Using A/B testing as a marketing strategy is not new. In fact, it was used routinely in the pre-internet era to conduct small tests by direct mail marketers, who would send a tiny fraction of print to their contact lists before committing to the massive cost of printing and mailing a campaign.
Nowadays, the technique is just as important to marketers across the globe who want to refine their content marketing and advertising strategies on the fly. The true beauty of A/B testing in the digital age is its agility – any time you have a hunch, or question-related to your strategy, social testing can be easily implemented, helping support your next steps.
Whilst there are endless articles online about creating the best social ads, the truth is that the best way to reach your audience will be unique to you. That’s why we’re big advocates for the importance of A/B testing here at Colour Me Social.
So, we thought we’d compile a guide to starting with A/B testing paid social. Whether you’re trying to secure more clicks and conversions or improve engagement, we’ll show you how to use A/B testing to get great results for paid social ads.
What exactly is A/B testing?
Let’s drill down into the basics.
A/B testing, also known as split testing or conversion optimisation, is the process of running versions of ads that are different from one another in only one aspect. These two versions are then sent to a small percentage of your total audience – half get version A, half get version B. Testing two versions means you can find out which works best – the winning message is determined by success metrics like opens or clicks. Think of it as survival of the fittest.
It’s a simple concept. However, the countless variations you can build into social ads requires marketers to be very precise. Without precision, you may end up wasting budget and garner no significant insights.
A/B testing can be used to answer key questions about your social ads, helping you identify the strongest messages, the best time of day to post, or the most effective call-to-action.
A/B testing lets the data show you what’s working and what’s not. It’s deeply rooted in your campaign, rather than relying on blanket best practices or other people’s benchmarks. Therefore, before you start running A/B tests, we suggest you get the following five key details down. This work will help you identify the most important areas to focus on when it comes to testing.
- An understanding of the overarching goals of your business
- Your current social strategy, including your general goals for each platform
- An understanding of your audience for each platform
- An overview of your current performance across all channels
- Your questions, hunches, feelings and ideas that you want to test
What can you A/B test?
Anything! Well, pretty much. Any variable element of your social media ads can be tested, but let’s take a look at some of the most common elements to test:
There are many variations you can try with your headline, post text and description. Just remember the A/B rule – make just one change for each test, otherwise, you won’t know which variation is working. Here are some considerations:
- Testing a formal approach vs more friendly language is a common A/B test. Think about the tone of voice you use and the words you pick – different phrases and punctuation can hugely impact click rates.
- Consider the use of emojis – dependent on your target audience they could be well received or could come across as unprofessional. If your audience is responding well to them, which emojis work best?
- Other useful tests could include the length of your ad, and the style of the copy itself – which will perform better – a question? A statement? Or perhaps even a statistic?
Layout variables depend on the platform you are using; some provide a lot of options that are well worth A/B testing. Facebook, for instance, offers multiple ad formats like carousel ads and lead ads. Test these against each other to see which your audience engage with the most.
Photos, graphics, illustrations – we know imagery is important in social ads, but which type will work best for your ad? Does a product image or video perform better? Will GIFs perform better than static images? Will images with brighter colours outperform those with dark colours? There are countless A/B tests you can run with your imagery.
This one is a little different – rather than showing variations of your post or ad to similar groups, you show the same advert to different audiences to see which gets a better response.
Test your assumptions, and find out if the persona you imagine matches the results you see when you run ads. Test a sample size by using the filtering characteristics to drill down into your audience, consider:
- Education Level
How to run an A/B test on social media adverts
Now’s the time to determine which two variants you want to test against each other, and to run your first A/B test.
Step 1: Decide on your goals
Knowing your objective is an essential first step when setting up your campaign. This will help you in planning your budget and in knowing what to test. A vital first step is defining what success means to you.
Step 2: Choose what to test
Look at your goals and let them guide your decision. Of course, you can (and probably should) run many iteration cycles you can run to find the best ad, so choose your goal with this in mind. For example, if you are optimising for overall impressions, your aim would likely be to get the lowest Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM). The main elements that affect the CPM are the targeted audience and the ad placement, so that is what you would start testing.
Step 3: Set your budget
A/B testing can involve many cycles, so it’s crucial to set your budget at the start of the process. Think about your targets, and make sure you factor in some wiggle room for ads that will underperform.
Step 4: Run your test
Once you’ve completed your test, take the best performing ad and scale up your spending to the full budget allocated towards that campaign. Alternatively, you can test it against another small variation to see if you can improve your results further.
Step 5: Report back
Finally, share what you learn throughout your team to build a library of best practices for your company.
A/B testing is a smart, quantifying process that should be the cornerstone of every social ad campaign. Using trial and error is a failproof method for achieving maximum conversion, and we highly recommend that you build it into your strategy.