The Hero’s Journey to an Amazing AB Testing Program

The road to AB Testing starts with a call to adventure. Will the hero in you answer?

We are often guilty of writing about the AB testing process as if it was something you can jump into and start doing. We believe an AB testing program can keep you from making expensive design mistakes and find hidden revenue that your competitors are currently getting. It’s not an overnight switch, however. It takes some planning and resources.

It’s a journey not unlike that taken by many heroes throughout history and mythology. We invite you to join the ranks of heroic journeymen.

The journey looks something like this: You befriend a helpful stranger who gives you something magical. Soon, you are called to adventure by events beyond your control. When you act, you enter a strange new world and must understand it. You are set on a journey to right some wrong. Allies and helpers work with you to move past trials and tests. Your magical talisman helps you understand what to do. With patience you gather your reward and return home, the master of two worlds.

Consider this blog post a harbinger of the adventure that awaits you. Here are the things you’ll encounter on your journey.

Executive Champion: Magical Helper

Every hero story involved some kind of “supernatural help”. In the story of the Minotaur, Ariadne gave Theseus the golden string to find his way out of the Minotaur labyrinth. In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi gave Luke Skywalker a light saber showing him how to dodge blaster shots and face Darth Vader.

Each barrier in your path to an amazing AB testing program will have obstacles, and each obstacle will require a little magical help. This is the role of your executive champion. Your executive can impart to you special gifts, such as the Magical Elixir of Budget, the Red Tape Cleaver: Blessed Blade of Freedom, as well as the One Ring of Power to rule them all…but let’s not get carried away.

In my experience – and I’d like to hear yours – AB testing is not something that can be done “under the radar” until you have some successes. Use this post to guide you, prepare a presentation, and convince someone with pull to support your efforts.

Traffic: The Call to Adventure

It is when we finally have a steady, reliable stream of visitors that we are called to our hero’s journey. Traffic is like the taxes imposed by the Sherriff of Nottingham. The hero just can’t stand by and watch injustice.

Likewise, you must feel uncomfortable about having thousands of visitors coming to your site – most of them paid for – and then seeing 99% of them turn and leave. This is injustice at it’s most heartbreaking and a clear conversion optimization problem. Many companies will just up the Adwords budget to grow revenue. Heroes fight for the common visitor.

AB testing is a statistical approach to gathering data and making decisions. There is a minimum number of transactions you will want each month in order for your AB tests to reach statistical significance. In general, you can test an idea a month with 300 monthly transactions.

To see if you have the traffic and conversions, use our simple Conversion Upside Calculator. It will tell you how quickly you would expect a positive ROI on your AB testing program.

Analytics: Understanding the Unknown

Upon accepting the call to adventure, the hero will find herself in a strange new world. Here the rules she is so familiar with will no longer apply. She will see things differently. In the tale of The Frog Prince, a spoiled princess agrees to befriend a talking frog. In exchange the frog will retrieve her favorite golden ball from a deep pool. Upon making the deal, her world changes.

You, too, have lost your golden ball.

Most websites have Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Clicky, Mixpanel, or some other analytics package in place. I recommend that you not look at this as a scary forest full of strange tables, crooked graphs and unfathomable options. Instead, look at this as a constantly running focus group. It’s a collection of answers to your most pressing questions.

You should get to know your web analytics tools, but don’t get wrapped around the axel thinking you need to have fancy dashboards and weekly updates. That’s the work of admins.

Instead, sit down with a specific question you want to answer, and figure out how to drill deep into it.

“Where are visitors entering our website?”

“How long are they staying?”

“Which pages seem to cause the most trouble?”

“Are buyers of Product A acting different from buyers of Product B?”

“How important is site search to our visitors?”

This gives you amazing cosmic powers to make decisions that otherwise would have been coin tosses.

Hypothesis List: The Yellow Brick Road

One of our favorite hero stories is that of Dorothy and her journey through the Kingdom of Oz. This is a favorite because it has all of the elements of the hero’s journey. Our hero’s journey needs a path to follow. Just as Dorothy was told to follow the yellow brick road to Oz, our hypothesis list is our path to AB testing success.

As you become more familiar with analytics, you will have many ideas sliding out of your head. Ideas are like the slippery fish in an overflowing barrel. You probably already have a lot of questions about how things are working on your site. You’ve probably collected dozens of ideas from well-meaning coworkers.

It can be overwhelming.

The magical helper for unbounded ideas is called the Hypothesis List. It is like Don Quixote’s Rocinante. It is your powerful steed on which you can rely to carry you through your journey to testing. By building out this Hypothesis List, you will eliminate ideas that aren’t testable, refine ideas that are, and rank them based on expected ROI.

If AB testing tells you which of your ideas are good ones, the Hypothesis List tells you which are most likely to be good ones.

Ideas are not Hypotheses

A Hypothesis is an “educated guess”. To be a hypothesis, an idea must be somewhat educated: informed by data, supported by experience, or born from observation. Any idea that begins with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” is probably not a hypothesis.

When you take an idea, and try to write it into the format of a hypothesis, you quickly realize the difference. Here’s the format of a hypothesis:

If we [make a change], we expect [a desirable result] as measured by [desired outcome].

The change is a modification to copy, layout, navigation, etc. that tests a hypothesis. it is insufficient to say “Get more clicks on Add to Cart”. You must state a specific change, such as, “Increase the size of the Add to Cart button”.

The result is a desired outcome. For most tests, the desired out come is a bottom-line benefit.

  • “increase transactions”
  • “decrease abandonment”
  • “increase phone calls”
  • “increase visits to form page”
Soft results such as “increase engagement” are popular, but rarely correlate to more leads, sales or subscribers.

The outcome is usually the metric by which you will gauge the success of the test.

  • Revenue per Visitor
  • Lead Conversion Rate
  • Form Abandonment Rate

The ROI Prioritized Hyptohesis List Spreadsheet

Download your copy of the spreadsheet we use to prioritize winning test ideas.

  • List and categorize your ideas
  • Rate and rank to find “Low Hanging Fruit”
  • Place into buckets to identify key issues.

Many of your ideas will spawn several detailed hypotheses. Many ideas will simply die from lack of specificity.

Too Many Ideas

It is not unusual to have more ideas than you can manage. Nonetheless, it makes sense to capture them all. A simple Excel spreadsheet does the trick for collecting, sorting and ranking.

Too Few Ideas

It may be hard to believe, but you will run out of good hypotheses faster than you know. Plus, there are many hypotheses that will never be obvious to you and your company because as the old saying goes, “You can’t read the label from inside the bottle.”

This is where focus groups, online user testing sites, surveys, and feedback forms play an important role. Too many marketers use input from the qualitative sources as gospel truth. This is a mistake. You’re working toward an AB testing process that will let you test this input.

Ranking by Expected ROI

We recommend ranking your hypotheses so that the “low hanging fruit” bubbles up to the top. Our ROI Prioritized Hypothesis List ranks them based on four criteria, all ranked on a scale of one to five:

  1. Level of Effort: How difficult is this to test and implement?
  2. Traffic Affected: How much traffic will this hypothesis affect, and how important is that traffic?
  3. Proof: How much evidence did we see in analytics and other tools that this hypothesis really is a problem?
  4. Impact: Based on my experience and knowledge, how big of an impact do I really think this hypothesis can drive?

Once you’ve plugged a value in for these criteria for each hypothesis, add 2, 3 and 4 and subtract 1. That’s the weight of each hypothesis. The higher the weight, the lower the fruit hangs.

The Scarecrow: JavaScript Developer

Every hero has helpers, allies and maybe even a sidekick. You are no exception. Dorothy had the Scarecrow, the first ally she met on the banana-colored road to Oz. The Scarecrow had an amazing brain, but didn’t really know it.

At the end of your journey, you are going to have complete control of your website. You won’t need to put requests into IT. You will have the power to change your website for every visitor because the change happens in the visitor’s browser. Each visitor gets the same website from the server. It’s the JavaScript that instantly transforms what they see into a test treatment, something different and measureable.

Your JavaScript developer will be your Scarecrow. This person must be comfortable with JavaScript, HTML, CSS, the browser DOM and cross-browser issues. This person will enable you to make changes that put your hypotheses to the test.

The Tin Man: Designer

Dorothy was also befriended by the man who didn’t know he had a heart on the way to Oz.

You’ll want  a designer that isn’t interested in redesigning your pages. All you need is a designer who can change portions of a page. It may be a design change as simple as a new image, or as complex as a new page layout.

Avoid designers who like to add to their egos to your design.

The Lion: Copywriter

I made the copywriter the lion in this journey because writing and defending bold headlines and copy takes courage. Like Dorothy’s friend, the cowardly lion, most copywriters have been taught to write business speak to online visitors. They have PTSD from having their copy bled on by executives. This won’t work in testing.

Your copywriter needs to be able to writer for personas. He must be brave enough to create “corner copy”, or headlines that test the extremes of emotion, logic, spontaneity and deliberateness.

One of our biggest winning headlines was “Are you ready to stop lying? We can help.” It took bravery to write and defend this headline that delivered a 43% increase in leads for an addiction treatment center.

Tests and Trials: QA Methodology

Every hero is tested. Villains and the universe put obstacles in place to test the hero’s resolve. You, too, will be tested when you realize that you don’t have just one website. You have ten or twenty. Or thirty.

Your website renders differently in each browser. Safari looks different from Chrome. Internet Explorer seems to be dancing to it’s own HTML tune.

Your website renders differently on smaller screens. Smartphones, phablets, tablets and 4K monitors squeeze and stretch elements until your HTML and CSS snap.

Your website renders differently based on your connection. Fast Wi-Fi is often not available to your mobile visitors. Your development team is probably testing on fast Wi-Fi.

The permutations of these issues means that you can’t design for one site, even if you have responsive design.

Add to this JavaScript that moves things around on each of these different websites, and you have the potential to bring some of your visitors to an unusable website.

Quality Assurance, or QA is your defense against your new-found responsibility.

At Conversion Sciences, we go to the extreme of purchasing devices and computers that let us test a the most common browsers, screen sizes and operating systems.

Conversion Sciences' QA station
Conversion Sciences’ QA station

There are a number of sites that will provide simulators of a variety of devices, browsers and OSes. These have names like BrowserStack, Sauce Labs, and Litmus.

How do you know which of these you should be QAing on? Your analytics database, of course. Look it up.

Magical Help: AB Testing Tools

As we said above, your executive champion can bestow on you supernatural aids to help you in your journey. This is not the only source of magical helpers. Aladdin found the magic lamp in a Cave of Wonders.

Your magic lamp and “genie” are your AB testing tool. These marvelous tools make our agency possible. AB Testing tools have magical powers.

  • They inject JavaScript into our visitors’ browsers, allowing us to change our website without changing the backend.
  • They split traffic for us, letting us isolate individual segments of visitors to test.
  • They track revenue, leads and subscribers for us, so we know if our changes really generate more business for us.
  • They provide the statistical analysis that tells us when we can declare a winner in our tests.
  • They provide lovely graphs and reports.

The market leaders currently are Optimizely, Adobe Target, and Visual Website Optimizer (VWO). We have also used Convert.com, Maxymiser, Monetate and Marketizator to test websites.

We call these tools the “supreme court” of analytics. They control many of the variables that pollute data, and give us confidence that our changes will deliver more revenue, leads and subscribers to our clients.

The Belly of the Whale: Patience

The story of “Jonah and the Whale” appears in the Bible and Quran. In short, God asks Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah. Jonah hems and haws. So God arranges for Jonah to be swallowed by a big fish. After three days of apologizing, the whale spits Jonah out, and he begins his God-ordained journey.

It turns out that the belly of the whale is a theme in many hero myths. Like them, you will find yourself waiting and wondering as your tests slowly gather data. Some will go more slowly than others. Pressures from executives will mount. You must persevere.

Do not rush to make decisions, even if it looks like your test is going to deliver you a winner. Let the process run its course.

The Reward: Revenue, Subscribers and Leads

In the end, you will have winning hypotheses and losing hypotheses. Because you won’t launch the losers and will push live the winners, you’ll begin to collect your boon, your reward, your Benjamins.

Be sure to show off a bit. Toot your own horn. Heroes come home to fanfare and celebration. Let your organization know what your AB testing program is doing for them and revel in the glow of success.

Master of Two Worlds: AB Testing Program

Your journey has taken you from magical helpers to reward. Along the way you entered a new world, learned its rules, overcame tests and trials, and used magic to win the day.

You are now Master of Two Worlds: Master of the old world of pray marketing, and Master of the new world of data-driven marketing. This will be a career builder and a business boon.

This is everything you need to build your AB testing program. Conversion Sciences offers a ready-made turnkey conversion optimization program. Ask for a free strategy consultation an carve months off of your hero’s journey.

Post Signature

Brian Massey is the Founder and Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences. He is the author of Your Customer Creation Equation. His rare combination of interests, experience and neuroses were developed over almost 20 years as a computer programmer, entrepreneur, corporate marketer, international speaker and writer.