A/B testing or “split testing” is a favorite weapon in the arsenal of today’s performance-oriented technical marketer. Intelligent link management services have now baked this incredibly insightful tactic directly into the URL, unleashing the floodgates on the creative new ways this tool can be used.
A/B Testing and the URL
At the most basic level, A/B testing is simply the practice of comparing two versions of something by testing a subject’s response to one version, “A,” against a second version, “B,” then measuring which has the best performance. It’s an extremely effective way to continually optimize things like web pages, email campaigns, ad campaigns, and other forms of online media. Optimizely has a great post explaining some of the more common ways A/B testing is used.
With links, you’re sending a user to a specific location on the web whenever they click. This presents an amazing opportunity to introduce a variable and test a hypothesis. That variable is the link’s destination.
Intelligent links give you the ability to create a scenario where a link doesn’t always direct to the same destination. A controlled A/B testing scenario can be manufactured by building a URL that directs users to one of multiple destinations when the link is clicked.
How Does it Work?
When you create an intelligent link to perform A/B testing, multiple different destinations are specified where the link will route the user. A frequency is also specified to determine what percentage of clicks will be sent to each destination.
For example, let’s say you want to test a hypothesis to see how sending traffic to destination A converts against destination B. You build the link identifying both A and B as destinations, and specify that you want 50% of clicks to go to destination A, and the other 50% to go to destination B. With some services, you can even expand this beyond just A and B and specify way more destinations. You could specify 5 destinations and route 20% of clicks to each, or 10 destinations and route 10% to each. Using more destinations is probably not the most helpful as it starts to dilute any statistically significant results, but the capabilities are there.
To illustrate, here is an example of a geni.us link for Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: http://geni.us/41H8. Try clicking it several times and you’ll see that half the time it brings you to a purchase page on amazon.com, and the other half it sends you to barnesandnoble.com.
Why is This Important to Marketers?
The use cases for A/B testing with links are only limited by your imagination, but the fundamental value lies in being able to test a hypothesis in a highly controlled manner. By altering the end destination of a link, and keeping everything else exactly the same, you can perform a highly accurate test about how one destination performs against the other.
Let’s say you’re a product marketer for Acme Corporation and you’re launching a social media blitz campaign promoting your latest and greatest wizzy widget. You have gathered your marketing budget, queued up your targeted audiences via each social channel, and are just about ready to launch. However, you don’t know whether it’s best to focus your campaign on directing most of your buyers to purchase the wizzy widget on Amazon, or your own e-commerce store. Maybe your margins are slightly higher by sending your customers to Acme Corp’s website, but you have a suspicion that conversions may be so much higher with Amazon (due to prime shipping, customer affinity, etc.), that it may produce more bottom line revenue to focus on Amazon.
This is a perfect opportunity to do some A/B testing with a link. You can test your hypothesis by running a sample campaign with an intelligent link that sends 50% of the clicks to Amazon and 50% to Acme Corp’s e-commerce website. Since everything in the campaign is exactly the same except the storefront someone lands on when they click on your link, you should be able to run the campaign and pull out measurable results regarding which storefront makes Acme Corp the most money. Now you’re armed with the marketing intelligence to make the new wizzy widget the best selling widget of all time!
Where do I Find It?
Currently, there are two link management services providing links with A/B testing capabilities. These companies are BudURL, and your’s truly, Geniuslink.