Should You Use A/B Split Testing or Usability Testing?

by Firesnap, Inc. | 4 MIN READ


Most marketers today know how important a/b testing is to the success of their inbound marketing strategies.

Going by intuition or opinions can lead to disastrous results, which is why analytics and testing capabilities have become a central facet to virtually all digital marketing campaigns.

But what type of testing is most effective?

Should you use A/B split testing or usability testing?

The answer depends on your particular goals.

About A/B Testing

You may be familiar with A/B testing - a technique in which two almost identical types of marketing or advertising assets are pitted against each other.

Only a single factor, such as the featured image or the headline, is different. The audience is split up randomly, with half receiving the 'control' group and the other getting exposed to the slightly different message.

Based on audience engagement and responses, you can gauge which version performs better, and focus your efforts and budget more successfully on the winner.

About Usability Testing

Usability testing is a less focused, more qualitative way of testing the success of your marketing messages.

You observe members of your target audience as they're exposed to the message you're testing, and draw conclusions from their reactions.

Using this method, you can get more in-depth insight into complex processes, but without the statistical relevance to draw firm conclusions.

Finding the Right Testing Type

The above explanations on both types of tests begin to illuminate their differences, and ideal uses.

If you need to test a large project, such as a new app or website, A/B testing won't get you far. Because it relies on changing only a single variable at a time, you would have to run a long series of test just to get reasonably relevant results.

Usability testing, on the other hand, does not lend itself as well to fine-tuning individual ads or emails within your campaign. If you are simply wondering whether a certain image or text works better than its alternatives, A/B testing is clearly your best choice.

In other words, knowing which of the two tests to use depends in large part on the situation and item you need tested. Early in your marketing plan, when entire concepts and strategic elements need to be tested, a usability test will give you the most valuable insights.

By the time you get to specific messages and tactics within your marketing plan, an A/B test (or series of A/B tests) will be more effective in guiding you toward success.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Another way to determine whether A/B or usability is the test for you, consider their core difference: one is a quantitative method, while the other is qualitative.

Are you looking for statistically relevant results, or in-depth insights into the minds of your audience?

Go with A/B testing for the former, and usability testing for the latter.

Time Constraint Awareness

Finally, an important criteria to evaluate when choosing between the two testing methods is the time you have available.

Usability tests can be done quickly, as long as you have access to representative members of your target audience. A/B tests, on the other hand, require a set timeframe to ensure statistically relevant results.

Are you building your marketing strategy, and in need of testing to ensure its success?

Both usability and A/B testing will likely be helpful to improve your efforts.

Testing is just one of many facets within any successful inbound marketing campaign.

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Originally published May 24, 2016. Updated November 28, 2017.