Online A/B Testing
By Ken Burke
A new world of possibilities for a reliable, old tool.
Sometimes old tools are the best tools. Recently, online merchants have been turning to A/B testing to refine their online messaging, increase the effectiveness of their offers, improve usability, and boost sales.
Long a staple in the direct marketing industry, A/B testing has become a powerful ally of the online marketer now that it can function in concert with e-commerce marketing and analytics applications. Its simple, logical approach to testing and refining even highly subjective variables is perfectly suited to the Web environment, though it predates the Web and even the computer by several decades.
What Is Online A/B Testing?
As in the print marketing world, online A/B testing enables you to find out which of two offers (A or B) is more effective, as measured by the actual sales it generates. You retain and continue refining whichever of the two performs better. A/B testing can be applied to an extremely broad range of variables online, from the design of an entire Web page, to the subtle wording of a promotion, to the structure of your discounts.
Let's assume you want to test a promotion for your homepage. Does a bold "Summer Blowout" approach generate more sales, or is a more sedate "Affordable Summer Specials" better? You create one homepage for each approach, and set your e-commerce engine to randomly direct 50 percent of your customers to one page and 50 percent to the other during a prescribed test period. You measure the sales each page generates, discard the poor performer, and use the better approach for the duration of the promotion. You then can adjust the winner, test it again, and continue refining it until you have the optimal combination of offer, messaging, page design and so forth.