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What is A/B testing and how to use it to reach your website’s goal

A/B testing with image colors on website

Did you know that the first product sold online was a Sting CD? That was back in 1994, by an eCommerce site called NetMarket, run out of New Hampshire.

Another fun fact: Amazon didn’t send out their first book order until 1995.

Clearly, NetMarket was a pioneer in web commerce. And P.S: The company still exists!

NetMarket homepage

In the 90s and early 2000s, business websites, particularly those for small businesses, were merely another means of advertising.

They could list their products and services, their location, and their contact information. Maybe they had an email webform for potential customers to reach out. But the goal was to drive visits to their brick and mortar stores.

Sure, they were using their websites to build awareness, but that was really about it.

Today, billions of transactions and conversions happen online every day.

Business websites have evolved from merely informational to end-to-end eCommerce engines. They act as a storefront, inventory, and checkout all in one, especially if they’re a business with no brick-and-mortar location to begin with.

And if you’re creating a website for your clients (or even for yourself), they are a major part of your business model. These sites are what pulls people in and guides them through the marketing funnel.

You know that accelerating the journey from “just browsing” to “new customer” is essential to the bottom line of your clients’ businesses - but how can you achieve impactful results quickly on a website?

A/B testing is a low-risk, high-reward growth strategy for helping you find quick wins that boost revenue and improve the experience customers have with your clients’ brand.

Unfortunately, a lot of people get overwhelmed by the time commitment, or the amount of A/B testing tools that are available on the market. And some just don’t know where to start.

But there are some really lightweight options out there that require minimal commitment to see results, and that scale with you as you and your clients grow (more on that later). As for not knowing where to start - this post has you covered!

What elements should you be testing on your website

Before we dive into A/B testing techniques, it’s important to provide context on what you should be testing and why you’re doing it in the first place.

Whether your aim is increased sales, email signups, or pageviews, your A/B testing goals all fall under one larger concept: conversion rate optimization (CRO).

All of those visitors you convince to buy, sign up, or download are doing the same thing: They’re converting. Your goal with an A/B test is to get them to convert more often.

“CRO” may sound like an intimidating term, but increasing your conversion rate is simply a matter of:

  1. Paying attention to the experience visitors are having on-site (through numerical data from Google Analytics or visualized data from a tool like Crazy Egg).

  2. Making changes that you think will improve their path to hitting your client’s stated business goals.

  3. Monitoring the results of those changes (both steps 2 and 3 can be accomplished via an A/B testing tool).

If you’re new to the concept of CRO, this video will give you some background and inspiration for getting started.

To run a successful A/B test, you can’t skip Step One. You need a question, an answer based on real customer behavior, and a hypothesis.

Here are some examples of questions you might have about the website in question:

  • Are the CTAs (Calls-to-Action) placed above the fold?

  • Are the products placed in order of their popularity with customers?

  • Are people clicking on elements (like a “free quote” or “free shipping” banner) that aren’t linked to anything?

  • Are people actually using the hamburger menu? How about the search bar?

  • Is there a disconnect between ad campaigns and landing pages?

  • Are website visitors overwhelmed by too many primary and secondary CTAs?

  • Has a new chat widget covered up a key CTA offer?

  • Are people turned off by the email capture popups?

  • Are shoppers ignoring certain collections or categories?

Next, you’ll want to observe how people are interacting with the website to come up with an answer to these questions. There are several tools that are easy to interpret that can point you in the right direction:


Heatmap A/B testing

A heatmap will show you which elements on the site are the most popular with visitors.

Questions this report answers:

  • “Are the products placed in order of their popularity with customers?”


Scrollmap A/B testing

A scrollmap will show you how far down the page visitors get, on average, and where they stop paying attention to the content.

Questions this report answers:

  • “Are the CTAs placed above the fold?”

  • “Are shoppers ignoring certain collections or categories?”


Overlay A/B testing

An overlay report will show you how many clicks each website element is getting, as well as a percentage breakdown so you know which elements are driving the most engagement overall.

Questions this report answers:

  • “Are people clicking on elements (like a “free quote” or “free shipping” banner) that aren’t linked to anything?”

  • “Are people actually using the hamburger menu? How about the search bar?”


Confetti A/B testing

A confetti report will show you click behavior based on demographics like referral source, new vs. returning visitor, search term, or device type.

Questions this report answers:

  • “Is there a disconnect between ad campaigns and landing pages?”


And finally, session recordings will let you watch individual visitors navigate from page to page on your site so you can pinpoint friction points along the customer journey.

Questions this tool answers:

  • “Are website visitors overwhelmed by too many primary and secondary CTAs?”

  • “Has a new chat widget covered up a key CTA offer?”

  • “Are people turned off by the email capture popups?”

Now that you’ve got a framework for thinking about what changes you would make to thesite, and a way to find out where people are getting stuck, how do you conduct a proper A/B test?

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at this essential step to growing your clients’ businesses online.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing (also called split testing) may sound complicated as a concept, but essentially it’s a mechanism for increasing conversions by changing something on the website.

It’s important to keep in mind that “conversions” can mean different things to different companies, depending on their business goals. Here are some examples of what a metric of success might be for your A/B test:

  • Sell more products

  • Get more registrations

  • Get more pageviews

Goal of A/B testing

Once you’ve picked your goal, you’ll make a change to a page on the site (this is called the “variable”) and test whether it helps you reach your business goal faster than the original version of that page (called the “control”).

If the variable wins, your hypothesis was right, and you should come up with a new hypothesis to test to see if you can get an even better conversion rate.

A/B testing results data table

If the control wins, you should come up with a new hypothesis to test.

Why is A/B testing important

No matter the outcome, you should constantly be testing new design updates!

Here’s an example of why.

Ecommerce brand WallMonkeys wanted to make their homepage more engaging and improve the shopper experience.

First, they replaced the hero image with one they thought might be more fun and attractive to visitors.

Here’s the old image, with the palm trees on the wall.

eCommerce homepage A/B testing

And here’s the updated image, with spotted cats.

eCommerce homepage A/B testing

They tested the new homepage against the old one and saw a modest uptick in conversions.

But they noticed when they ran a heatmap on the control that visitors weren’t very focused on the center of the page where their “Shop Now” CTA was placed.

eCommerce homepage heatmap

So, as a followup to their first A/B test, they decided to move their search field down from the top to that center position.

eCommerce homepage A/B testing

Once again, they tested the old version with the search field at the top against the new version with the search field in the center.

And that’s what got them a 550% increase in purchase conversions.

The right way to A/B test

Before we talk about launching your first experiments, let me make it clear that there’s a right way and wrong way to start A/B testing. Follow these guidelines to ensure your tests have internal buy-in, impact, and significant results.

01. Set and communicate your goals

We know your overall goal: To help your clients grow their businesses online. But let’s get more granular. How are you going to do that?

Do they want to see an increase in eBook downloads? Maybe they have a particular product page that’s not seeing as many sales as you would like?

Whatever it is, work with your client to write it down in very specific language and put a number on it.

  • I want to increase eBook downloads by 40 percent.

  • I want to increase sales of this product through the website by 30 percent.

Communicate that goal to all stakeholders and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Once you have a clearly-framed goal that everyone can agree upon, putting together a plan and implementing it will be that much easier.

02. Prioritize your tests

Okay, you know what you want to do. Now, in what order are you going to get it done?

After you’ve looked at your heatmaps and recordings to see if people are finding theCTAs, search fields, or checkout buttons, you’ve got to pick which page to perform your tests on.

We recommend taking a look at Google Analytics. Either start with a page that gets a lot of traffic, like the homepage or a popular product page. That’s because you’ll gather a lot of data quickly on whether your change was effective. Or begin with a page that has a high bounce rate, as it has the most room for improvement.

03. Test one thing at a time

This one is pretty important. Each and every test should be done on its own. If you test both the CTA color and copy at the same time and you see an increase in conversions, it will be nearly impossible to determine which change had the greatest effect on that increase.

How to use A/B testing to help your clients meet their business goals

Here are some examples to