A/B Testing and Usability: The Ultimate Guide from A to B

Your gut knows quite a bit about business does it?

Although many business people have been known to brag about following their gut, it’s probably not the best way to make money, especially in the 21st century.

After all, we’re living in a time where information means money. If you’re following your gut whenever making decisions, a competitor is out there making the same decisions based on testing, stats and evidence.

Therefore, you have a rather small chance of defeating someone like that.

Whether you’re trying to sell a product, service, new website, app, blog or a newsletter, your testing should generally involve some sort of A/B testing and usability testing.

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is more commonly known than usability testing, mainly because of the A/B testing tools we can find in eCommerce platforms, website design software and email marketing systems.

In short, A/B testing takes two versions of a digital element, like a webpage, landing page, sign up form or email newsletter and tests them against each other.

Unbounce: Run Unlimited A/B Tests on Your Landing Pages

A/B testing serves as an unbiased experiment, placing two similar items in front of users, and seeing which one the users respond to the best.

For example, let’s say your eCommerce company just released a new shoe line. You’ve made a landing page, but you’re curious as to whether or not people will respond better to a blue or red call to action button. Therefore, you make one version blue and the other red.

A randomized selection of the users are shown each, then the A/B testing app being used delivers the results of the test.

If you see that 20% clicked on blue and only 13% clicked on red, you’d have far more knowledge about the button’s effectiveness as opposed to going with your gut.

A/B testing allows business people to make educated decisions when it comes to online design. Otherwise, we’re merely speculating and trying to make sense of stats that might not necessarily give you a look into what design elements are most effective.

What is Usability Testing?

Where A/B testing is more for design (particularly when marketing your products or services,) usability testing is more about evaluating a product or app with its users.

The goal is to take a product, give it to the users and see if they find it easy to use. Usability testing can also be done for marketing materials and websites.

The main difference between A/B testing and usability testing is that with A/B tests you’re presenting two variations of a product or design to random customers.

Usability testing, on the other hand, only presents one version of the product. This way, an observer can monitor the user’s movement and identify when they have problems or questions.

When Do A/B and Usability Testing Come Together?

Now that we’ve established the differences between the two, it’s time to show you exactly when both can be used together.

In general, usability testing happens before A/B testing. Let’s say we have a brand new eCommerce website that needs to be tested by actual beta users.

Therefore, we implement a program that allows us to monitor users in real-time. We watch as hundreds of users progress through the interface. Everything looks pretty good along the way. However, a large majority of the users seem to have trouble when it comes to checking out from the shopping cart.

That’s a huge problem, so we mark down that the shopping cart needs work.

Next, we pass over the feedback to the developers. We ask them to present us with two variants of the new shopping cart for A/B testing. The developers have cut out many of the steps that users had problems with before.

The A/B test evaluates how many fields we should put in the customer information form. After the test it turns out we get far more conversions when the fields are decreased by one or two.

Putting Usability Testing Into Action

What some people don’t know is that there are several different types of usability testing. Some are more effective than others, while others are seen to be a little less biased than others. For example, one of them requires you to put a microphone in front of the users, asking them to talk about what they’re doing, notifying the business whether or not they’re having trouble.

The benefit is that you get to hear everything the user is thinking, and you receive a full recording of it to look back and make decisions based on the recording. However, it’s also a little unnatural to have someone talking about what they’re doing online. You wouldn’t talk yourself through the browsing experience in real life, so it could cause some less authentic responses.

Here are some other forms of Usability Testing:

  • Automated tools that keep costs low and log online movements. This can utilize recordings as well, but in general it has things like heat maps and click markings.
  • Cameras and voice recorders are often used if a company has more money to spend. These are great for seeing physical responses and evaluating even the littlest facial responses to your website. However, like stated before, there are problems with this.
  • One of the most popular options today is the real time view of the user’s screen. This can be somewhat costly, but it delivers lots of valuable information.

What Can A/B and Usability Testing Be Used For?

Any company with an online presence can take advantage of these tests. Heck, you don’t even have to spend money if you’re on a budget and would like to run some watered down A/B or usability tests. For example, MailChimp offers A/B testing in its free plan. You can also ask your friends or family to test out your website or app and use a screen recording app to monitor their movements and actions.

What else can A/B and usability testing be used for?

  • Seeing which version of an email newsletter you should send out.
  • Finding the perfect format for an eCommerce email receipt.
  • Testing the effectiveness of your eCommerce shopping cart and checkout process.
  • Testing out different designs and formats for an email sign up form.
  • Figuring out the ideal design for a landing page.
  • Understanding what customers want out of a product page.
  • Seeing if your customers are interested in a mobile app.

Tools for A/B and Usability Testing

  • Unbounce – This is a tool for building your own landing pages without much effort. Unbounce has always been my choice for landing pages, since it has beautiful templates, plenty of other features and the perfect set of tools for A/B testing. The app doesn’t offer anything in terms of usability testing, but you can generally use one of the other services below for that.
  • Optimizely – This gives you both A/B and usability testing, along with an incredible suite of online marketing and conversion tools. Optimizely is all about experimentation, so you’re able to connect with users, run your tests and receive solid results to make decisions in the future. Not to mention, the pricing is pretty flexible.
  • CrazyEgg – CrazyEgg has both A/B and usability testing as well. The heatmaps are wonderful to see where people are getting caught up on your site, and the sharing options come in handy when you’re working with a large group of people.
  • Five Second Test – The Five Second Test website has been around for quite some time. It’s a usability testing module where you upload your website and ask random users to give you feedback. The point is for them to look at your website in five seconds and decide whether or not they’ve been sold or not. Quite often the feedback is rather useful, and you don’t have to spend a dime to use it. However, if you want A/B testing they have that for a price.
  • Usabilla – I would argue this is the most effective app for evaluating how users view your website. It integrates into your site, allowing you to ask users which elements they find good or bad. For example, you might send out an email newsletter every week. If that’s the case, you can insert a Usabilla ratings module towards the end of the email. This asks users what they think of the email, presenting valuable information on how you can improve the newsletter.

Are You Ready to Start Testing?

The world of A/B testing and usability testing has transformed the way we do business. No longer do we have to make decisions based on a “feeling.” Furthermore, business people don’t have to get together expensive focus groups to see how people respond to websites. It’s all there in the testing and the numbers, allowing us to make evaluations on our own.

In fact, some might argue that the most successful online business people are almost always going to be those who take advantage of A/B testing and usability testing.

Thanks for reading along with us, and feel free to drop a line in the comments sections below. We love hearing from those who have other thoughts on A/B testing and usability.


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