As tempting as it is to design a website based on your personal preference or creative inspiration, it is vital that you also consider data. The setup you choose for the website design can determine if the company you are designing for will succeed or fail, and you can’t afford to take this decision lightly. That is where A/B testing comes in. Read on to discover what A/B testing is, why it should always be the first step of your website design process, how to get started, and what guidelines should always be followed.

A/B Testing Explained

Essentially, A/B testing is a marketing strategy that allows a company to publish two versions of the same thing in order to determine which one garners the best results. This can be as simple as changing the color of the call-to-action button, or it can be as complex as designing two different landing pages. With both an A and B variation in play, it will become obvious which design decision is optimal for clicks and conversions (or whatever the specific goal of that page is).

As visitors land on the page (usually through an AdWords campaign), they are assigned either version A or version B. The two options are put against each other, and you can see in real time how each element of your website design impacts the user’s actions. Instead of having to guess, you will know that the red button gets clicked more than the green one or the simple text block converts more people than the detailed one.

Benefits of A/B Testing

From e-commerce companies to brick-and-mortar stores, every company with an online presence can benefit from A/B testing. It allows the company to work out any elements that are ineffective beforehand, and it ensures the website is optimized for conversions. More specifically, these are the benefits you can expect to achieve by taking the time to conduct A/B testing:

  • More Conversions – As soon as the traffic starts to come in, it will be clear what design elements reap the greatest results.
  • Proof of Concept – Most business owners have strong opinions about the design of their website—as they should—but that doesn’t mean their preferences are always optimal for performance. With A/B testing, design decisions can be based on concrete evidence instead of going with the loudest voice.
  • Happy Customers – Just as important as finding out what does work, you will learn what doesn’t work. With A/B testing, you can discover what makes visitors frustrated and what needs to be eliminated from the website design.

Get Started with A/B Testing

A/B testing is incredibly effective when done correctly – however, before you get started, you must develop a clear strategy. Here are the four steps you should follow to execute a successful A/B testing campaign.

  1. Define your objective: before you begin any aspect of the website design, you must understand what the objective of the page is. Converse with your client and make sure you know what their main goals are. Do they want to have more completed purchases? Are they looking to collect more email addresses? Do they want to improve the length of time on a page? Once you understand what success means for your client, you can proceed.
  2. Identify Objections: next, you need to do some research to determine where visitors are leaving the page. Also referred to as bottlenecks, this is the area you need to focus your A/B testing. For example, on ecommerce sites, are customers usually dropping out of the sales funnel when it comes time to view their cart, or are they making it as far as entering their payment method before they change their mind? By understanding the weak spot in the process, you can begin your A/B testing where it will have the biggest impact.
  3. Make Your Predictions: with a goal and objections in play, it’s time to evaluate the data you have and make your hypothesis. What changes in the website design do you think will alter the customer’s behavior, and how effective will they be? By putting your predictions on paper, you have something to aim for. While A/B testing will work without a hypothesis, having one will allow you to further analyze, and consequently alter, your results.
  4. Create Your Designs: now it is time to create the two variants for the design element that will be tested. In order to truly see what has the biggest impact, you should only make one aspect of each version different. For example, first you can perform one A/B test for the color of the CTA button, and then you can perform another A/B test for the placement of CTA button. It is only when tested distinctly that you can confidently determine what impacted the visitor’s actions.

Guidelines for A/B Testing

You are almost ready to get started with your A/B testing. However, to make sure you get accurate, unbiased results, you will want to make sure to follow three guidelines.

  • Show both versions simultaneously. In order for every other variable to be the same, you must run both versions at the same time. It will not work to run version A this week and version B the next. Everything from the time of day to what is going on in the world can make a difference.
  • Make sure the visitors are randomly selected. Hand-picking audiences based on demographics will get you skewed results.
  • Allow enough time for proper results. The larger the sample size, the more accurate the results, so run the A/B testing for as long as it takes to get enough people to the site.

Your goal when designing a website is to optimize for conversions. It doesn’t matter how good it looks if it doesn’t make money. Through properly executed A/B testing, you can still let your creative juices flow, but you can also help your client make the most of every single person that enters their site—and that’s what great website design is all about.

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by Justin Klanica
Online marketing and promotion strategist and consultant working with such brands as Gap and Docxellent to boost their online ROI.

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