about where users are spending time, where leads are being converted, and which features are working.

Once you have a plan, stay patient; don’t get excited and jump to conclusions before the test runs its course or if a different metric than what you’re measuring shows significant change. If your goal is to increase the time spent on your page, but instead, one option ends with a marginally higher click rate, be cautious when deeming this option the winner. Making a goal and sticking to it will produce the best results.

Establish a control

A/B testing is most effective when you keep it simple and only change and test one variable. Only one element should be different between your two samples. For example, if you are sending an email and want to test the subject line, make sure the body and design of the email is exactly the same in both emails. Don’t change the subject line AND the length of the email because it is harder to see what made the real difference in your goal KPI (open rates or conversions, for example). And you should only run one A/B test on a single campaign at a time, so as to reduce confusion and doubt about what worked from the final results.

Make sure to also test both versions at the same time; traffic and engagement can be very different depending on the day of the week or time of the year. This eliminates external factors such as holidays or workweek cycles. You also need to be mindful of how long your tests run. The time required for a reliable A/B test can vary depending on what you are trying to accomplish, while also factoring in your current traffic and conversion rates. Many experts believe most A/B tests should run for two weeks, with a minimum testing time of seven days. This will increase the likelihood that the data you have gathered is statistically significant.

Timing your A/B Test

When is the right time to begin A/B testing your campaign? While A/B testing can be extremely insightful, it’s most effective if you already have a steady flow of traffic. If you have low traffic volume or open rates, there is a high possibility that you will not have statistically significant results, or the small tweaks you make will be less measurable. The more users that are testing, the more accurate your results will be.

Ways to Utilize A/B Testing

A/B testing can be used to test a variety of elements in your marketing program. Here are some different ways it can be utilized:

  1. Call-to-Action buttons – You need to make sure you create the most “click-worthy” CTAs in order to maximize your conversion rate. A simple button has many different elements that you can test. For example, the wording on the button (Download Now vs. Get the eBook), location on the page (top, bottom, left, right), style of button (simple vs. gradient), size (small or large), color, etc. Start with one variable and slowly test different changes over time.
  2. Landing pages – When you create a landing page for a premium content download, webinar or other purpose, the design of the page, the headline and the supporting copy can have a large impact on conversions. Test out different designs and layouts but remember to only change one aspect at a time. If you have two versions, send half of the visitors to one and half to the other. Over time you’ll be able to see which version is the most successful and why.
  3. Form fields and length – The type of information you ask and the number of fields on your form can have a dramatic impact on conversions. Marketers always want as much information as they can get from a prospect, but, depending on the offer, a prospect might not be as inclined to fill out a form if it is too long or asks too many detailed questions (i.e. budget). Try testing different forms to see if it makes a difference. We would also recommend using progressive profiling as an alternative way to balance form fields and length. Progressive profiling involves using technology that designates specific questions to leads based on information you already know about them, shortening form length for users but still providing valuable information.
  4. Email subject lines – Subject lines can make or break your email campaigns and are often the reason people decide to open your email or delete it. Before sending out an email to your entire segment or list, test 2 different subject lines on a small sample, then send the winning to the remaining contacts in your list to optimize your email for the most success.
  5. Email sender names – Sometimes changing the person who is sending the email makes a difference in open rates. Are your emails being sent from your president, sales rep or just your company’s info address? Sometimes an email coming directly from a sales rep that has an established relationship with the contact will get a larger open rate than an email from your CEO. Test and see what makes a difference.
  6. Images – Test different images on your landing pages or emails to see if they make a difference with clickthroughs, views or downloads. Supporting images to your content and offers can determine different actions by visitors.
  7. Length of copy – Whether it is an email or a landing page, sometimes a shorter message is better, or a longer explanation is needed. Test different lengths of copy to see which engages your clients more to take the action you want.
  8. Pop-up windows – Pop-up windows successfully get people to sign up for e-mail lists and blog subscriptions, but they can be intrusive to the user’s experience. Testing different windows with differing colors, CTAs, and wording will help you identify the best way to nudge your users to engage without interrupting their browsing.
  9. Testimonials – Customer and client testimonies are great ways to build rapport and trust with new leads. Try different quotes and pictures to see what fits best for your website or product.
  10. Statistics – Data doesn’t lie – but it can be misleading and confusing. Experiment with displaying statistics in easily digestible ways. This can be accomplished with wording (“250,000 users” vs. “a quarter million users”) or creating an infographic instead of using plain text. It can make a noticeable impact.
  11. Social Media – Marketing and social media have become permanently intertwined, so it is beneficial to use best marketing practices when considering your social media presence. A/B testing can be used for things as simple as profile pictures, bios and layouts. You can also use it to test ads on social media to see what generates the most engagement.

Analyzing the results

Specific data points you analyze will depend on the medium you are A/B testing. For example, you might want to track the time on page when testing a new landing page. If version A has a higher average time on page, it would suggest users are more engaged with that version; when paired with a higher conversion rate, this would indicate that version A is better than version B. Data will remove the uncertainty of not knowing where leads are falling off and will point out elements that have the biggest impact on conversion rate.

Also, be aware that not all tests will have a statistically significant result. This did not mean that you failed; it just means it doesn’t make a big difference. Find another aspect that can be tested and test again. One last thing to remember: don’t trust your gut—trust the results! Your personal preference might not be the best approach to take, which is where the science of A/B testing is so helpful.

Continue to test

What one test determines to be most effective may not be the case down the road, so A/B testing should become an ongoing process for your campaign. Each time you test, you take any knowledge you gain and try to apply that in the future. As you write more content, create more landing pages or make changes to your website, A/B testing can help you see what is working so you can improve your marketing efforts.