What is A/B Testing, and Why Should I Do It?

Today’s online merchants have access to many advantages not available to previous generations of small- and mid-size businesses, including the science of marketing. A/B testing in particular has been around for decades—but thanks to sophisticated, low-cost online tools, it is now simpler and more affordable than ever before.

Hundreds of studies have proven the power of A/B testing to boost conversion rates, and large businesses have been able to gain every advantage using this method of marketing science. Luckily, these days online businesses of any size can easily and cost-effectively gain these power-user advantages.

What is an A/B Test?

A/B testing, also known as split testing, occurs when two versions of an item (for example, a web page) are presented to consumers for a specific period of time. By comparing the results of each item using pre-selected metrics, you can determine which version is more effective and should be implemented moving forward. A/B tests are used across many types of actions, including email marketing and SEO.

A/B tests allow ecommerce store owners to test and measure the impact of anything and everything—from the color of “Buy Now” buttons to the design of a homepage. They can help you discover exactly which words, colors, prices, and other variables you may choose to test compel consumers to open, click, and buy more often. Once you know which versions convert best between two (or more) groups of site visitors, you can apply them for all of your visitors.

Many online merchants who begin A/B testing are surprised to learn that even the smallest details can have a huge difference on conversion rates. Elements they thought didn’t matter at all—such as the font or size of text in a “Buy Now” button—often turn out to matter tremendously with regard to consumers’ propensity to click. After running numerous A/B tests, merchants discover that even subtle changes to copy, colors, prices, and more can dramatically change shoppers’ behaviors.

The Benefits of A/B Testing for Ecommerce

A/B testing provides a multitude of benefits for businesses who choose to incorporate it into their online strategy. Here are just a few of the advantages of running an A/B test:

1. Provides valuable insights on customers and marketing

Shoppers are becoming increasingly demanding and are quick to find alternatives when confronted with an unsatisfactory user experience. Whether they dislike your site’s total user experience or only a certain aspect of your website, A/B testing allows you to gather enough substantial data to confirm one way or another and make empowered decisions.

2. Increases conversion rates

The foremost advantage of A/B testing is optimizing your conversion rates—in other words, getting better outcomes from every site visit. Since you are able to see first-hand which of the options you are experimenting with is more favorable to your consumers, you can easily implement that option across your site, encouraging more conversions.

3. Reduces bounce rates

Hand-in-hand with increased conversions come lowered bounce rates. As you observe what option consumers respond to favorably, you can also see which option consumers respond to unfavorably and remove additional instances across your site. This, in turn, will lead to fewer consumers leaving your site quickly as they consistently encounter favorable experiences.

4. Takes the guesswork out of decision-making.

Here’s a sobering fact: even the best online marketing experts generate winning ideas only 25-30% of the time. In other words, 70-75% of ideas fail. Testing helps ecommerce merchants increase the number of wins because their decisions are based not on guesswork, but on how consumers are actually responding to specific variables.

5. Prevents an SEO crisis

Imagine if you were to update SEO across the board, only to find out later that it had a negative effect on your site’s ranking and traffic. Since SEO takes so long to take effect, poorly-received SEO tactics are a much harder problem to fix. With an A/B test, you can identify the best new strategies and preserve what's already working so that you don’t run into issues down the line.

6. Tools are free/low-cost

A/B testing used to be expensive and, therefore, cost-prohibitive for small businesses to execute. But that is no longer the case. Today’s online merchants can use powerful, free tools like Optimizely and Google Analytics to conduct A/B tests and gather data, gaining valuable insights about their ecommerce sites in the process.

7. Produces quick results

The best part of A/B testing is that you can see results from your efforts within a day or two (depending on your typical site traffic). As more people visit your site, more data will pour in, and you’ll likely begin to see which option is trending more favorably early on. This means you can make quick decisions regarding your site experience and begin implementing improvements promptly.

In Conclusion

Running an A/B test is an effective way to improve your overall website. By running live, controlled experiments like A/B tests, you can use your site traffic to gain valuable insights and optimize your site for conversions.