How A/B Testing Strategies Can Help You Make Better Decisions

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A Q&A with Chris Goward, Author of "You Should Test That!"

This week, we are sitting down with Chris Goward, the author of "You Should Test That!", a book that teaches the processes, frameworks and techniques of scientific marketing to make better decisions and achieve industry-leading results. Featuring case studies of real tests plus many more examples of how companies are succeeding and failing in their websites and their marketing, we're eager to learn more.

What’s the premise behind your book, “You Should Test That!” ?

Too many businesses still use antiquated methods for decision-making with their marketing. They seek out so-called “best practices”, copy competitors tactics, and redesign their websites without A/B testing, to name just a few examples. I wanted to write a book that would provide a dose of inspiration in the new scientific marketing discipline as well as practical processes and frameworks marketers can apply directly to their marketing strategy. It really does contain detail on a lot of the methods WiderFunnel uses to consistently achieve winning results for our clients.

You’ve become a regular speaker at the top online marketing conferences. How did you get into conversion optimization?

I’ve always questioned current ways of doing things. In the early to mid 2000’s, I wondered why marketers accepted the status quo where ad agencies used their clients’ budgets to create self-serving campaigns aimed solely at winning awards for cleverness. I couldn’t understand why digital agencies were creating websites that ignored direct response principles and really couldn’t be more than poor copies of the old TV world.

I left the agency world in 2007 to create WiderFunnel based on the belief that agencies should prove their value. Since then, we’ve been running thousands of A/B tests on hundreds of websites across all industries to discover consistent persuasion and user experience principles that maximize companies’ online profits.

Related Class: Integrating SEM, Testing, and Analytics for Improved ROI

What are the biggest mistakes you see marketers making today?

There are so many!

  • Implementing the latest “tips & tricks” they see on blog posts. I’ve already said many times why tactical marketing tips and “best practices” don’t work. The problem is that they ignore your unique business context.
  • Consensus decision-making.
  • Getting stuck behind organizational barriers. I’ve seen turf battles, silos and competing priorities hamstring some very promising potential A/B tests.
  • Acting on usability testing or other qualitative methods to make website changes without testing those insights. I’ve covered before, the many reasons that usability testing alone is not reliable.
  • Testing too conservatively.
  • Not prioritizing effort correctly and wasting time optimizing inconsequential areas.
  • Using “before & after” testing rather than correct controlled test methods.
  • Drawing conclusions from inconclusive data. Often, it’s difficult for the conversion champion to hold off the pressure to make decisions without enough data.
  • Taking advice from “experts” who don’t do a ton of testing. If their primary business isn’t testing, testing and more testing, where is their advice coming from? You might be surprised at how little testing some of the industry’s pre-eminent figures actually do.
  • Over-emphasizing optimization tool selection before developing a strategy and process for optimization. Tools don’t solve marketing problems. Smart marketers with great strategy and ideas do.

What are the biggest challenges businesses face in adopting marketing optimization as a strategy?

I’ve been running an ongoing poll of marketers asking a similar question since 2012.

Interestingly, in 2012, most respondents said they faced resistance within their organization for conducting testing. This year, that’s the least likely challenge. Companies now know conversion optimization needs to be prioritized and there’s senior-level support for the strategy.

The biggest challenges marketers face in 2014 are in getting great results from their program. They either don’t have staff with deep testing experience, don’t have a reliable process, or face technical barriers. So, it’s good to see the market evolving to having support for the strategy. Now, the challenges are more about how to get consistent results.

eConsultancy did their own survey of companies doing conversion optimization and found that those who reported having a “structured approach” to their program were twice as likely to see large increases in sales. The disciplined, rigorous process alone determines a great deal of the success.

Related Class: eCommerce Testing to Dramatically Lift Sales 

What are your favorite website elements to test?

Really, I like any testing any area that gets results. And, that can be different for every website depending on where the conversion barriers are. Every website design, structure and target audience is slightly different. Some companies are adopting WiderFunnel’s PIE Framework for prioritizing tests to answer this question based on their unique context.

That being said, however, we’re having a lot of success this year adding the “Evolutionary Site Redesign” strategy to conversion optimization for our clients.

It’s a strategy any (and I believe every) company should use. Essentially, it means we’re testing the site-wide website templates in a methodical way. It results in a redesigned website without the risks of traditional “flip the switch” epic redesign. Using A/B testing of the overall design elements, companies are finding sometimes huge revenue improvements from improved navigation, information architecture, design credibility, merchandising, etc. and the resulting design changes can be just as dramatic.

In this class, 10 A/B Test Studies, you’ll encounter 10 such tests and can guess which page won. The answers will surprise you and the knowledge you’ll gain about how to conduct these tests and what makes some pages better than others will make you a more effective marketer.   

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