This is a blog post from Adam at Penguin Media. Adam is a longstanding Onyx customer which makes him the perfect guest for this blog.
To those who’ve never tried it before, the whole idea of A/B testing can seem terribly complex and confusing. You may know you need it, but not why. Or perhaps it’s the “how” that’s tripping you up.
No matter how well-designed your website is, at some point you should start to wonder whether your site is working as hard for your business as you do. How can you tell? Sure you could guess, but why not actually find out definitively? That’s what A/B testing is all about.
If you have a WordPress website for your brand or business and aren’t A/B testing it for any reason, this guide is for you. We’re going to keep it simple, straightforward and practical—because honestly, who has time for anything else?
What Is A/B Testing?
Put simply, A/B testing is the practice of analyzing one page or page element against another version of the same page or page element to see which one performs more effectively, however you define that performance.
Here’s an example: Let’s say AAA Car Wash has a great WordPress website that offers valuable content about its services as well as car care tips and advice. The company wants to build its email list, so it publishes a sign-up form on the home page. Over the course of a few weeks, the company gets a handful of subscribers, but it’s a tiny fraction of the number of visitors that page gets in the same period of time. In short, the conversion rate is a disaster.
Why is that? The car wash company can make guesses—the position is wrong, or maybe it’s the call to action that isn’t persuasive enough. Or it can test out its hypothesis. Let’s say the company believes it’s most likely the position of the form. The company creates two versions of the home page. The first version is exactly the same. It’s the “A” or the “control” version, where the form remains exactly where it was first positioned. In the second or “B” version, one thing about the form (and only one thing) is changed from the control: the form’s position. The B version moves the form farther up on the page, while the A version keeps it where it is. Over the course of the A/B test period, both versions of this page will get served up to visitors in numbers as close to equal as possible. In other words, if the website’s home page gets 100 visitors over the course of two weeks, 50 will see the unchanged control version (version A) and the other 50 will see the modified placement version (version B).
At the end of the testing period, the car wash company now has hard data. It can tell which placement of that form led to more signups. If the B version outperforms A, they’ll have a pretty good sense that it was the form placement that depressed the conversion rate. If there was no change (or if the A form placement outperformed B), then it’s ruled out one possible explanation and can look at some other element (for instance, the call to action).
Why Is A/B Testing So Important for Your Website?
Put simply, better data drives better decisions. The more you know about your users’ behavior on your website, the more you can refine and improve both their experience of it and their choices on it. In other words, the optimization of your website’s “flow” and user experience helps increase your conversion rates. And optimization requires a sufficient input of relevant data.
In other words, A/B testing gives you the facts about user behavior on your site, which you can then use to tweak and refine all the various parts of your site that drive conversions. In a sense, it’s like the scientific method we all learned about in school:
- Identify a problem
- Devise a hypothesis
- Test the hypothesis with a control and a variation
- Analyze your results (and tweak accordingly)
What Can (and Should) You Test?
Anything on your page that you feel might either need some improvement or possibly be impacting user behavior can be A/B tested. This includes just about everything you can think of, from headlines to subheadings to paragraphs to images. It also includes just about every aspect of all those elements, including colors, sizes, font choices, complexity versus simplicity and overall layout (as with our positioning example earlier).
How to Plan Your Test
To plan out your A/B test, follow these four basic steps:
First, you’ll need to figure out some likely culprits for whatever behavior you’d like to adjust. If people are bouncing off your home page in droves, you can look at things such as your headers, how clearly your page communicates its purpose to new visitors, or even use tools such as heat maps to see where users are looking on that page.
Once you have a suspect in mind—that is, a target area or element that can stand some improvement—figure out what you want to accomplish. For example, maybe you’d like to see a 10% improvement in conversion rate, or a 25% increase in time on page.
Formulate your hypothesis next. What do you think might be going awry here? What’s keeping your site from meeting that goal right now? This will identify the area to be tested. Finally, identify the variable you’re going to test. Is it the position of your form? Your color scheme? The placement of that call to action button, or the text on the button? Pinpoint it, and decide how you’ll alter it for your test.
Setting Up Your Test
Once you’ve designed your test, your next step is to choose a way to implement it. Natively, WordPress doesn’t make it easy to create and randomly serve up two different versions of a single page, so you’ll usually need to rely on a plugin or extension for this function.
One free tool that you can use for this purpose is Google Optimize, the search engine giant’s solution for split testing that pairs nicely with Google Analytics. If you’re using GA for your website metrics and KPIs, then Google Optimize will be a natural fit. There’s a premium version called Google Optimize 360 but it’s better for an enterprise-scale deployment. Small to mid-sized businesses and those who are new to testing will probably fare better with the free Google Optimize.
Still, Google Optimize comes with a trainload of bells and whistles. As a result, it’s highly robust and detailed, but can be overwhelming to implement. Setup requires a number of sequential steps that might prove complicated for some folks, especially if you aren’t very well-versed in the more advanced nuances of Google Analytics. Fortunately, there are a number of getting-started guides such as the one provided by ConversionXL.
If you’d prefer a WordPress based solution, you’ll want to look at a plugin. Many beginners to split testing find that Split Hero’s A/B Testing WordPress Plugin is far easier to implement and use than Google Optimize. In five simple steps, you can be up and running with a straightforward A/B test that analyzes up to four different variations. You can sign up for a fourteen-day no-risk free trial without providing a credit card to make sure it meets your needs before going all-in on Split Hero.
If you do decide that Split Hero is the right solution for your site, you’ll only need to pay a reasonable monthly fee that gets you unlimited page views and visitors, and up to three active simultaneous campaigns. And if those three campaigns aren’t enough, you can add extra ones for just $5 a month. Best of all, you can connect Split Hero to an unlimited number of sites. So if you’re running multiple sites or landing pages in support of your brand, Split Hero can handle them all for a single fee.
No matter what route you take, the important point is to test the waters of split testing as soon as you can. There’s really nothing to fear, and lots to learn. It’s really the single best way of optimizing your marketing flow and conversion rates, no matter what your business model or goals.