A/B Testing in Marketing: The What, Why, When and How

Effective marketers know that monitoring campaign performance is crucial for success—but what can you do to ensure performance continues to improve? You won’t know what your audience responds best to unless you test different versions of your digital assets, but you also don’t want to spend your budget making changes that don’t generate any results.

This is where A/B testing comes in.

If you’ve ever wondered, “What is A/B testing in marketing?” then this is the post for you. Below, we share what A/B testing is, why and when to use it, and then break down a few of the digital assets that are perfect for testing.

What is A/B Testing in Marketing?

In marketing, A/B testing compares the performance of an original version of a marketing asset—your “control” (A)—against a slightly altered version (B).

For example, the images below show an A/B test we ran for our client’s landing page testing two different offers: “Get Free Evaluation” and “Get Pricing”.

Version A.

A/B Testing - Version A

Version B.

A/B Testing - Version B

Once your A/B test is launched, each version will be visible to a specific, randomized segment of your audience.

Why and When To Use A/B Testing

A/B testing takes the guesswork out of optimizing your marketing assets, giving you real, viable data to show that your changes will improve performance (or otherwise) across your target audience. In the case of our client’s landing page above, version A performed slightly better across our audience, so that was the version we promoted moving forward.

With ever-changing algorithms and evolving online user activity, you won’t know if you’re getting the most out of your advertising and marketing efforts if you take a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. Use A/B testing regularly and you’ll make sure that you’re always seeing maximum results.

How to Use A/B Testing: Best Practices and Specific Elements to Test

So now you know what A/B testing is in marketing, as well as why and when to use it. But before you get started, check out our best practices and a few ideas on the assets you should be testing.

Best Practice #1: Start With A Plan

As with scientific experiments, the more you regulate each step of your testing, the clearer your resulting correlations will be. You should start by understanding how your assets are currently performing and create goals for each of them. Then, develop hypotheses for the changes that you think would help these assets perform better.

Best Practice #2: Keep It Simple

When performing an A/B test, focus on a single element of a digital asset that you think would benefit from a change, and then make sure that you design your test to measure that specific change. For example, let’s say that you create a landing page for a free download that can be accessed after a visitor submits their email address. If you’re getting traffic to your page but you’re not seeing the sign-up conversion rate you want, you might consider changing your button size or copy. However, if you completely overhaul the design and content of your landing page for an A/B test, you’ll never be able to pinpoint which variable led to greater conversions.

With these best practices in mind, check out a few of the marketing assets and elements that you should be testing:

  • Ad copy: In paid advertising, less-than-stellar ad copy can spell disastrous results. For many marketers, A/B testing is a preferred way of optimizing ad copy to maximize click-through rates (CTRs).          
  • Calls to action (CTAs): Why are you putting all of this effort into your marketing? So your audience takes action! Testing your CTAscan help make sure that you are using the right language and the right placement on your site’s pages. You can test CTA button shapes and sizes, copy, and graphics to see which elements boost performance.
CTA
  • Landing pages:Landing pages are also smart assets to A/B test, as you can more easily change them compared to other pages on your site. Try A/B testing such elements as the layout, copy, and colors you use on your landing pages.
  • Marketing emails and newsletters:Test your subject lines, body content, the layout and other elements of your marketing emails to see how your audience responds. This may also give you greater insight into what your customers are looking for from you in terms of communication.
  • Sign-up forms:When it comes to lead generation forms, everything from your button colors to your copy can impact user engagement. Optimizing your forms using A/B testing can potentially boost your CTR by as much as 90 percent.

When it comes to marketing, remember that success is an ongoing process, and that your assets need to be regularly adjusted to align with changes in your audience’s activity, technological advances, and a host of other factors. We began this post asking the question “what is a/b testing in marketing” and the simplest answer is: an opportunity.

As Christine Korda (@christinekorda) reminds us, “This is a learning process and sometimes you have to fall in order to learn things.”. With A/B testing, you can make sure that even those parts of your campaigns that haven’t been successful become a tool for improvement.

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