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July 8, 2024

A/B Testing Your Way to Enlightenment

Published: 8 July 2024 

Ever feel like you're stumbling in the dark when it comes to your website’s design and it’s ability to convert?

You’re not sure what’s working for you and what’s working against you.

You’re not alone.

So what should you do?

A/B testing.

A/B testing: The practice of comparing two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better.

Think of your website as a gold mine of untapped potential.

Without A/B testing every component, you're basically swinging around a pickaxe blindfolded.

In the realm of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO), A/B testing is a compass.

It guides you through the wilderness of user behavior, pointing out directly what works and what doesn't.

Another way to think of CRO is as the grand strategy to turn visitors into customers.

A/B testing?

It’s the tactical weapon and how you execute that grand strategy with precision.

Every button, headline, and image on your site is a lever.

Pull the right ones, and you'll unleash a flood of conversions.

But how do you figure out which ones are right?

A/B testing will tell you.

Further, the principles of A/B testing applies across all types of websites, from e-commerce and educational platforms to healthcare portals and law firm web design, where effective user experience can make or break visitor conversions.

Traffic Lights

From Hunches 
to Hard Facts

They say ignorance is bliss, but not when it comes to what's converting visitors on your website.

A/B testing is the way to enlightenment, enlightenment meaning a clear, data-driven understanding of your users' behavior and preferences. We all have assumptions about what works. But if we’re being honest, assumptions are often a dangerous bet to place in business. A/B testing is a cleaner, more assured way to make course-correcting decisions, stripping away the ego and letting the data do the talking. Here's how A/B testing peels back the curtain on user behavior:
  • It shows you where users actually click, not where you think they should
  • It reveals which messages truly resonate, beyond just sounding good
  • It uncovers the design elements that catch the eye and which fall flat
  • It exposes the offers that compel action and those that get ignored
  • It highlights the content that keeps users engaged and what makes them bounce
A/B testing can also unveil a treasure trove of surprises. You might discover that the sleek, minimalist design you loved is actually tanking conversions. Or that the wordy explanation you thought was necessary is scaring users away. Whether what A/B testing illuminates comes as a surprise or not, implementing the insights gained will have ripple effects on the rest of your operation and, ultimately, your revenue.

An A/B Testing Roadmap

To truly harness the power of A/B testing, you need a systematic approach.

Let's break down the process into actionable steps that will guide you towards meaningful insights and measurable improvements.

Treasure Map

Identifying Elements to Test

Before diving into testing, it's crucial to identify which elements have the most potential for impact.

These key areas tend to have the most impact on user behavior:

  • Headlines: Often the first thing users see, headlines can dramatically affect engagement and click-through rates.
  • Call-to-Action (CTA) buttons: Text, color, size, and placement can all influence conversion rates.
  • Images and videos: Visual elements play a significant role in user perception and behavior.
  • Page layout: The arrangement of elements can guide user attention and influence decision-making.
  • Copy: From hooks and copywriting frameworks to product descriptions and value propositions, wording can make or break conversions.
  • Forms: Length, field types, and layout can affect completion rates.
  • Pricing display: How you present pricing information can impact purchasing decisions.
  • Navigation: Menu structure and categorisation can influence user journey and site exploration.

Step-by-Step Guide to Effective A/B Testing

  1. Analyse Current Data: Begin by examining your existing analytics. Look for pages with high traffic but low conversion rates, or areas where users frequently drop off. These are prime candidates for testing.
  2. Formulate a Hypothesis: Based on your analysis, create a clear, testable hypothesis. For example: "Changing the CTA button color from green to red will increase click-through rates by 15%." Your hypothesis should be specific and measurable.
  3. Design Your Variations: Create your "A" (control) and "B" (variation) versions. Be sure to change only one element at a time to ensure clear, attributable results. (If you're testing multiple elements, consider multivariate testing instead).
  4. Choose the Right Testing Tool: Select a tool that fits your needs and technical capabilities. Options range from user-friendly platforms like Google Optimise or Optimizely to more complex, customisable solutions. Consider factors like ease of use, integration with your existing stack, and reporting capabilities.
  5. Determine Sample Size and Test Duration: These factors are crucial for statistical significance. Use a sample size calculator to determine how many visitors you need. As a general rule, aim for at least 1,000 visitors per variation and run your test for at least two weeks to account for day-to-day variations.
  6. Implement and Launch Your Test: Set up your test using your chosen tool. Ensure that your tracking is correctly implemented and that the test is running smoothly across all devices and browsers.
  7. Monitor and Analyse Results: While the test is running, monitor its progress but resist the urge to call a winner too early. Once the predetermined sample size or duration is reached, analyse your results.
  8. Draw Conclusions and Take Action: If your results are statistically significant, implement the winning variation. If not, analyse what you've learned and use these insights to inform your next test.
  9. Plan Your Next Test: A/B testing is an ongoing process. Use the insights from each test to inform your next hypothesis and continue the cycle of improvement.

Vintage Compass on wooden table

Avoid These Costly A/B Testing Mistakes

Even with the best intentions, A/B testing can go awry.

Let's shine a light on the common pitfalls that can derail your optimisation efforts and explore how to sidestep them.

Pitfall #1: Jumping the Gun

The Mistake: Calling a test too early, before it reaches statistical significance.

Why It's Risky:

  • False positives lead to misguided decisions
  • Wasted resources implementing ineffective changes
  • Missed opportunities for genuine insights

How to Avoid:

  • Predetermine your sample size using a calculator
  • Stick to your planned duration, typically 2-4 weeks minimum
  • Wait for at least 95% statistical significance before concluding

Pitfall #2: The Kitchen Sink Approach

The Mistake: Testing multiple elements simultaneously without a clear strategy.

Why It's Risky:

  • Muddied results - you can't pinpoint what caused the change
  • Increased complexity in analysis and implementation
  • Longer time to reach statistical significance

How to Avoid:

  • Focus on one key variable per test
  • If testing multiple elements, use multivariate testing with a solid plan
  • Prioritise tests based on potential impact and ease of implementation

Pitfall #3: Ignoring the Numbers

The Mistake: Disregarding statistical significance in favor of gut feelings or (potentially outdated) historical truths.

Why It's Risky:

  • Decisions based on chance rather than data
  • Loss of credibility in your testing program
  • Potential negative impact on user experience and conversions

How to Avoid:

  • Use tools that clearly display confidence levels
  • Remember the entire purpose of A/B testing and what it’s solving for
  • Be prepared to declare tests inconclusive if significance isn't reached

Old boats on a beach at golden hour

Pitfall #4: Set It and Forget It

The Mistake: Launching a test and not monitoring its progress. Why It's Risky:
  • Missed opportunities to catch and fix technical issues
  • Inability to react to unexpected results or trends
How to Avoid:
  • Regularly check your test's progress
  • Set up alerts for significant changes or anomalies
  • Have a plan in place for stopping tests if issues arise
By steering clear of these common pitfalls, you'll elevate your A/B testing from a hit-or-miss tactic to a reliable strategy for continuous improvement.

Taking Action on
A/B Test Results

Let's break down how to extract maximum value from your A/B test results.

Implementing Winning Variations

You've got a winner.


Steps to flawless implementation of A/B test results:

  1. Document everything about the winning variation
  2. Plan the rollout - consider a phased approach for high-stakes changes
  3. Monitor closely after implementation - make sure performance matches test results
  4. Be prepared to roll back if unexpected issues arise

Using Insights to Inform Future Strategy

Here's where A/B testing transcends mere tactical tweaks and becomes a strategic powerhouse.

How to leverage your results:

  • Look beyond the primary metric - what secondary effects did you observe?
  • Analyse user segments - did the change impact some groups differently?
  • Consider the "why" behind the results - what does this tell you about your users?
  • Use insights to generate ideas for future tests
  • Inform broader marketing and product decisions with your findings

Example: If a simplified signup form wins, consider how you might apply the principle of simplification across your entire user journey.

The Compound Effect of Continuous Testing

A/B testing isn't a one-and-done deal.

It's a cycle of continuous improvement.

Every test, win or lose, adds to your understanding of your users.

There are no failed tests, only opportunities to learn.

This is the essence of A/B testing your way to enlightenment - letting data illuminate the path to your virtual success.

Sandy path

A/B Testing is a Mindset

A/B testing is about challenging assumptions, embracing continuous improvement and letting data, not hunches, drive decisions.

Whether you're in e-commerce, SaaS, or even a heavily-specialised field, A/B testing can remarkably improve your digital presence.

While your competitors are still guessing what works, you're knowing.

So, here's your immediate call to action:

  1. Start small, but start now
  2. Build testing into your regular workflow
  3. Cultivate a culture of data-driven decision making
  4. Never stop questioning, testing, and improving

Remember, in the current era, standing still is moving backwards.

A/B testing is your engine for constant forward momentum.

Turn uncertainty into clarity, guesswork into strategy, and visitors into loyal customers.

Katie Rutten

Katie is a specially selected guest author.

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