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How do you know what to test first in A/B tests?

Understanding what drives your customers makes all the difference between converting a sale and seeing your site visitors vanish. And, as we looked at last week, nothing works better than A/B testing to find out what your customers will respond to. But, Jake Stein asked a great question: How do you know what to test first?

Jake highlights a clear challenge. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the array of options. Just to show what’s possible, our good friend Linda Bustos over at Get Elastic listed dozens of Add to Cart buttons. And that’s just one element on the page. How can anyone be expected to zero in on the one, true thing that will make all the difference for your business?

Well, for starters, stop stressing. Improving your site typically involves a series of incremental steps. There’s no wrong thing to test. Yes, some steps are “right-er” than others. But for those, we’ve got you covered. How?

  1. Make sure you know which page to A/B test. (For past tips, see GrokDotCom and past thinks coverage here and here
  2. The best tests are the most common actions tied to your customers’ intent.

Well, duh, right? And how are you supposed to know what those are? Actually, it’s pretty easy. Your customers tell you every day.

Your keyword data is, well, key. There’s no better place to start than by listening to what your customers are already telling you. If you’ve got on-site search, look at the search terms your customers type. If not, check your terms from Google, Yahoo and the rest. These terms should help you figure out what your customers want. If you think about it, Google likely wouldn’t have its dominant position without its deep understanding about what drives customer behavior online. Whether they gather the information through their search engine, Google Analytics, Docs, Gmail and the rest, they’re constantly collecting useful information about what customers want, then putting that to use. Why not steal from the best?

Once you have your customers’ keywords in hand, you should look at one of these 3 places to improve your site:

  1. Call-to-action. Every page on your site should have a call to action. And it doesn’t always have to be “buy now,” or “add to cart,” either. It could be, “Get more information,” “Subscribe to feed,” “What’s next?” or many others. We’ve looked at this before. Remember Alec Baldwin’s infamous “Put. That. Coffee. Down.” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross? You’ve got to “Always Be Closing.”
  2. Headlines. Bryan Eisenberg refers to “leaving a scent trail” for your customers, based on what they expect to find (see keywords above). And since Fitt’s Law says “Bigger is better” (I’m paraphrasing. ‘Cause, really, who likes math that much?), what better way to mark the trail than the biggest words on your page? Your headlines supposedly speak right to what your customers care about. Do they?
  3. Benefit statement. We live in a WIIFM World. That is, customers always ask, “What’s In It For Me.” How clearly do you explain exactly what is in it for your customer? If you’ve tried improving your call-to-action and your headlines to no effect, it’s time to start telling your customers explicitly why they should buy from you.

Since every site is different, it’s impossible to say which will drive the biggest benefit for your site, but, the order listed isn’t a bad way to start. If you’ve got the traffic to support true multivariate testing, you could test all three at once. If not, use the suggested order and see what happens.

Need more information about what, when and how to test? GrokDotCom has a great list of 64 tips for getting started with Google’s Website Optimizer that’s well worth the read.

Still need more?!? Wow. Dude. You’re hardcore. OK. Then check out testing guru Bryan Eisenberg’s Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer, Tim Ash’s Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions
and Get Elastic’s blog every day for great posts like this one.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. […] Write your ad. Better yet, write two ads. Run the two against one another with the same keywords and same landing page and see which gets the most clicks and the most conversions. Once you pick a winner, retire the underperforming ad and start a new challenger against the current champion. This kind of A/B testing can change incremental improvements into big wins. […]

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