How to Improve Your Website If Your Traffic is Too Low for A/B Testing

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low traffic

Are you trying to improve your website to gain more sales or leads? Frustrated because you wanted to try A/B testing but you don’t have enough traffic?

You are not alone. One of the questions I receive most from online businesses is how to improve their website if their traffic is too low for A/B testing.  Which is important because running A/B tests using tools like Visual Website Optimizer is one of the quickest ways to find which versions of your website increase sales or leads the most. But what happens if you don’t have enough traffic?

To help websites with low traffic (like small business websites), I’ve created a guide revealing how much traffic you need for A/B testing, and techniques to help you test and improve your website if you don’t have enough traffic. You will see that you don’t actually need an A/B testing tool to improve your website.

First, check if your traffic is too low to run an A/B test

Before we discuss others ways to improve your website if you don’t have enough traffic for A/B testing, it’s obviously important to first understand if you have enough traffic!

How much traffic do you need to run an A/B test on a web page?

To put it in very simple terms, you need at least 5,000 unique visitors per week to the page you want to run an A/B test on. If you don’t have this much traffic, it will take a long time (3 weeks or more, if ever) for your testing tool to gather enough data to find a statistically significant result. This handy A/B test length calculator gives you an idea of how many days it will take to get a result. Also, the more page variations you test, the more traffic you will need to get a result. But you need something else too…

Is it just about having enough website traffic to run an A/B test?

In a nutshell, no. Even more importantly, you also need enough ‘conversions’ on your website to run an A/B test. This is because to run a test, you need to tell the A/B testing tool what determines success, and this is usually a major goal like a purchase, a sign-up or a form completion. And the less conversions your website gets per week, the longer it will take the testing tool to find a winning result. As a guideline, your website needs at least 500 conversions per week for a simple A/B test (250 per test version).

What happens if I have enough traffic but not enough conversions?

If you have enough traffic to run an A/B test, but not enough conversions like sales or signups, then consider changing the conversion to be something simpler that happens more often, like a click to a specific next page in the purchase/signup flow to determine success. I will discuss ideas for this in more detail shortly.

How much traffic would I need to use a multivariate test (MVT)?

A multivariate test is an advanced A/B test, where your tool simultaneously tests multiple versions of different page elements (rather than simply testing one page or element versus another in an A/B test). This requires much greater levels of traffic, because the tool needs to show each combination of elements being tested to enough visitors to be able to build statistical significance. If you have low traffic, you simply won’t be able to run an MVT.

Try these techniques if you don’t have enough traffic

Don’t have enough traffic? Don’t give up hope about trying to improve your website! You can still use some techniques to increase the chances of you being able to run an A/B test, or use some alternative approaches to give you similar insights and website improvement results. Here are some great techniques to try:

a) Use an engagement A/B test success metric instead of orders or sign-ups.
As mentioned earlier, remember it’s not just about having enough traffic to run an A/B test – having enough conversions is even more important to be able to get a testing result. So if you use a A/B test success metric that happens very frequently like a click to a specific page (like the next page in your checkout) instead of orders, you will get more conversions, and therefore much greater chance of being able to get a result from an A/B test.

This works particularly well on  homepages for increasing engagement, using any click as the A/B test success metric. Other ideas for this are using ‘adds to cart’ instead of completed checkouts, or clicks to the sign-up page instead of completed sign-ups.  

b) Buy extra traffic for a short while to the page you want to test.
If you can afford it, the simplest technique is to just spend more on driving traffic to the page you want to to do an A/B test on. This way you hopefully get enough traffic to run an A/B test, and could be driven by using Google Adwords or Facebook Advertising (which I think is better and cheaper).

If you have a a very large email subscriber base, you could also try sending an email campaign that drives traffic to the page you want to test, which may result in enough traffic for you to run an A/B test. Not ideal as it’s just a quick traffic spike, but it can help increase traffic along with other methods.

c) Use Google Adwords to test and find high-converting wording.
With this technique, instead of creating an A/B test in a testing tool, you use Google Adwords split testing function to find which ad variations get most clicks of your headlines and wording that relate to the page you want to test. This is ideal for testing wording for benefits, call-to-actions and other important words on your website. Here are a few variations in Google Adwords to help illustrate this testing:

adwords testing

To do this, simply create a few different ads in Google Adwords that emphasize different headlines and descriptions, turn on the ad rotation function (for fairest results, use ‘rotate evenly’ option), and see which ad version gets the most clicks to your website. Then once you have found the winning ad, replicate that winning text on the page you wanted to test, and watch your conversions and sales grow! Here is a great guide that shows a company that used this with great results.

d) Use a landing page tool to test and find high-converting wording, imagery and call-to-actions.
As an even better option than using Google Adwords to run tests to improve your website, you can use a landing page tool that offers basic built-in testing functionality (if you can afford it).

To do this with a landing page tool, create a few simple pages that have different wording, imagery and call-to-actions relating to the page you wanted to test, and find out which version engages your visitors the most. You then simply take the winning content and add that to the page you wanted to initially test. You can use a landing page tool like Unbounce or Leadpages to run this type of test (note, they don’t gather or show you statistical data, so the results won’t be as good or accurate as using an A/B testing tool).

unbounce testing

e) Do user testing by getting indepth feedback from visitors.
User testing is based on gaining indepth ‘quality’ feedback from visitors about each of your proposed improvement ideas, in comparison to ‘quantitative’ testing that is based on just A/B testing result numbers. This type of user testing also helps you understand the reasons why visitors prefer particular variations of proposed improvements (something that A/B testing tools can’t actually tell you), and is ideal for creating follow-up improvements.

To do this type of testing, create another version of the page you want to test, and then using a tool like Usertesting.com show both versions to testers (you can even use your own website visitors) and ask them questions based on which page version they prefer and engages them better. Then simply launch the page version that has the best results. This technique gives such great feedback and insights, that I suggest using this in addition to using an A/B testing tool.

f) Launch your improvements and then monitor impact on key metrics.
This technique is where you simply launch the new improved page version for one week, check key metrics at the end of the week, then revert back to current page (the control page) for a week and then check key metrics again. After the 2 weeks, determine which version converted the most visitors for your major website goals. If the new page version performs better then launch it. Although you don’t get statistical significance with this method, it’s better than just launching new content and hoping for the best.

When doing this type of website improvement launches, the quality of your improvement idea is really important for determining success. Rather than just guessing, to increase the chances of success I suggest getting website improvement recommendations from CRO experts like myself.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately you should realize that you don’t have to do A/B testing to be able to improve your website – it’s only one part of successful conversion rate optimization. While it’s certainly very useful to do A/B testing, using web analytics insights and gathering visitor feedback are just as important to find out what to improve on your website.

Now you know some techniques for improving your website if you have low traffic! Have you tried any of these techniques for running tests on low traffic websites? Or which ones of these will you try first?

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  • http://www.titanium-jewelry.com/ J.R. YATES

    Good advice here Rich. Many of us smaller online businesses feel overwhelmed at a/b testing due to lower traffic. But we still need to be constantly testing and improving our site for increased conversions!

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks Ron, glad you liked the advice, and hopefully you feel less overwhelmed soon!

  • http://metzmiranda.wordpress.com/ Metz

    Pretty helpful.

    This is a good step by step guide on how to improve your website. Identifying your traffic is necessary if it is low or not. The A/B test could help many marketers. A must share techniques. :)

    Your post has been shared on Kingged.com, IM social bookmarking site, enabling me to find this good piece.

  • Sara

    Nice article, though I thought a rule of thumb for tests and conversions was to have at least 100 conversions per variable?!

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks Sara! I’ve heard that mentioned a few times – personally think 100 conversions per test variable is too high, and unachievable unless you have very high levels of traffic. That’s why these techniques are handy :)

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks Metz! Glad you like my guide.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    You can also split testing with less than 100 conversions. You just need really big wins. If you have a treatment with 20 conversions and another with 40 conversions, a 100% difference is something you can probably bank on, even with such small numbers. However, if one treatment got 20 conversions and the other got 30, that 50% increase is too close to the margin of error and shouldn’t be considered an improvement (even though it feels like a win).

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Yes thats a great point Brian! Good to have a scientist around here ;)

  • http://www.smartbusinessrevolution.com/ John Corcoran

    This is great advice, Rich. Thanks for such a thorough discussion.

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks John – glad you liked it. Hopefully it can help you on some of your lower traffic pages…

  • Shiv Ettes

    Wow, lots of information packed in here. I don’t know much about A/B testing, but now I’m thinking it’s more important than I thought it was. Thanks for the warning about multi-armed bandit testing; definitely doesn’t sound ideal.

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  • Bart Waldon

    I am going to have lest than 1,000 visitors to my site per month… Should I still ab test?

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    hae rich. im planning on starting a travel blog about africa but im worried i may get a low traffic on my website. please give me an advice on how i can make it a success. thanks

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  • NicoF

    Small remark regarding Google Experiments: yes, by default it runs the multi-armed bandit logic, but you can choose to select ‘rotate evenly’ instead (which is something I ALWAYS do)

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    It’s very interesting point.

  • Nikolai

    Great article Rich! Few thoughts: I would be inclined to choose Adwords over Facebook for a cleaner test: on Adwords one can limit the audience by running “cleaner” traffic from 1 carefully chosen keyword with 1 ad, versus Facebook approach where it can be harder to choose a uniform audience, statistically valid for a small test, simply based on targeting options available.

    Having said that, I think one should run experiments on the same demo (and source of traffic) that the website if targeted to: Google and FB audiences vary a lot and more often than not, are in different browsing modes alltogether.

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks for the comment and tips Nikolai! I totally agree that its best to experiment using similar audiences, as that can have a big impact on conversion rates.

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Thanks NicoF – I will have to check that out. I didn’t notice that option last time I used the tool.

  • Abrar Shahriar

    Hi Rich,

    I just go through this article. While reading it, I feel like I am reading a story. This is just great. I have learnt something new from this…
    5000 unique visitors in a week for A/B testing (small business).
    I wish I could have..

    But if conversion gets near to 100%, then number of visitors are not matter.

  • http://www.danielmelbye.com/ Daniel Melbye

    The question is where is the line drawn and how do you calculate this i.e. 100% is good, what about 95, 90? what it’s an 85% improvement

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