How To Make A/B Testing A Competitive Advantage For Your Small Business
To maximize your online marketing ROI, your small business should be testing its advertising.
A/B split testing–the process of testing and measuring the effectiveness of two similar ads in order to determine which version performs the best–is a simple but effective means of optimizing your firm’s marketing.
The key elements to running a successful A/B test are as follows:
1. Vary only one element between the two ads (creatives), and keep everything else constant
2. Run both ads simultaneously for the same length of time, on the same channel
3. Set up reporting tools that measure impressions, clicks, goals and/or conversions
In many areas of marketing–distribution, advertising budget, research–a large company have significant advantage over a smaller competitor.
Not with A/B testing though; small businesses hold a distinct advantage–they have the flexibility and nimbleness that large corporations lack.
The bigger the business, the harder it is to test the creatives. Large corporations typically do not do split-testing well.
Most companies are set up like functional walled fiefdoms; complete with competing intra-company rivalries, competing egos, and multiple objectives. Cross-boundary processes, like message testing, require a degree of coordination and sharing of authority that few large organizations are willing to adopt.
If your company can test creative faster than your competitors, then you have an advantage that can outweigh a bigger budget or even ‘better’ ads.
There are many creative elements to the typical ad that can be, and should be, tested.
Here are many of the most common:
- PRICE – This can be tricky to test, since price is such a strategic decision
- SALES FUNNEL – Lead generation, freemium, direct marketing…
- CALL-TO-ACTION – ‘Learn More’, ‘Act Now’…
- BUTTON – Size, color, text on button, 3D vs flat. Button testing is an art unto itself
- HEADLINE – Perhaps the most often tested element
- COPYWRITING – An easily tested element, but one of the hardest to get right
- IMAGE – image vs all text, stock image vs custom shot…
- FEATURES – Gas mileage vs speed…
- BENEFITS – economical vs fun-to-drive…
- TYPE OF AD – PPC text vs display…
- SIZE OF AD – Med rec vs roadblocks…
- COLOR OF FONTS – An often overlooked but important issue
- TYPE OF FONTS - serif vs sans serif…
- GRAMMAR – Period on headline vs none, Bullet points vs Numbers…
- URL NAME – BrandName.com, DomainName.com/BrandName…
- THE LAYOUT – Position on the ad, relative positioning against other ad elements,
- NEGATIVE SPACE – Isolating the call to action, integrate with text…
- WORD COUNT – Long-form text vs Short phrases
- TYPE OF IMAGE – Hero shot of product vs affinity shot of model…
- PROPORTION OF IMAGE SPACE TO TEXT – Text heavy vs Image heavy…
- STATIC VS. RICH MEDIA AD – The deciding metric here may be ROI-based
Unfortunately, many people split-test two versions of an ad without thinking about the relationship those ads have with other elements of the marketing strategy.
Here are several strategic issues that can provide context to your advertising testing:
1. Degree of branding vs call-to-action. Don’t test an ad that is written as a branding creative against another ad that is a direct marketing appeal. You will get different results, but what really is being tested here?
2. Relationship between the landing page and the ads. Research shows how important the integration of an ad is with the landing page. Make sure that changes in the landing page don’t impact the test while an ad test is ongoing.
3. Customer segment and targeting. Certain key words and specific call-to-actions may appeal to one segment of the market, but not another. Make sure your ad campaigns are reaching the correct target market when conducting the test.
4. Frequency and timing. How an ad performs can come down to the frequency and time of the audience’s exposure to the ad. Two areas that are especially impacted by time-of-day and frequency are an ad’s headline and imagery. Always make sure that both creatives have similar visibility during the testing period.
Although testing is critically important, don’t let an advertising test drive your strategy. If your “free” offer outperforms your “10% off”, make sure the customer is still profitable. Always view the results of an advertising A/B split test within the context of the campaign’s goals.
Once you adopt a philosophy of ‘Always Be Testing’, don’t be surprised if your competitors start trying to bemoan the fact that they are ‘too big to do good marketing campaigns’.
Do you use A/B testing for your advertising? If so, what was your experience?
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