By Paul Hickey on January 29, 2014
Trust me when I tell you that I’m smack dab in the middle of at least 5-6 conversations every week regarding what headline copy, imagery and color of buttons will be used on a website that won’t launch until at least 2-3 months from the date in which the conversation is taking place. I don’t blame companies or partners of ours for wanting to get it right and present the most effective user experience for their web visitors, but consistently there is one thing missing – a lack of conversation about the real answer to the question.
Let’s just A/B test.
Seriously people. Come up with the two most effective options (be it for featured imagery, headline, sub-headline, button or body copy, button color or calls to action), and dub one “Option A” and the other “Option B.” While it’s hard to decide on one option, it’s much easier to come to a consensus and move projects forward by agreeing to go with two, then test to see which one is most effective.
Data doesn’t lie, and in the end, conversions win out over preference.
Any strategic web design and development company that doesn’t suggest A/B testing to their clients is not truly doing their job at a high level. So I’ve mentioned a few content types to A/B test, and now it’s time to dig in to how to actually execute.
1. Always consider the user scenario.
Typically geolocation and device are things to pay attention to. In other words, backing up a step, A/B testing is about gathering data to drive informed decisions on how to best engage different types of users. While one generic type of A/B test would be to serve up Option A and Option B split up by day of the week (in other words – every other Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, run Option A – and vice versa for Option B). You can then go into Google Analytics and see how different options perform against one another by day of the week. Drilling down further, you can segment deeper by pulling mobile device data and geolocation data. For example. users on a desktop device may respond more favorably in engaging with the site or completing a conversion action with Option A, while mobile users may gravitate towards Option B. Also, people in the Midwest region of the US may like Option B better, while Californians may engage with Option A at a much higher clip.
While it’s easy to get lost in this stuff, the point is simple. Gather the data during the early portion 3-6 months of a new website rollout, then lock in to the most effective options and serve the menu accordingly to each audience.
From a technical standpoint, any programmer worth their salt will be able to code a site to display different calls to action, copy or imagery based on device or IP address.
2. The changing of the Options can be toggled manually, or with tools like Optimize.ly.
Manually is for the hands on content manager with a bit of time, but not a huge budget. A/B testing can also be custom coded into a website, but perhaps the best why to start is with a tool like Optmize.ly – which can load two versions of your website for you, and report back data via a dashboard with high-end UI features. The downside to a third party platform like this is your organic search may see a blip due to slower page load timing, as the optmize.ly code needs time to load. Overall, it’s tried and true, however, and worth a look for any level business.
Other tools I recommend are WordPress plug-ins like http://wordpress.org/plugins/ab-press-optimizer-lite/.
3. Don’t forget to also A/B test your email marketing.
So many companies want to guess what type of headline will be most effective. Mailchimp makes it easy, buy allowing you to pick two options, serving both to a segment of your audience, and then based on the open rate, serving the most effective one to the remaining segment. (See screenshot below).
4. Employ the Mail Chimp principal on your website.
Don’t forget to turn A/B testing off and just go with what is most effective after your test period. It’s fun to gather data, but once you know what your users are engaging with the most – serve that 100% of the time.
Trust me, A/B testing is worth it and needs to happen for your business to succeed digitally. If not to optimize conversions, then at least to get you out of those long, bureaucratic meetings about what to put on your website or in your email blasts.
Paul Hickey is the managing director of Cabedge Design, LLC – an Atiba Company – and chief marketing geek for the Atiba Family. He specializes in strategic web design, organic and paid search, brand creation and helping clients and partners accomplish business goals. Paul loves writing and communicating, and helping drive relevant traffic to websites.
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