Here’s What You Need to Know about A/B Testing

April 1, 2016

Ever feel like you’re leaving something on the table with your website? Or that your dealership could be doing a few things better with how it leverages this asset to generate leads? If so, it’s probably a good time to point out that these refrains regarding uncertainty and second-guessing are things that virtually every organization within this industry struggles with at various points in time.

Of course, just because it’s perfectly natural to question if the grass really is greener on the other side of the virtual fence from time to time, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost associated with this process. In fact, if you’re not careful with how you sort through these “what-if” scenarios, you could end up facing down paralyzing indecision or ill-advised sweeping changes that negatively impact your connection with consumers.

Fortunately, the practice of running your site through a series of A/B tests does a pretty good job of shielding you from these risks and promoting smart decisions that enhance the user experience for incoming visitors. With this mind, join us as we look into the particulars of A/B testing, as well as why today’s tech-savvy dealership can’t let this powerful optimization tactic ride the bench any longer.

The Skinny on A/B Testing

Sometimes moonlighting under the “split testing” name, Ginny Soskey of the HubSpot Blog explains that A/B testing is the process of trying out different iterations of virtually any form of digital content as a way to discern which variation generates the biggest response from your target audience. The big key here is that these iterations run concurrent with one another, thereby allowing you to evaluate performance and viewership reactions in real time.

“It's a kind of experiment that shows two different versions of one piece of content (such as a landing page, email, or call to action) to two similarly sized audiences to see which one performs better."
– Ginny Soskey, The HubSpot Blog

Whether you’re revamping some site copy or tweaking the layout for new and used inventory pages, this form of testing leverages actual metrics (conversion and bounce rates, time on page, etc.) and viewer feedback to steer you in the right direction. In other words, this practice takes the guesswork and uncertainty out of making changes to how your dealership presents itself online.

Things That Fit into an A/B Testing Program

Depending on how adventurous you are, basically any portion of your digital presence is more than capable of being run through a series of A/B tests. However, email marketing offers, site copy, page layout, and search ads are the most common items that fall within the scope of this practice.

For the sake of simplicity – and since we’re in the business of optimizing and refining websites for maximum search visibility – we’ll keep the discussion limited to how this practice pertains to your site copy and layout considerations. Once these boundaries are in place, Smashing Magazine’s Paras Chopra points to the following site inclusions as the most popular elements to test:

  • The size, wording, color, and placement of calls to action (CTAs.)
  • Headlines.
  • Product descriptions.
  • The general layout and style of a website.
  • Images on landing and product pages.
  • Text length and formatting.

We could go on and on with a list that covers dozens of inputs and fills up your screen, but you’re probably getting the idea by now. The above considerations are the big elements worth analyzing and serve as the foundation for the bulk of A/B site tests within the automotive world.

Why It Matters to the Automotive Community

“Accurate A/B tests can make a huge difference to your bottom line.”
– Cameron Chapman, Kissmetrics Blog

In terms of what you stand to gain, Cameron Chapman of the Kissmetrics blog points out that this process is all about bolstering your dealership’s bottom line. By letting empirical evidence guide your decision-making, creating major gains in visibility, consumer interaction, and – most importantly – sales becomes less of a pipe dream and more of a reality in a surprisingly short amount of time.

To put things into perspective and show you just how powerful A/B testing can be when done right, let’s look over a few examples of this process in action from around the web, as offered up by Wordstream’s Elisa Gabbert:

  • Moving the signup form on one brand’s website to the center of the page caused its conversion rate to jump by an astounding 50 percent.
  • Testing capitalization within an organization’s URL led to a click-through rate (CTR) that rocketed up to the 53 percent mark.
  • Comparing a multi-step conversion process to a single-page engagement alternative (and sticking with this more streamlined experience) led to a 76 percent increase in profits for the website in question.

Gabbert had to withhold the names and details of the companies showcased here for legal and privacy concerns, but the message is still straightforward and clear: Being willing to test out different takes on your site content, layout, and presentation goes a long way toward supercharging sales numbers.

Running Your Very First Split Test

Now that you’re all caught up with what A/B testing is and why it’s vital to maximizing your impact with digital customers, it’s time to dig into the main course: How to actually run an A/B test. According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee, your dealership can make things easy on itself by distilling this process into five specific steps:

  • Brainstorm – What do you want to test? Why should you test it? Answering these questions early helps keep your testing on track and capable of generating actionable results.
  • Isolate the Control Page and Create Alternatives – Once you know what you want to test, it’s time to start creating alternative iterations. Don’t alter the original or “control” version of the page that’s being tested; you’ll need to keep monitoring the results generated by this “baseline” to verify any positive or negative changes in viewer response caused by the new alternatives.
  • Define Your Relevant Metric(s) and Test – How are you going to gauge the findings from this A/B test? After you decide on the right metric – or metrics (more on this in a moment) – it’s time to go live with your site variations and compile the results for future analysis.
  • Roll out the Winner – Did your new take on site design or on-page content knock the socks off of incoming viewers? If so, then it’s time to go live with this offering to your entire audience and get the next challenger ready.
  • Do It All Over Again – If you’re rolling your eyes at the phrase “next challenger” and loudly declaring that you’re not interested in doing this whole A/B testing thing all over again, it’s time to shift your perspective a little bit. Truly successful A/B testing and optimization never really ends, so you need to be prepared to always keep an eye out for the next great innovation.

It is important to note that this breakdown barely scratches the surface of A/B testing’s potential. If you’re really willing to let your creativity run wild and tweak all of the little things that go into the presentation of your website, then testing every facet of your page content and design isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

While we’re on the subject of broadening your testing horizons, Wyatt Jenkins of the Harvard Business Review does note that there are a few caveats to keep in mind as you wade into the deeper waters of A/B testing:

  • Each additional variable or element that you change during an A/B test adds complexity to the overall process, so it’s a good idea to be wary of altering too many portions of your site simultaneously.
  • Setting up your test to measure multiple metrics and responses ensures that you get the complete story of the user experience and avoid the problems that come with making design changes based on limited information.

As long as you understand and embrace these points – and follow along with the basic outline of an A/B test presented above – then you’re well on your way to converting even more site visitors into satisfied customers. Whether you’re an established player in the automotive industry or simply looking to join the “big boys” of the marketplace by taking the next big step with your online presence, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential gains that come with a strong stance on A/B testing.