There's a famous example of a major online retailer changing the text of an online checkout button, and that single change netting the company $3 million and a 45 percent increase in the number of purchasing customers.
Not bad for a measly button, right?
Savvy websites like Netflix, Microsoft and Amazon use a process called “A/B testing” to improve their bottom lines, and it has netted them great gains. Small-businesses owners, however, typically shy away from it because they already have so much on their plates. They mistakenly think they don't have time to learn the tools and jargon that comes with A/B testing; or want to pay a lot for it. Yet, it's not hard to get started, and it can be quite inexpensive—even free. And the return can be huge.
The only way to improve your website's bottom line is to determine what's keeping it from maximizing profits. Is it text that keeps visitors from clicking "Buy"? Is it a misplaced image that turns off a potential customer? A/B testing allows you to define these trouble spots and improve them.
What Is A/B Testing?
A/B testing lets you take two variables, "A" and "B", and randomly test them against each other to see which performs better. (A/B testing is also called "split testing.")
A/B testing can get complicated, but for our purposes we're focusing on the simplest ways to get started with some testing that can dramatically improve conversion rates on your site—and you can do it for free.
A/B Testing Tools
There are several excellent A/B testing tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The first three are fantastic resources, but we're going to focus on Google Analytic Content Experiments for two reasons: It's free and there's a good chance you already have Google Analytics installed.
If you do have Google Analytics installed, all you have to do is set up a test inside of Google Analytics. (Google Analytics Help has a great overview on how to do all of this.)
Now that you've got your A/B testing tool installed, you need to, well, start testing.
What to Test
You don't know what's working (or not working) on your site until you start testing. It's best to start off with a few small tests on areas that can make the biggest impact.
Start where the biggest potential gains are. You want to make sure you're getting the most out of your efforts, right? For most small businesses, this is probably related to purchasing products or lead-generating conversions. Things like checkout buttons and shopping cart flows are fantastic places to start. If you've got a newsletter signup box, try testing the copy, form layout and buttons.
You might be tempted to test things like creating better copy that generates more Facebook Likes. This is a fine test, but probably not ideal to start out with. The first things you should test are the things that immediately improve your bottom line. Once you succeed at that, you can start in on the other tests.
Start small. You've got to walk before you can run. Start by testing small visual changes on your site. After all, sometimes the biggest conversion gains come from tweaking the smallest things. Test elements like:
- Button colors (red vs. green), button text or link colors
- Page headline variations
- Sales copy length: shorter vs. longer
- Content width (usually between 480 and 600 pixels)
- Image placement, image type, even whether or not to have images (Social Triggers has a great overview on images and conversion rates.)
- Font families, font colors, font sizes
There really is no end to the list of things you could potentially test that might make an impact in your conversion rate. Remember, the smallest element can make the biggest difference. There are plenty of examples of small changes making big differences for companies on the Visual Website Optimizer blog. Use the examples of successful tests to generate ideas for your own A/B tests.
The benefits of A/B testing can be absolutely huge. So why not take an hour, start a few tests, and see how it can impact your bottom line.Glen Stansberry writes at LifeDev. He is also the co-founder of Gentlemint, a collection of manly links. You can find more of Glen's business insights on Wise Bread.