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What Is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is the act of putting two competing marketing ideas head-to-head to determine which one works better for your goals.

You know those apps that let you “try on” different haircuts? Those tools are amazing because they allow you to see the end result without actually going through with a risky idea. That way, you can do a soft launch of a haircut without finding out the hard way that bangs are totally wrong for your face shape.

What these haircut apps do for self-image is similar to the effect A/B testing has on a marketing campaign. It allows a business to test-run two separate ideas, gather data from these test runs, and make informed decisions about which idea better meets the end goal.

Based on whichever metrics a business is monitoring, A/B testing makes it possible to:

  1. Optimize the product, webpage, or advertisement for user experience.
  2. Make future (more lucrative) decisions based on actual data.
  3. Reduce bounce rate.

From these achievements, a business will also (ideally) maximize its return on investment. Sounds almost as great as avoiding a bad haircut, right? Here’s how it works.

How to Use A/B Testing to Improve Your Marketing Efforts

In theory, you can implement A/B testing to improve your marketing efforts in any domain. Commonly, A/B testing is used for email, social media, SEO, and website development and design. We’ll be covering those in the following sections, but keep in mind that you can use A/B testing however and wherever you want. These are just a few ideas to get you started.

You should only A/B test one detail at a time!

A/B Testing for Email

With email marketing, you might think you know what your email recipients want to see in their inboxes. But you don’t really know until you’ve tried a few ideas and monitored the results. This is where A/B testing comes into play.

To successfully run an A/B test for email, you’ll need to divide your list into two sample groups. Then, you’ll send a different version of the same email to each list and monitor which email garners the most opens and clicks. That version becomes the “winner,” and will tell you which email marketing techniques speak better to your list.

Here are a few components of an email that you can include in your A/B test:

  • Subject lines
  • Emojis
  • Button text
  • Email layout
  • Email design
  • Types of offers
  • Imagery
  • Preheader text
  • Personalizations (using the recipient’s name or not, etc.)

Keep in mind that you should only test one detail at a time. (For example, you might change the subject line but otherwise keep the two emails exactly the same.) That way, you know which details make the biggest impact on your email marketing results.

A/B Testing for Social Media Ads

A/B testing for social media is even easier because you can go in and make changes in real-time. Once an email arrives in an inbox, it’s out of your hands. That’s not the case with social media ads.

There’s a lot of information out there about what works and what doesn’t work for social media advertising. This information can be hugely helpful in getting you started. But eventually, you’ll want to know more about what works and doesn’t work for your specific audience on social media—which is where A/B testing comes in handy.

You can perform A/B testing on a whole host of different aspects of your social media marketing campaigns. Many businesses test these components of their ads:

  • Text length, style, and tone of voice
  • Link preview content
  • Calls to action
  • Images vs. videos

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Again, you can perform an A/B test on virtually any aspect of your social media marketing strategy.

A/B Testing for SEO and Website Development/Design

The whole point of SEO is to get your website and its content in front of the right people. A/B testing is a great way to ensure that those people like what they find once they get there.

But before we dive into the details, here’s a warning:

Google values websites that are stable and consistent. So you’ll need to be very careful when you are A/B testing your website to avoid page duplication, inconsistent redirects, and cloaking. Essentially, Google wants to be sure that the content they’re seeing is the content the user is seeing as well. So, tread carefully.

With that in mind, the best way to perform A/B testing on your website is to show Googlebot the version of your website that most of your users see. You should also:

  • Keep page variations as similar as possible
  • Use the “canonical” tag to specify which URL is the original (and the one Google should index)
  • Use 302 (rather than 301) redirects to tell Google that the redirect is temporary
  • Keep the test short, preferably two weeks or less

With those suggestions in mind, here are some variation ideas to test on your website:

  • Calls to action
  • Graphic design
  • Website colors and fonts
  • Content length, tone of voice, type, etc.

These may seem like small details, but they can end up making a huge impact on user interaction. After running some A/B testing on these kinds of website components, you’ll have a much better idea of what speaks to your audience.

A/B Test Your Way to a Better Marketing Strategy

The important thing to remember is that your customer base/audience is completely unique to your business. So, general marketing guidelines will only get you so far. When you’re ready to move past generic “best practices”, A/B marketing is the best way to access bigger and better ideas.

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