The ultimate goal of ecommerce is to earn and grow sales. Higher conversion rates typically yield higher revenue and gross profit. The way to achieve higher conversion rates is by optimizing your website’s traffic. One way to optimize your site traffic is by running live, controlled experiments on your site visitors using two primary processes:


  • A/B testing, also known as split testing, is when two versions of a page are tested against one another to determine optimal conversion rate. For most small to medium sized businesses, this is the way to go.
  • Multivariate testing (essentially a more elaborate and often more informative A/B test) is where multiple variables within a page are changed and tested in different combinations to determine the impact of each variable on conversion rate and the optimal confiuration

These experiments allow you to test and measure the impact of anything and everything — from your email subject lines to the color of your “buy now” buttons to the price of your products. The tests help you discover exactly which words, colors, prices, and other variables you choose to test compel consumers to open, click, and buy more often. Once you know which versions convert best between two (or more) groups of site visitors, you can apply them to all of your visitors.


A/B testing has been around for decades. But thanks to sophisticated, low-cost online tools, it is easier and more affordable than ever before. Today every online merchant can — and should — conduct A/B tests to boost his or her conversion rates. After all, what online merchant doesn’t want to make changes that are proven to boost sales?


This post gives you an overview of the art and science of A/B testing and conversion rate optimization — so that you can begin reaping all of the rewards of this ecommerce business power tool.


The Many Benefits of A/B Testing


After you’ve made all of the big decisions on your products, pricing, site design, and more, your success as an online business owner comes down to one question: Are visitors to your site converting into buyers — or not? The foremost advantage of A/B testing is optimizing your conversion rates — in other words, getting more bang for your buck from every site visit. Here are several of the business benefits of A/B testing that support that outcome.


Take the guesswork out of decision-making.

Here’s a sobering fact: Even the best online marketing experts generate winning ideas only 25-30 percent of the time. In other words, 70-75 percent of ideas fail. Testing helps ecommerce merchants increase the number of wins, because their decisions are based, not on guesswork, but on how consumers are actually responding to specific variables.


Leverage the proven power of the science of marketing.

Today’s online merchants have access to many advantages not available to previous generations of small- and mid-size businesses — including the science of marketing. Hundreds of studies have proven the power of A/B testing over the past decades, and large businesses have gained every advantage. Now your business can easily and cost-effectively gain these power-user advantages, too.


Employ low-cost tools to discover what works — and what doesn’t.

A/B testing used to be expensive and, therefore, cost-prohibitive for small businesses to execute. But that is no longer the case. Today’s online merchants can use powerful, free tools like Optimizely and Google Analytics to conduct A/B tests and gather data, gaining valuable insights about their ecommerce sites in the process (learn more on Optimizely below).


Learn something valuable with every test.

When they first embark on A/B testing, many online merchants are surprised (even shocked) to learn that even the seemingly smallest details can have a huge difference on conversion rates. Elements they thought didn’t matter at all, such as the text in a “buy button,” often turn out to matter tremendously with regard to consumers’ propensity to click. After running numerous A/B tests, merchants begin to awaken to the reality that even subtle changes to copy, colors, prices, and more can dramatically change shoppers’ behaviors. (For the record, your visitors are completely unaware that they are part of your tests.)


Gain insight into exactly how your customers view your ecommerce site.

Ecommerce is rapidly evolving and it’s the modern day always-on shopper with all his/her devices calling the shots. Shoppers are becoming increasingly demanding and are quick to find alternatives when confronted with a site’s poor user experience. Testing is often a humbling experience. Your customers may not like your site’s total user experience or perhaps only a certain aspect of your website. Without testing, it’s difficult to gather enough substantial data to confirm one way or another.


Will a shirt priced at $19.99 rather than $20.00 convert better? Is it worth testing? This is about making empowered decisions. It’s about not flying blind when you have the opportunity to quantify the value of your actions with the tools now at your disposal. The difference to your bottom line can be substantial — and well worth the reality check!


The Nuts and Bolts of A/B Testing


While at first glance, conversion rate optimization may seem complicated; it’s really not hard to get started and testing platforms manage the logistics – the division of the site traffic and all the math. Basically there are four steps:


Step 1 — Develop your test case. What changes to your site do you believe will convert more visitors into customers? Frame it as a hypothesis. Try to empathize with your visitors and understand what their questions, tasks, and frustrations might be. Remember, your visitors don’t always (or maybe ever) think like you. Don’t forget to document this stuff, along with the results of your tests. It will prove valuable down the road.


Step 2 – Divide your site traffic into two or more groups, and give each group a different experience of the same variable — such as the wording of a subject line or the placement of a “buy” button. This is the technical part, but your testing software typically facilitates this work.


Step 3 — Measure how well each group converts. The conversion rate is simply the percent of visitors who purchase divided by the number of visitors in the group. Testing software typically applies statistical methods to determine just how meaningful the conversion rate differences are.


Step 4 — If you’ve got a winner, update your site to reflect the improved experience and enjoy the added dollars your site will make as a result.


When conducting A/B testing, there is a risk of random chance influencing the outcome. However, today’s testing platforms automatically account for this variance using statistical calculations that factor in variations, such as the number of site visitors included in your experiment (sample size), and differences in conversion rates between your test groups.


This means you don’t have to be a math whiz or statistician. Most testing tools today do all of the heavy lifting for you and boil the results down to simple decision-making criteria. The output is typically:

  • A percentage which more or less represents how solid the findings are: 90% or more is pretty solid, while less than 90% is not.
  • A range of conversion rates known as the “confidence interval.” This represents the range in conversion rates that you might observe long-term or in repeated sampling of your site visitors. It indicates that 95 out of 100 similar samples will fall within this range.

Conduct an A/B Test on Your Volusion Site in Just Three Clicks


Because Volusion appreciates the power of A/B testing to impact conversion rate optimization, we’ve integrated it into your store and made it extremely easy and fast to conduct A/B tests. In fact, you can conduct a test in just three clicks! You do have to look at the code fueling your site — but only briefly! So don’t let that stop you.


Before you begin, go to Optimizely.com and open a free account. Optimizely will provide you with a short snippet of code that will look something like this:

<script src=”//cdn.optimizely.com/js/1234858585.js”></script>


Simply copy this snippet into your clipboard and go to your Volusion store admin console.


Click 1 — From the templates page of your admin console, click “Edit html.”


Click 2 — Within the box showing your template code, near the top, locate the line that reads <head>. Add a line after it, then paste in Opitimizely’s code snippet.


Click 3 — Hit the “Save” button.


Now you’re ready to set up tests within the Optimizely interface. Yes, it’s that simple to get started!


What is Optimizely?


Optimizely made waves in the online marketing world when it launched ecommerce testing tools that make online experimentation easier, faster, and more affordable — thereby, making testing a viable tool for online businesses of all sizes.


The lynchpin of Optimizely’s testing platform is its amazingly easy-to-use WYSIWYG (which stands for, “what you see if what you get”) GUI (“general user interface”). You can literally drag-and-drop your site elements into the platform as if they were Mr. Potato Head pieces. This means that swapping out colors, text, images, and more in you’re A/B tests is a snap.


For merchants who treat the tech side of their businesses as a need-to-know-only endeavor, Optimizely generates the code for you when you run your tests. You just cut and paste it in your site. For the more tech-savvy merchants among us who love nothing more than playing around with web code, Optimizely allows you to go under the hood to edit the code in numerous ways, so you can conduct advanced experimentation.


The great thing about A/B testing with tools like Optimizely is that even people who haven’t built their entire careers around the science of online testing can accrue the benefits. Once you’ve run a few experiments and gained the rewards, don’t be afraid to take your new-found testing skill to the next level — with advanced website development expertise, sophisticated site design capabilities, and higher math know-how. These skills sets will make you an even better conversion rate optimizer.


A/B Testing Best Practices


Now that you’re ready to dive into the world of A/B testing — and to start boosting your conversion rates — here are a few testing best practices.


Run your tests for at least a week.

Resist the urge to celebrate if your tests show a clear winner and loser on Day One. Early results, especially where you’ve observed fewer than 100 conversions, are often misleading. Optimizely updated its statistical engine in early 2015 to combat this weakness. Testing timeframes can vary dramatically; but if it’s been a few weeks, you’ve got a good volume of traffic in each variation, and your testing tool is displaying 90% or higher confidence, then you’re probably good to pop the champagne and celebrate your conversion-boosting winners.


Be open to test ideas from any source.

You may wonder which variables you should use to begin your A/B testing adventure. One way is by asking people who have never visited at your website to give you feedback on what they like and don’t like. If there’s one thing everyone has, it’s an opinion, and you’ll be surprised at how often others can easily recognize problems and opportunities that you yourself never notices. You can also employ inexpensive consumer feedback tools that give you a “fresh pair of eyeballs” on your site. For example, UserTesting (usertesting.com) offers this service for only $50 per participant (this is really inexpensive compared to traditional marketing research methods and can be a gold mine for insights). Peek (http://peek.usertesting.com/) is a barebones, free version of this service. You’ll likely be surprised by what you can learn in a very short period of time. Learn more about what variables to test directly from Optimizely.


Set your expectations on moderate.

Test results aren’t always crystal clear, and while the results will show you how certain site changes will perform, they will not show you why that happens. This is an important distinction, and you should be careful not to assume you know the answer. To keep testing in perspective, it’s wise to remember an observation by Ron DeLeggee II, author of Gents With No Cents: “Ninety-nine percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story.”


Don’t let testing replace your own convictions, intuitions, style, and creativity — but do respect the test.

At the end of the day, your ecommerce site is yours, and so you have ultimate say. But don’t be afraid to try something totally different — even if you don’t particularly like the idea. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon (amazon.com) said, “The amount of useful invention you do is directly proportional to the number of experiments you can run per week per month per year. So if you’re going to increase the number of experiments, you’re also going to increase the number of failures.” It’s easy to see how this applies to website optimization. The more you test different variables, the faster you’ll find what works best — and what doesn’t.


Now that you understand the fundamentals and power of A/B testing to boost your sales and revenue, go forth, divide (your site visitors), and conquer conversion rate optimization.


Happy A/B testing — and best of luck!