Startups Take A/B Testing Beyond Silicon Valley
Two new startups are putting a powerful online tool for increasing profits — once available only to big, high-tech companies — into the hands of smaller, less tech-savvy businesses. For customers, it may mean a future in which they're constantly acting as test subjects, even for the smallest $2 cellphone games or niche blogs.
Google is one of the best-known devotees of the tool, called A/B testing. In a Google A/B test, visitors to a Google site are randomly and automatically directed to one of two or more variations on the original webpage. The variations all have just one change in them. In 2009, the search company sent visitors to one of 41 versions of Google.com, each trying out a different shade of blue in its search bar. The blue that won was the shade that garnered the most clicks, and thus the most revenue, for Google.
A/B tests can apply to everything from individual webpages to ads to the difficulty of a level in a game. The tool helps companies and political campaigns maximize their revenues, but it's not as easy to deploy as it is to explain, as Wired reported in April. The companies that perform A/B testing often devote many programmers and statisticians to setting up the tests and analyzing the results. Longtime A/B testers tend to be big tech places, such as Amazon and Netflix.
But now, startups Swrve and Optimizely are bringing the tool to smaller outfits and to companies that don't normally hire programmers for A/B testing. The new software sets up tests and crunches numbers for their clients, so users never have to do their own programming. Instead, they interact with an easy-to-use dashboard. Co.DESIGN has a photo of what Swrve's dashboard looks like.
Optimizely's clients include Kiva, a nonprofit microloan provider; Cheezburger, the Internet home of LOLcats; and larger companies, such as Starbucks and ABC News. Swrve, which was built especially for gamemakers, serves "some of the top grossing apps in the iPhone" as well as game giant Activision Blizzard, Forbes reported.
Wired covered how A/B testing changes the culture at companies. It remains to be seen how customers will respond to more widespread testing and more data-proven ways to make people buy.