When building an ecommerce business, your website is your storefront. Your social media and search engine ads and email newsletters are your flyers. Your copy, images, and call-to-action buttons are your employees—conversing with customers and convincing them to make a purchase.
On the surface, the static nature of an ecommerce site puts you at a disadvantage. You can’t alter your pitch, or shopping experience, depending on who walks in the door. Or can you?
As it turns out, you can, and that’s where A/B testing comes in.
A/B testing, or split testing, presents half of your site visitors with one version of a page, and the other half with another. By creating different landing pages (the page where visitors first land on your site after clicking an ad), site layouts, forms, and other on-site elements—and then testing to see which perform better—you’ll create the most effective version of your business possible.
The biggest names in ecommerce, not to mention business in general, use A/B testing to improve how their customers see their business. No matter how big or small your ecommerce venture, you need to do the same.
Let’s review the basics of A/B testing, then dive into what benefits you’ll glean from putting it into practice.
What is A/B testing?
A/B testing is when you create two (or more) different versions of the same page to determine which is more successful in driving your conversion goal, whether that goal is more sales, more email signups, or submitting a survey response.
Your A/B tests can be as simple as changing the wording of your copy on a landing page, or reducing the number of fields necessary to complete a form. It might be as major as two completely different site designs (though changing just one variable with each test helps you better identify which part of your design compels people to complete your call-to-action).
Once enough traffic comes through each iteration of your test, see which one has a higher conversion rate. It stands to reason that the one with a higher conversion rate is speaking more effectively to your customers. Then you change another variable from your higher-performing page and repeat the process.
It’s easier than ever for your ecommerce platform, or for a third-party service, to help to create and deploy different versions of your site, or your newsletter.
Why is A/B testing important for ecommerce businesses?
As noted above, your ecommerce pages may appear static to customers, but in reality, they are malleable and easy to alter.
Many times, the appearance, layout, and copy associated with your ecommerce elements are what stands between your customers and your conversions. If you find that your conversion rate is lacking, or your ROI on your ad spend is middling, or your cart gets abandoned at checkout far too often (the average for all online shopping is almost 70%), A/B testing can help you figure out why.
This extends to other elements of your digital marketing strategy. Maybe your email open rate is too low, or your surveys are going unanswered. Rather than throwing more money at these channels, first figure out why people aren’t engaging—then invest.
Eventually, you can use A/B testing to further segment your customers, presenting certain layouts and copy to different types of customers to further drive their conversion. You might have different types of customers, and the same marketing tactics won’t work as well on all of them.
The benefits you’ll see from A/B testing
Once you build out the framework of your ecommerce business, A/B testing is how you take things to the next level.
Whether you’re testing the layout of your landing page, playing with pricing, or trying out multiple newsletter subject lines, A/B testing can have a positive, and demonstrable, effect on your bottom line. If you’ve been treading water, flatlining, or even seeing declining numbers, a lack of data that can come from A/B testing is a big reason why.
With the results of your tests, you’ll get hard numbers to back up your hypotheses on what works well (and what doesn’t), and make improvements in the following areas:
Improves your clickthrough and conversion rates
The most obvious area where A/B testing your ecommerce pages will help you is by improving your clickthrough rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CVR).
Marketing is all about getting people through your funnel, from the point they first hear about you to making a purchase. If you lose people at any point during their journey through your funnel, that’s a wasted opportunity to create a loyal customer. By writing different newsletter headlines or copy, you may find you hit on a different pain point for customers that will make them more likely to click through to your ecommerce page.
Then, by altering your ecommerce page—from the layout to the colors to the ease of checkout—you’ll see what aspects of your current iteration is causing you to lose customers before they convert (whether converting means signing up for future updates, or engaging in a paying transaction).
CTR and CVR are important metrics because they tell you whether there are actual interest and demand for your product or service. If you A/B test and find that nothing is working, it’s more likely that there’s a problem with your business model than with your marketing.
Leads to more effective ad spend
If you pay for traffic via ads on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) or search (mainly Google), only to find that traffic stop dead in its tracks once it reaches your landing pages, that’s a problem. Spending more money on more traffic isn’t the solution.
Improving your customer’s journey on your website will mean that your ad dollars will bring you a greater return, so you can feel confident in increasing your ad spend.
Removes customer friction points
There is often a ton of head-scratching that goes on around what makes your customers leave your page before converting. It could be obvious obstacles, such as having to pay for shipping (an increasingly common, if difficult to solve, issue for small businesses). It could be less apparent problems, such as the usability of your pages, or even just the placement of CTA buttons.
Your goal should be to make the conversion process as easy as possible. Don’t get in your own way here: Let your customers show you what isn’t working, even if you think you “need” it (i.e., forcing them to create an account to place an order).
Allows your customers to drive your design
At the end of the day, your job is to help your customers solve a problem by providing them with your product or service. If you get too wrapped up in your vision for your business—whether in the execution of your product or how you market it—you’ll miss what people actually want or need.
To paraphrase marketing guru Seth Godin, customers are open to hearing from you, but they aren’t yours. They’ll go elsewhere if you can’t take them where they hope to go.
Helps improve your copywriting
Ecommerce business owners often find themselves thrust into the role of copywriter for their own business, even if they don’t have that background. When you’re bootstrapping or otherwise trying to keep down costs, you need to do a lot of things yourself—and unlike website design, you can’t exactly rely on copywriting templates to carry your venture to success.
One of the benefits of A/B testing is you’ll likely need to write, and test, lots of copy. Not only will you get a lot of practice, but you’ll be able to get nearly instantaneous feedback on what worked about your copy and what didn’t. (For example: Short and punchy, or long and detailed? Descriptive, or plain language?)
Removes the risks of a redesign
Redesigning your website is a major step that will require sizeable investment—which means dedicating working capital, that you may not have on hand, to a project that you’re undertaking based on guesswork. You could take out a small business loan to cover that cost, but you shouldn’t do that without a real understanding of why your site isn’t working.
Instead of overhauling your site, use A/B testing to measure little aspects of your site experience. Over time, you’ll build towards a redesigned experience backed by hard data and user experience, rather than a gut instinct on your part.
A/B testing for your ecommerce business isn’t just a one-off experiment. For ecommerce ventures, it’s an integral part of your marketing budget, one that will pay dividends as you continue to grow and diversify. Start the process now, when you’re small—it will become second nature by the time you’re big enough for it to be required with every new product, feature, campaign, and business decision.
About the guest author:
Eric Goldschein is a writer and editor at Fundera with nearly a decade of experience in digital media. Eric specializes in marketing, entrepreneurship, and small business trends.