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May 22, 2012

The Dangerous Pitfalls of A/B Testing

A/B testing can be a great way to gain insight into visitor behavior and increase conversion rates, but with all the button tweaking, colour scheming and text revising, are we forgetting to look at the bigger picture?

If you own a business, there’s always the concern that your marketing efforts aren’t reaching their full potential. A great website design is a step in the right direction, but it’s also worth your time to have strategies and formulas in place to make sure your hard work is paying off. A/B testing, or split testing, is just one of the ways to understand what resonates best with your customers. You create two versions of your website, expose customers to both versions simultaneously, measure which version was more successful and then select that version for real-world use.

It seems simple, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by individual elements and lose sight of your website’s primary goal.

Let’s say you own an ecommerce site. You develop an A/B test that optimizes for conversion, and everyone is happy with the chosen design because it was a clear, obvious winner and sales are now higher than ever. But what the test didn’t show is what happened after the customer pressed the purchase button. Were they happy? Did the product arrive as expected? Was the shopping experience enjoyable? Was it difficult?

Even if your A/B test was successful, there may be huge design deficiencies that prevent customers from returning time and time again. You need to be careful not to sacrifice user experience while optimizing for conversion. So how do you accomplish this tricky feat? By pairing your A/B testing with usability testing.

Once you’ve found the best-performing design, usability test to find those glitches and errors that are likely to frustrate users and turn them away, like broken links, slow loading pages, search functions that don’t work properly, confusing checkout processes or incorrect shipping costs. In other words, simplify and tighten up the entire ecommerce process to make the customer experience as great as possible.

A/B testing and usability testing each have their own strengths and limitations, but they do work effectively hand in hand. As complementary tools, they result in a more cohesive and effective website, working together towards the common business goal of attracting and retaining customers.

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