How to Use A/B Testing to Optimize Your Small Business Website
In many ways, your small business website is your virtual front door. The first impression you make when a customer peers inside can be the difference between a long and profitable relationship and a missed opportunity. It can also be the difference between turning away an unsuitable customer and wasting your time on an unprofitable interaction. Thus, it is critically important that you devote the time and resources necessary to making sure that your website is both compelling to the customers you want to reach, and also quickly informs unqualified visitors that they are in the wrong place.
While it would be nice if you could magically create the perfect site out of thin air, the reality is that trial and error and lots of testing is the only way to optimize your website. There are many schools of thought on optimization, and many techniques you can use. However, the most simple is a basic A/B test.
What Exactly Is an A/B Test?
An A/B test works just the way it sounds—you compare the effectiveness of page A to the effectiveness of page B. In order to do this, you need to decide on the action you want a visitor to take and what you want to get from that action, and then evaluate how well the web page produces that result. Typically you test one element at a time, and once you have a result you can go on to the next element. For instance, you might test the form headline first and then test the color of the submit button.
How Does an A/B Test Work?
Here’s a simple example. If you run a tree service business, you might test two request quote form headlines, “Request Quote” (Page A) and “Request Tree Service Quote” (Page B). You would then determine how many form submissions you got from each page, and how many actual sales you got from each page, in order to determine which call to action generated the most revenue (not just the most submissions). (For example, while page A might generate more requests, it is likely that page B will generate more qualified requests because the form headline is more descriptive of your services—but you won’t know for sure until you test.) A/B testing can be just that simple, and all you need to do to implement it is to put a hidden field in the form so that you know from which page it came.
How Do I Set Up an A/B Test?
However, the key to a statistically significant test is to randomly assign either the A or the B page to your site visitors during the same time period. For this you need some type of testing tool. If you set-up a free Google Analytics account, you can use Content Experiments to create and track A/B tests, but this will require some programming. There are also a number of paid options available that provide A/B testing using simple interfaces that require no programming knowledge to use. A free 30 day trial is available from Visual Website Optimizer, and requires only your name and email address to create an account. Optimizely also offers a 30 day free trial, but you’ll need to provide a credit card to sign-up, and remember to cancel if you don’t want to continue after the trial period.
For a great introduction to A/B testing, read A/B Testing: A Beginner’s Guide to Website Testing. Professional Website Optimization with A/B Testing: Tips and Tools provides tips for implementing tests, as well as overviews of testing software including A/B test plugins for WordPress and Ruby on Rails. And, a recent post from internet entrepreneur Neil Patel, 7 A/B Testing Blunders That Even Experts Make, describes common pitfalls to avoid.
Take a few minutes today to think about what you really want your website to do, then formulate your tests. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the Landing Page Analyzer and the A/B Idea Fox from Visual Web Optimizer for suggestions to get you started.
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AB test scheme by Daniel Waisberg, on Flickr
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