Website Personalization vs A/B Testing - A Marketer’s Perspective

What marketers need to know about the differences between A/B testing and website personalization when creating customer experiences.

Today, marketing professionals have many tools at their disposal to make the digital experience delightful for visitors. Personalization of the user journey is a major factor in achieving this. Users agree that personalization has a significant impact on their purchasing decisions. Infosys reports, "Almost one-third of consumers wish their shopping experience was more personalized than it currently is.” 

Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to make those sought after personalized experiences a reality and launch customized experiences across multiple channels. Using Acquia Personalization, brands now have the ability to create delightful personalized experiences for their customers that go beyond a basic A/B test to deliver holistic, preference-based interactions.   

As a digital marketer and Acquia’s senior marketing web analytics manager, I define website personalization as, “providing the right content to the user at the right time based on their behavior and where they are in the customer journey." Personalization is a data-driven approach and marketers constantly use data to determine its effectiveness. Still, personalization is inherently different than the tried-and-true optimization strategy most digital marketers are familiar with - A/B testing.  

In A/B testing, performance of an element of a web page is tested for a set of users. Marketers are measuring if version A or B of the element performs better. For example, you can compare the click through rates of the same article on your site’s home page with two different thumbnail images. It is an effective and widely used method to test what features bring you more conversions. Typically, an A/B test is live for all of the visitors to the page. A more sophisticated approach to A/B testing can also take into account the source of the web traffic or previous actions on the website to decide if the visitor will be shown a variation of the default. 

Through constant testing, a marketer hopes to move the needle on the metric they are optimizing against. Usually that metric represents a conversion rather than the overall site experience.

Generally speaking, A/B testing softwares are not strong enough to carry out website personalizations, which are much more intricate and contain more variables to execute a fully successful campaign. So what are the key things marketers should keep in mind when designing website personalization, and how is the process different from A/B testing? 

Website personalization is different than A/B testing in the sense that it allows your whole website to be customized to a visitor based on their past interactions, stage in the customer journey, source of traffic, etc. An A/B test is carried out for a single page element and personalization generally spans various pages of the site and multiple elements. 

A major goal of website personalization is figuring out who your users are, and then personalizing the website experience for them based on what you’ve learned. For example, an organization can have offices in multiple countries. Through personalization, marketers can customize the experience of users based on their location.

Personalization allows you to show them upcoming events happening in their area or deliver content specific to their region. With a robust tool like Acquia Profile Manager, you can build a profile of your website visitor based on their interactions with the website and CRM data. These profiles go beyond the standard demographic information and allow you to fully visualize the unique content and segments that each visitor to your website is experiencing. 

In summary: Website personalization depends on knowing your users at a deeper level than A/B testing. Website personalization is carried out with the user (and their profile) in mind - whereas A/B testing is based on hypothesis.

Here are some major differences between the two methods:  

A/B Testing

Website Personalization

Past data about the user is not necessary

Previous data about the user is crucial to success

You do not need a 360 degree view to carry out A/B tests

360 degree view helps you create great personalization 

Integration with CRM software is not necessary 

Integration with CRM software helps in carrying out more advanced personalizations

Usually one element of a page is tested

Personalization can span multiple elements and multiple pages

Once changes are finalized - they are the same for all users

Different users can have different experiences

Now that you know the basic differences between A/B testing and website personalization, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments on Twitter @ol_PK.


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