Why AB Tests Don't Help Conversions; What You Should Do Instead

Updated: Jan 30

When it comes to generating more conversions, almost every blog piece talking about AB tests, almost every conference and piece of content related to conversion optimization are recommending AB tests as the holy grail for testing your landing pages results and increase the volumes of leads.

Recommendations on how to change copy, title, buttons (based on qualitative and quantitative data) are bombarding the digital marketing community and promise, sometimes with data to back it up, your leads, email subscriptions, sales and any other conversion will increase. If not, the test will fail and you will learn something useful anyway.

This article is for those who generate leads from their forms and then pass leads' details to the sales staff to close the deal. If you are in this business, you will find this article very useful because it points to the problems of AB tests and provided a new alternative.

AB Tests for Lead Generation

Now let's walk you through the typical scenario of lead generation and why we use AB tests.

First, a visitor discovers your business through one of your marketing channels, such as your website, blog, or social media page. That visitor then clicks on your CTA. The CTA takes your visitor to a landing page, which is a web page that is designed to capture lead information in exchange for an offer.

An offer is in a piece content or something of value that's being "offered" on the landing page, like an ebook, a course, or a template. The offer must have enough perceived value to a visitor to merit providing their personal information in exchange for access to it.

The form consists of a series of fields that collect information in exchange for the offer.

Why Do We AB Tests Landing Pages and Forms

This is a typical use case for an AB test:

You got feedback from users complaining they don't want to leave their details (tel number, email address) on your form because they don't want to be pestered with marketing calls and emails. You have asked users for feedback AFTER the lead conversion on the thank you page:

"What is it that nearly stopped you from making an inquiry?"

Typical answers are hard to predetermine, but in my case the biggest trend was around concerns on marketing follow up:

I don't want to leave my details
I am afraid you'll call me to sell me something
I don't want to be pestered with email and telephone calls

For a busines with a strict form to adhere to, it can be very hard to remove one of the fields that sales need to close the deal. These are the fields that a lead gen form normally has for sales teams:

  • Name and surname

  • Email address

  • Tel number

Additional fields:

  • Company

  • Number of employees

  • The preferred way of contact

  • Job title

It's not surprising then when users feedbacks are complaining about their fears of being bombarded with email and telephone calls.

Why is the whole AB process broken

So how do normally marketers overcome these objections? Armed with this new feedback, marketers will then AB test a different landing page with the new copy and expect conversions to rise, hopefully. They build a second version of your landing page, change a few things according to the feedback and send 50% of traffic to the new landing page and 50% to the old one, then compare the results.

They reassure their users that no spam emails will be sent, no hassle and no pressure to "convert" will be put on them, actually lying to the users and to themselves because, eventually, we want those leads to convert to a sale.

That's the whole point of doing lead generation.

You might be successful in your test, you might have increased the number of leads, but the problem persists because this whole process is broken.

And here I tell you three reasons:

  1. When you promise your users won't be hassled by your company, and you deliver on that promise by eliminating the tel number field or the email field, the quality of data given to your sales team is worse. You are basically delivering cold leads not ready to convert.

  2. No visitor ever said, "I want more sales calls and emails!" but you don't have alternative ways to communicate with them if you take away their tel number from your forms.

  3. If you remove phone numbers from the form fields, you might make users happy, but not your sale team, they will complain that marketing delivers cold leads.

This seems to be a situation where the dog is chasing his own tail because on one side you need to make your users less worried and facilitate lead conversions, while on the other side you need to deliver hot leads, otherwise you'll get fewer sales (and revenue).

Now, before comments will say "just buy leads and it's faster this way", I want to make the point that buying leads is extremely unproductive. I don't have any doubt that volumes are important, as well as the speed in which we acquire leads. That said, I have never liked the idea of buying pre-cooked leads, simply because they don't know your brand and there is a huge risk of being completely ignored by them.

How to tackle these issues successfully

The first step in the process is to identify what makes your users worried and you have done this when asked them directly. You can use surveys, polls or simply ask your sales team what the biggest objections are from users and what stop them from converting to leads. To keep this simple let's assume:

  • You have collected feedbacks using a tool like Hotjar

  • Placed the questions AFTER conversions happen, normally on the thank-you page

  • Identify trends in feedbacks to zero-in the most relevant ones.

The advantage of asking your users directly is that they will be brutally honest, if they don't want you to contact them, they'll tell you so without hesitation.

The other advantage of placing feedbacks on your thank you page is that you receive fresh qualitative data, just after conversion has been completed.

Now on to the alternative to AB tests...

Let's imagine you have collected 100 feedbacks, your conversion rate on the form is about 10% and you need to reach 15% as a target.

At this stage, you need to start considering alternative ways to reach a 15% conversion rate without compromising the quality of your leads. To explain this process in a little more details, let's walk you through the steps of considering alternatives to AB tests.

The rationale behind rethinking your AB tests

Essentially, if you want to tackle the problem of users being presented with your email comms, unwillingly. But, as we have seen above, you have a limited amount of changes you can make on the landing page and the form. Removing the tel number field or the email address is not an option. Removing the email field is not an option. Lying to your users is not an option.

So what do you do? Let's walk you through the steps of changing your approach to users objections and moving away from AB tests.

Here is what you need to do...

Step 1: Interpreting quality data

Users' feedbacks are your best friends in this case. If you accept the fact that users don't want to be contacted, you'll start to think differently about how to approach them. Not wanting to speak to you doesn't necessarily mean "I don't want to be your customer, ever". It simply means, at this moment in time, they are not ready to talk to you, and that's completely fine. You can't expect 100% of the visitors are determined buyers.

In your marketing funnel, you have the awareness stage and that's where probably these type of users are located. This means they need to be nurtured with extra care and be given more value from your offer, which is not a sale straight away.

Step 2: Acting on quality data

Now that you know where these people are located in the funnel, you can start considering different types of communication. Communication is really important and if you don't speak to these people correctly and in a meaningful way, they will delete your emails and unsubscribe to never return on your site.

Here is how to do it:

Identify valuable and free content...

...for the awareness stage on the marketing funnel. People who are not ready typically search for more information about your brand, they want to compare prices, features, they research all sort of things online. Make sure you are found online with this content;

To make it simple, typical awareness lead gen content includes:

  • Comparison checklists and tables - to compare your brand with the competitors

  • Templates for creating all sort of things: calendars, worksheets, PPT presentations.

  • eBooks to demonstrate specialist knowledge in an area

  • White papers to go deep into a topic of your industry

  • Original researches on particular interesting topics

For example, I have written 87-pages eBook on Career Change for a fitness and nutrition training provider.

Create new landing pages and forms for cold leads

This new content should be put behind a landing page. Each piece of content has its own landing page which shows a professional and engaging design with a clear CTA and benefits for downloading the offer.

Ensure that your forms are not asking too much information, such as telephone numbers. You might want to have simply "Name" and "Email Address" to where send your very valuable piece of free information. This has the advantage to reduce objections, people are reassured you will never call them.

Most importantly, DO NOT pass this information to sales as of yet, these leads in the awareness stage are still cold leads.

Create a new email communication

Create a new email communication to thank your leads for downloading the free information and set up your automated marketing tool. Then, create a second email to be sent after a few days with included a link to a new and valuable piece of content.

Make sure this second piece of content can be downloaded again from a second landing page.

At this point, as you move people within your funnel from the Awareness to the Comparison stage, you might want to gradually talk about how great your brand is and why they should trust you, again by providing a very valuable second piece of content.