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How A/B Testing Can Improve Your Social Media Advertising

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Creatives play a huge role in the success of digital advertising campaigns on social media and beyond, and simple visual changes can often lead to an increase in clicks, leads, and even sales. As a result, finding out what works best for your brand’s ads can really give you an advantage. That’s where A/B testing comes in.

Every product, service, and offer is different. You may think you know exactly what your target market wants to see, but A/B tests can yield surprising results that might just prove you wrong—and help get your social media marketing on the right track. Read on to learn how to use A/B testing to improve the performance of your paid social media ads.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing is a simple user research tactic that determines what works best for your brand—a useful tool for determining what type of visual will perform. Here’s how it works. First, you divide your target audience—the people you want to see your ad or click through to your website—into equal groups. Then, you create a “control” ad, along with one or more “challenger” variations (B, C, D, etc.) to test. These test version can contain differences in copy, images, CTAs, and more.

It’s important to make sure you’re only testing one, single element (known as “the independent variable”) per target group. So, one A/B test might experiment with different headlines or teaser copy with the same image alongside each, while another retains the same copy throughout to test the effectiveness of imagery instead.

You’ll want to keep your key performance indicators (KPIs) in mind when you’re evaluating your test’s performance. For example, while a different headline might generate more traffic, it may not lead to more conversions—in which case your conversion rate is a stronger KPI than overall traffic. Conversely, a headline that only attracts qualified buyers may not attract a large volume of traffic. Always make sure you’re evaluating performance based on your goal for the content.

By systematically trying out several ad possibilities and measuring their engagement KPIs, future iterating becomes a much more strategic practice. In this way, A/B testing your ads on social can help boost web traffic, lower bounce rates, optimize your content offering, and even develop and fine‑tune your visual language.

A/B testing your promoted content

Successful ads depend on outstanding creative visuals. Users don’t generally scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter looking to see your product. You’re competing with editorial and user‑generated content as well as posts from people’s family and friends. That’s why ads have to stand out in a visual way with high‑quality photos, illustrations, and video footage. It’s the only way to slow the scroll.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and beyond all recommend updating campaign and ad imagery anywhere from once per week to once every month to avoid ad fatigue and overwhelming or frustrating your targeted viewers. If they keep seeing the same ad day after day, week after week, they’ll just ignore it. But a new and different image gives you an opportunity to grab their attention once again.
Updating your ad creative across social media and other marketing platforms presents the opportunity for A/B testing. Simultaneously running several ads with the same exact copy but different kinds of visuals across versions is a sure way to reveal which images resonate more with your particular audience, and which encourage them to click‑through.

For the A/B test to work, avoid using images that are too similar to one another. The visuals you use need to have clear differences if you want the experiment to yield useful insights. First, figure out what image types you want to test:

After you identify the general type of image or video that yields the best results on each specific platform you use, you can continue to refine your visuals. If you find that pictures of people work better than nature shots on one platform, for instance, you can then test further with images of different kinds of people engaged in different types of activities. And if landscapes or product shots seem to be performing better on a different digital space, then it makes sense to move in that direction on that particular platform.

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On iStock, advanced search filters make it possible to find images of any age range, from babies to senior citizens, for instance, or to search by the number of people you’d like to appear. And a few simple keywords like “macro detail” and “aerial” or “happy” and “frustrated” can help you test and optimize for further specifics like image perspective, mood, and other key elements.

How do you implement an A/B test?

Decide on a goal

First, you need to decide how you plan on evaluating the success of your A/B tests on each of your channels. If you are interested in awareness first and foremost, then engagements and comments can be great indicators of success. If you find you’re getting lots of conversions like newsletter sign‑ups or something similar, that can also serve as an A/B test goal.

Determine how many creative versions to test

The more variations on your content that you test, the better understanding you’ll have of what ads work and what ads don’t work for your brand. But it doesn’t make sense to just test as many variations as you feel like. To ensure that A/B test results are statistically significant, and not just up to chance, you need to have a certain number of conversions for each variant, as well as the control. A quick online search should get you to an online calculator that can help determine if you have enough data to achieve statistical significance and reach an informed conclusion.

Analyze the results

Setting up A/B tests on most social media platforms is pretty simple and requires little technical knowledge. For statistically significant results, it’s important to let your test run its course and not end it too early.

When the winner (or most engaging variation) presents itself, end the test and push that version to your greater audience. On larger teams, be sure to share your results internally and communicate what you learned so you’re using those optimized images in other areas of business like email marketing, landing pages, and beyond.

Iterate further

While one A/B test is running, it’s not too early to start thinking about the next one. And when a test might not lead to a clearly better option, you can experiment with a completely different set of elements in the next round. And when you do find the best kind of creative for each of your social media feeds, remember: It can just keep getting better with every round of testing.

Great creative commands attention, plain and simple. High‑quality photos, illustrations, and video footage are a must in modern marketing, and A/B testing can guide the way to a highly effective and engaging visual strategy. Discover how to elevate your social media marketing and more with the rich resources available at iStock.

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