What is A/B testing?

In marketing and business intelligence, A/B testing is a term for a randomized experiment with two (or more) variants, A and B, which are the control and treatment in the controlled experiment. It is a form of statistical hypothesis testing with two variants leading to the technical term, Two-sample hypothesis testing, used in the field of statistics. Other terms used for this method include bucket tests and split testing but these terms have a wider applicability to more than two variants. In online settings, such as web design (especially user experience design), the goal is to identify changes to web pages that increase or maximize an outcome of interest (e.g., click-through rate for a banner advertisement). Formally the current web page is associated with the null hypothesis.

As the name implies, two versions (A and B) are compared, which are identical except for one variation that might affect a user’s behavior. Version A might be the currently used version (control), while Version B is modified in some respect (treatment). For instance, on an e-commerce website the purchase funnel is typically a good candidate for A/B testing, as even marginal improvements in drop-off rates can represent a significant gain in sales. Significant improvements can sometimes be seen through testing elements like copy text, layouts, images and colors,[1] but not always. The vastly larger group of statistics broadly referred to as Multivariate testing or multinomial testing is similar to A/B testing, but may test more than two different versions at the same time and/or has more controls, etc. Simple A/B tests are not valid for observational, quasi-experimental or other non-experimental situations, as is common with survey data, offline data, and other, more complex phenomena.

A/B testing has been marketed by some as a change in philosophy and business strategy in certain niches, though the approach is identical to a between-subjects design, which is commonly used in a variety of research traditions. A/B testing as a philosophy of web development brings the field into line with a broader movement toward evidence-based practice.