Definition

Also known as split testing in some quarters, A/B testing is a method of comparing two distinct versions of a website to see which one outperforms the other. Often only something simple like a headline is changed at any given time. The way this is done is to test the two variants (A and B) on a similar group of visitors simultaneously. The site that benefits from the best rate of conversion comes out on top!

The argument

Most experts have historically claimed that the best way to achieve meaningful statistics in A/B testing is to stress one variable at any given time. For example, you can give website A one header and website B another and keep everything else the same to see whether the header or title has a significant impact on conversion. The problem with this very scientific methodology is that it is incredibly slow and tedious. By the time you’ve finished testing you may have missed the boat.

It makes perfect sense that if you are performing an academic or industry study, say for a PhD, then you are going to need to make specific, measurable changes one at a time in order to get data that stands up to the rigours of the scientific community. It is also fair to say that sometimes making just the one change is the correct and proper thing for a small business to do. However, those looking for fast results and a significant boost in lead generation and eventually the bottom line, should think outside the box and test shifts in overall themes, messages and ideals all at once.

I’m going to use a charity as an example. The first website (A) features an image of a young boy in Ethiopa, starving and covered in flies. We all know images like this from various charity campaigns over the years. They are horribly distressing, but it’s a very familiar image. The heading reads: “If people like you do not act, boys like Abdel will surely die.” The image, the message and the overall feel are aiming to make people feel guilty, hopeless and hopes that this will make them sign up to donate.

Website B has a different image. It’s an image of young boys and girls luxuriating in a bath of clean water from a well, visible in the background. The heading reads: “Your small contribution means the world to them.” This is a message and image of hope and joy. Comparing these two websites will give the charity a sense as to which message works best. Far more than they could hope to have achieved by making small, subtle changes at a time. This can come later after they learn the big lessons.

This example is transferrable to all small businesses and their marketing teams. After all the very essence of marketing involves tapping into the consciousness of its potential customers.

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