A/B Split Testing Basics

Online marketing for higher education is about always pushing things forward – finding those incremental gains that can bring in more inquiries with each tweak or optimization. In an industry with the long lead time like education, testing for the perfect mix of messaging, creative, page design, and more is key. It can be the difference between a prospect requesting information and bouncing to a competitor school.

That’s where A/B ads testing comes in. It’s a concept well known among data-loving marketers as a means of providing greater insight into digital advertising campaigns, and coaxing greater results out of the efforts to promote your school and programs. User behavior is recorded from the top of the funnel to the bottom, dictating winners among copy, colors, placements, and more. Creativity is no longer an effort left to the decisions of marketers. With hundreds of thousands of instant user reactions, data transforms the marketing landscape from an art form, to one being painted with a smart, statistically-aware paintbrush.

Wondering what to A/B test when it comes to digital advertising for your school? Here are a few basic insights to keep in mind:

Test One Thing at a Time

There is no limit to the components of an ad or landing page you can test. This can cause a temptation to test too many elements at once. For a true split test, plan to test one piece of an ad at a time and compare performance and analytics results. If you test two ad headlines against each other and use different images to match, it will be difficult to decipher if the image or the ad headline made the difference to your prospective students. In short – make your test black and white, and then move on to the next.

Gather Enough Data

To make any decisions from split test results, statistical significance is key. This is especially true for higher education, where a decision to convert may take weeks or months. So you’ll need to collect data for long enough to prove that out. Make sure your test runs for a significant period and reaches enough users in order to apply their preference to a greater sample size. Run these tests at the beginning of your campaign with a solid burst of activity so you can spend the remainder focusing on only the A/B winner for more efficient results. Remember, the beginning stages of any digital advertising campaign are meant for optimization and testing.

Continue to Test

The education space is always changing and adapting, as are your prospective students. With every new platform revision or algorithm change comes a new shift in the marketing realm. Whether Google updates the way conversion attribution is measured, or Facebook changes the ways ads can be targeted, it’s a rookie mistake to ignore industry changes and their effect on prospective students. Continue to test against emerging trends, platform updates, and audience behaviors.

Build Off Your Winners

The beauty of A/B testing is that opportunities for improvement are never over. Until you are hitting 100% conversion rate, there are always incremental gains to be made. The best way to find these gains is to constantly test off of previous winners. The winner of a test sets the new baseline for performance. Based on that, find the next element to tweak and test and see whether that produces another gain in performance. If not, you still have the baseline to return to. But this allows you to always be finding ways to bring in more high-quality inquiries, and gives a good roadmap of what to be testing next.

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