A/B testing is widely credited with helping turn the tide in the 2008 presidential election, and possibly changed the course of history. Today, online retailers and other marketing professionals can apply the same strategy to their own businesses to reach a broader customer base and boost sales.
A/B, or “multivariate,” testing enables web managers to test customer response to website changes by delivering different versions of the same page to different users. In one well-documented example, during Barak Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, his marketing team was having trouble converting site visitors into subscribers (read: donors) willing to provide their email addresses. Using A/B testing, the online team created three different pages, each with a different call to action: “Learn More,” “Join Us Now” and the existing default, “Sign Up Now.” Visitors were randomly directed to one of the three versions. By tracking the response to each page, they found that “Learn More” yielded 18.6% more subscribers than the default “Sign Up Now.”
The key to effective A/B testing is to make just one change at a time so that you can measure the impact of each. For Obama’s site, after testing the call to action, the team tested which cover image resonated with visitors — a black-and-white family photo or a Warhol-style turquoise image. The family photo outperformed by 13%. When the team changed the opening page to the family photo with the “Learn More” call to action, sign-ups jumped 40%. By the end of the campaign, A/B testing was credited with attracting 4 million of the 13 million email addresses collected and as much as $75 million of the campaign donations raised.
Online powerhouses Google, Amazon.com and eBay have been using A/B testing for a decade or more to continually monitor customer response to updates. Until recently, though, you needed a massive technical backbone to create new pages, divert them to different users in real time and then collate all of that data into actionable information. Today, there are multiple online tools available from vendors such as Google and Optimizely.com that make A/B testing accessible and affordable for most small businesses.
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