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Split Testing – The Secret Weapon of eCommerce


A-B testing, or split testing, is the biggest “open secret” of web developers.

It has the potential to transform your eCommerce business by helping you redesign your website and update your web copy to skyrocket sales.

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, however. Google has been using it for over a decade, but one of the world’s biggest websites, the BBC, only came across it in 2009.

What is Split Testing?

Split testing involves performing live experiments on your website, to see which design and copy works best at driving sales.

As BBC website developer Mat Hampson puts it, it’s like normal user testing, but

“done on a live site with large numbers of users – getting real world results on a statistically valid scale.”

Think of it as a type of market research.

As an idea, it’s way older than the web. Advertisers were the first to use split testing to see which advert copy drove the best response.

This was way back in the early 20th century. Copywriters would run two adverts for the same product. Each advert included a different coupon code, so the copywriters could gauge which advert delivered the best response.

One of the pioneers of split testing, Claude Hopkins, said split testing transformed marketing from “a gamble” into “one of the safest business ventures”.

Instead of guessing what adverts would work best, marketers could perform scientific experiments to discover the best performing adverts.

When they found out exactly what worked, they could do more of it.

The web, and smartphone apps, opened up a whole vista of new possibilities for split testing. Web users can track every click, including the percentage of users clicking a particular link, how many site visitors become customers, and the best site designs for transforming surfers into buyers.

What Can Split Testing Do For You?

Split testing allows you to find simple tweaks on your website that help your customers find and buy the products they want.

It can help you develop the most user-friendly interface for your website, and as a consequence it can boost sales.

For example, the BBC split tested how many users installed a widget from the World Service homepage. The original button to install the widget simply said “Widget”. When they changed this to “Install Widget”, three times as many users clicked to install the widget.

An even bigger split testing success story comes from AMD, a US-based company which creates computer processors (it’s likely there’s an AMD processor in your computer or smartphone). AMD increases social sharing of its support page 3600% simply by moving the social sharing buttons.

That’s a big boost, and typically split testing results in smaller, incremental increases of a few percent.

Even so, every split test you carry out improves the experience of your customers and is ultimately good for your bottom line.

What You Can Split Test

You can split test pretty much any element on your website including:

  • Colours
  • Copy
  • Page Layout
  • Removing or Adding Items to the Page
  • Location of Buttons
  • Pricing Plans

One of the best ways to get ideas for split testing is to look through your customer feedback.

Veeam Software, a global company with over 800 employees, tried this approach. One of the biggest customer feedback requests on their website was to display price information.

However, Veeam doesn’t publish its pricing, as it sells through partners, and different partners offer different discounts.

So it tested a new strategy, changing the text on its “Request a quote” link to “Request pricing”. This increased clickthroughs by 161%.

If you don’t yet split test, or if you only split test certain aspects of your eCommerce business such as emails, think about what you could start split testing today. In the long term, knowing what works is the difference between soaring to success, or plummeting to failure.

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Written by David Masters

Latest posts by David Masters see all

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