A/B Testing: What’s All the Ruckus?

If you are a reader of Wired you may have come across their recent article on the website analytics practice of A/B testing. Although this concept is not new to people like us in the business it may come as a surprise to a lot of people that sites you visit are probably experimenting with what you see from visit to visit. This helps site owners test different versions of pages so that they can convert you from a simple site visitor to one that will make a purchase.

This type of test, test, test, and change has been going on all around you since before you could walk. For instance, if you visit Target you’ll notice that they have one entrance and refreshments plus impulse buys aka $1 section are right inside that entrance. You’ll also notice that each store is pretty much setup the same way. They’ve studied shoppers buying patterns and strategically placed specific items in the right places. Need toilet or tissue paper? Well you’ll need to pass personal hygiene and makeup to get to that area.

The internet is no different and website owners that use A/B testing have a vested interest in their site and want it to succeed. If aren’t doing this it’s time you looked into it.

A/B Testing – Little Changes/Big Results

Also on Wired is a great story of a series of A/B tests showing that even changing one word can affect your site’s conversion rates. The site IGN reported that changing the word iPhone to mobile showed a 5% drop in clicks. They thought that ‘its population of committed iPhone-haters would be put off from clicking on “iPhone” in the nav‘ and it looks like they weren’t.

Subtle changes can make a big difference.

In another experiment, IGN, moved the navigation link ‘Videos from the right side of the navigation to a more prominent spot on the left side. This resulted in 93% drop in clicks for that link. That’s a pretty staggering number. Much of that can be explained in users being accustomed to the link being on the right but as I site owner you expect that your audience could easily find it on the left. This example shows us that we don’t know everything.

Search Engine Marketing – A/B Testing

Redline SEO Services, a Phoenix SEO company recently did a A/B testing for us. If your not familiar with A/B testing it allows you to test out your search engine marketing (SEM) changes on your site. Running different versions of a landing page and testing different keywords can help you better understand what words or terms site visitors respond to. In the world of paid online advertising making every dollar count is crucial.

Email Marketing – A/B Testing

A/B testing is not constrained to just your website, your email marketing can benefit from running these tests as well. Campaign Monitor ran an email marketing test where it clearly showed which email was more effective. They changed the copy in the last link in the email and it made a big difference.

Start Testing Content TODAY!

If you aren’t running any tests on your site, your email marketing or any other aspects of how you market your product or service you should. As a business person you are immersed in what you do but you may not understand how your audience thinks online. Personal interaction with your clients or consumers will show you all kinds of information but when someone visits your site and clicks all around you can’t simply ask that person why they did what they did but you can present them with different scenarios and see how they react.

Of course this will either cost time and/or money on your part but if it gives you a better understanding on how and why people do business with you it is money well spent. A well-oiled machine can run for a long time, the question is how is your machine running?

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Facebook: the new media outlet. And why that sucks.

UPDATED: As hoped, Facebook has changed the rules I outlined below for promoted posts. Now, instead of requiring a page to have 400 likes to promote a post (to ensure all your followers are actually seeing that post), a business page only needs 100 likes. Granted, you still have to get to 100, but that’s far more achievable. Put promoted posts back in the marketing budget for your smaller companies, folks!

Facebook has consistently made changes over the years, but the latest changes are a money grab, and they’re leaving small businesses out in the cold in some cases.

While you may be keeping up with the Instagram privacy debacle (owned by Facebook) as well as Facebook’s messaging cash cow idea, you may have missed how some of the current changes have a real-world impact on small businesses.

Let me give you a true scenario to paint the picture. I was recently attempting to launch a campaign on behalf of a small client with a niche demographic, and realized these ugly truths:

1. Business page posts are seen by only a percentage of those who “like” a page. Facebook changed the algorithm on user’s timelines this year, stating that the content they believe each user finds most important will rise to the top of their timeline. So, if someone likes your page, but tends to talk to Shirley, Rose, and grandma most, your posts likely won’t show up. How will they learn about your latest specials or newest products? They’ll have to actively seek it.

A couple of months ago, when I looked at post stats for the client in question, the number of people who actually saw each post was about 15-20% of the total people who liked the page.

2. So the clever solution prior to today? Pay for promoted posts to ensure all your fans see it. Of course! Brilliant. When I looked at doing so two months ago, I’d only have to spend about $3 per post to ensure all followers saw it. It still seemed a bit underhanded to force a business’ hand to pay in order to be seen, but the inexpensiveness for this small client made it a decent compromise. Especially since we didn’t want folks to miss out on the most popular deal of the year.

Then the rules changed again…

3. Oh snap: small businesses can no longer pay for promoted posts if they have <400 likes. [UPDATE – SEE THE TOP OF THIS POST]. It’s not even an option. So, imagine you’re a small business starting out, you only have 100 likes so far, and you need to spread the word organically. You’re not going to accomplish it on Facebook, because only a percentage of the people who actually like your page will see your posts. That equates to fewer people to help spread the word about you. AND you now have no option to post to every fan via a paid option. You’re swimming against the tide.

What do you do now? Well, you can buy Facebook advertising in the hopes of getting more likes, or utilize a service that buys likes (which can often be fake accounts, so what’s the point?). But let’s just say you take this route…

4. You finally get to 400 likes, now what? You pay more. Now that you’ve reached 400 likes, yay! You can pay to have every one of them see your posts via promoted posts. Finally. BUT…Facebook charges by number of people who like your page. The more likes, the more you’ll pay for a promoted post. So now that you’re at 400, your cost went up. Imagine you have a tens of thousands of followers, but are still only getting to a small percentage of them and want to promote a post. Ouch!

And if you bought a service to get more likes for your page, you’re now advertising to a percentage of folks who aren’t real leads. Your cost per acquisition just went up.

Added *bonus*: Facebook is launching autoplay video ads in the Spring of 2013. In case you missed it earlier this week, it appears Facebook is going to allow advertisers to disrupt the user experience with video ads that automatically play, just like you’d experience watching TV, Hulu, or reading some online news sites.

Facebook in its need to profit has quickly become a media outlet rather than a social media platform. We were all big fans of it back in the day because it allowed small businesses with small budgets to grow organically from a local fan base.

But those days are apparently gone, at least in this marketer’s view. I’m sure what I’ve written here will become obsolete in the coming weeks as Facebook makes even more changes, but I can guess they’ll still be going for the gold in them thar hills. As for our client? Facebook will get less attention in the marketing mix. Time and money are probably best spent elsewhere.

Do you think Facebook is still a viable marketing tool for small businesses? And if so, what creative ways around these new challenges have worked for you?

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