Make Your Best Alternative Permanent

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A/B testing is fun. At least, once you know how it works. And especially once you have a bunch of ideas to test. But A/B testing also involves a lot of work. Sure, split testing is not difficult at all, but it’ll take some time and demand your attention and focus.

We’ve already discussed the whole process for designing and running A/B experiments. We simply need to adhere to the following steps:

  1. Understand your business. You need to identify your goals (such as increasing your e-commerce sales or getting more subscriptions) and how you’re performing compared to your competitors (what they offer and how).
  2. Understand your web. Likely, your website plays an important role into achieving your business goals. Investigate its current performance and bring out anything that could (and should) be improved.
  3. Form a hypothesis. Address one of the issues you’ve identified in the previous steps by thinking how it could be solved. The proposed solution has to include the set of changes you want to test (the A/B test) and the expected outcome (a certain increase in one of your business goals).
  4. Create and run your test. Once you know what to test, it’s time to implement it. Create as many alternative versions as you need and run the test. Wait until the results are statistically significant before moving to the last step.
  5. Act on the results. Finally, it’s time to see if the experiment yielded the expected outcome. If it did (that is, if your alternative content was better than the control version), you should make it permanent and move to the next thing to test.

As you can see, this process combines two types of tasks: abstract tasks and technical actions. On the one hand, abstract tasks require your thinking. These include understanding your business and your web, looking for ideas to test, form hypothesis, analyzing the results… There are some tools that might help you in the thinking process, but in the end the outcomes of abstract tasks depend entirely on you. On the other hand, technical actions require you to work with an A/B testing tool and thus involve the creation of alternative content and making the best alternative go live.

Nelio A/B Testing does an incredible job helping you be more efficient and effective with technical actions. As a native WordPress plugin, it makes it super easy to create alternative content: you’ll be able to do so using your preferred WordPress editor, so there’s no need to learn an external tool! Moreover, once the experiment is over, making the best alternative permanent will only take one click. Let’s see how!

Alternative Creation and Making Alternative Content Permanent

Alternative creation in Nelio is extremely easy. You simply need to duplicate the original version of your tested element to create an alternative. Once the alternative has been created, you can edit and tweak it using the well-known WordPress editors. Thus, for example, if you want to test a page, you’ll duplicate it and edit the alternative page using WordPress’ built-in page editor or, if you’re using a more advanced page editor, such as OptimizePress or Visual Composer, with those. The same applies to Menus and Widgets; you’ll be able to duplicate the original menu and then add, remove, and rearrange additional menu items and widgets to your alternatives.

Other A/B Testing platforms do include visual editors aimed to simplify the process of alternative content creation. Nonetheless, their editors are obviously outside the scope of WordPress, which means you’ll have to learn a new tool for editing your WordPress content. Surprising, isn’t it? You have one of the most powerful content management systems at hand (that is, WordPress), and yet you need to use external tools for content edition… That’s nuts!

Anyway, regardless of the A/B testing tool you use, you’ll end up being able to generate alternative content and test it with your visitors. You run the experiment for as long as it needs and, after a while, you realize that alternative B is much better than the original version. Hooray! Right? Well, not so fast. Suddenly, truth strikes: you need to make that version the default one. That is, the experiment is over and now you should be using alternative B for all your visitors. Therefore, you have to recreate in the original version all the changes you applied in the alternative. How?

Hard Day by Reinermedia.
Hard Day by Reinermedia.

If you used an external testing tool, you’ll have to access your WordPress and, as I just said, recreate all the changes. Did you change a text? Rewrite it. Did you add a picture? Upload it to the media library and insert it in your page. Did you rearrange some elements? Well, reproduce the layout in WordPress. Do you see what I’m talking about? With a non-native split testing tool, you’ll have to work twice: the first time, for creating alternative content; the second time, for making the winning changes permanent.

What about Nelio?

The One-Click Functionality

Alternative content creation in Nelio is performed within WordPress, using WordPress’ default functionalities. When you create an alternative page, the alternative page lies in your WordPress database. When you create alternative headlines, those headlines are also available in WordPress and get replaced using WordPress filters. The same applies to widgets and themes: when you test these elements, alternative content is stored in your WordPress site. Why is this important? Well, because once the experiment’s over, making them the default content is extremely easy: they already are in WordPress, so our plugin just needs to get rid of the original, poor-performing version and use the best alternative instead.

Nelio A/B Testing let’s you make one alternative permanent with just one click. Just go to the Progress of the Experiment page and go see the Alternatives tab. If the experiment is no longer running, you’ll see an Apply button within each alternative (if it’s still running, that button won’t be available and you’ll see an Edit button instead). Click on an Apply button to make the related alternative permanent! Easy, right?

Alternative Listing in Nelio A/B Testing
The Progress of the Experiment page shows useful information about the performance of each alternative. Moreover, once the experiment is over, you’ll be able to apply the alternative with just one click.

For those of you who are interested in learning a little bit more about how things work, keep reading the post!

Experiments with One-Click

Almost all experiments in Nelio A/B Testing include the One-Click functionality for making their alternatives go live (we’ll talk about the exceptions later). Let’s see how alternatives are created for each type of experiment and how alternatives are made permanent by Nelio.

Page and (Custom) Post Experiments

Page and post experiments were the first experiments we introduced in Nelio. This is how they work:

  1. You select the original page (or post) you want to test.
  2. You create as many alternatives as you want. Alternatives pages are like regular pages, except that:
    • they have a post meta that labels them as “alternative content in an A/B experiment” and
    • their status is always Draft, in order to prevent your visitors from directly accessing them using their own slug.
  3. If you create the alternative page duplicating the original content, the new, alternative post will duplicate:
    • the original’s title,
    • the original’s content,
    • the original’s excerpt,
    • and all original’s metadata (including the featured image, page layout, comments, options, and so on).
  4. When you edit one alternative, you’re basically editing a regular page with the aforementioned additional information and constraints.

Once a page or post experiment is over, applying the winner alternative is super easy: we’ll overwrite original’s information with the alternative’s. In the following screenshot, you can see that some metadata may not be overwritten if you don’t want to:

Page Experiment - Overwrite Information while Applying Winner
After a page (or post) experiment is completed, you can overwrite the original’s page with the alternative (and thus make it permanent).

Headline Experiments

Almost one year ago we introduced Headline Experiments. Headline Experiments let you test multiple combinations of Title, Excerpt, and Featured Image for your posts in order to see which of those combinations is better at having your visitors click on the headline and further read the post.

In this particular case, we do not create additional alternative pages (there’s no need to, actually). We simply store in your database the alternative title and excerpt as you wrote them, as well as the ID of the alternative featured image. When the experiment is over and you apply one of these alternatives, we’ll overwrite the original post’s title and excerpt with the ones you defined, and we’ll update the meta option that specifies which is the featured image with the alternative featured image ID. Easy, right?

WooCommerce Product Summary Experiments

This summer we decided that Nelio should be compatible with WooCommerce. For those of you who don’t know exactly what a WooCommerce Product is, it’s no more than a content type within WordPress (like posts and pages), with the same basic information (title, content, and so on) plus some additional data (stored in custom meta options, like the price). This content type extensions are formally known as a Custom Post Type.

The first experiment (and so far, the only one) we implemented specifically for WooCommerce is the Product Summary Experiment, which is equivalent to Headline Experiments and, therefore, they follow the exact same approach. With them you’ll be able to test alternative combinations of Product Name, Product Image, and Short Description, and see which one gets more sales.

Menu Experiments

WordPress menus are created using their own user interface (under Appearance » Menus) and are stored in your WordPress database. From a technical point of view, they are very similar to a page or post in WordPress. In fact, each item in a menu is stored in the wp_posts table and the items are grouped in one WordPress taxonomy, which is the menu itself.

User Interface for editing alternative menus.
User Interface for editing alternative menus.

Nelio’s Menu Experiments follow the same approach we used for Page and Post Experiments. Each alternative menu is exactly the same as a regular menu, except for the fact that we label it as being some other menu’s alternative. When the experiment is over, you can easily overwrite the items in the original menu with the alternative’s.

Make an alternative menu permanent
Making alternative menus permanent is as easy as clicking on a button.

Widget Experiments

Widget Experiments were introduced in version 3.3, back in November 2014. From a technical point of view, creating a set of alternative widgets is complicated, because WordPress does not give you any options for creating multiple sets and using one or the other. Nelio A/B Testing overcame this issue with a simple, yet powerful solution: all alternative widgets (the blue ones) exist along with your regular, original WordPress widgets (the red/pink ones):

Unraveling the mystery of widgets
Original and alternative widgets coexist in your widgets interface. Nelio A/B Testing is responsible of showing the relevant ones and hiding the rest.

Our plugin makes sure that only the ones that are linked to a certain alternative are visible whilst they’re being edited. When the experiment is running, our plugin will only load the relevant set of widgets, depending on the alternative your visitors are supposed to see.

Since all (original and alternative) widgets exist at all times (Nelio simply hides/shows the ones that are relevant), applying the winning alternative is super easy—the plugin simply removes the widgets that will no longer be used (that is, the original widgets, as well as those from other alternatives) and maintains the ones we want.

Theme Experiments

Testing your WordPress theme is also possible with Nelio. However, this kind of tests are more complicated to set up. In order to create one of this experiments, you have to:

  1. Configure each theme individually. Configuring a theme involves:
    • Activating the theme in Appearance » Themes.
    • Selecting the Menus that will be used.
    • Adding/removing the widgets in the appropriate sidebars.
    • Applying any further configurations required by the themes.
  2. Go back to the original theme.
  3. Create a new Theme Experiment.
  4. Select the alternative themes you configured in one.
  5. Define the goals.

The complex task here is to configure each theme individually. Once they’re set up, making the best alternative permanent is as easy as always: just go to the progress of the experiment and apply the winner.

What About the Other Experiments

Unfortunately, there are some other types of experiments that cannot be automatized, because they depend on components that are not that standard.

CSS Experiments

CSS Experiments let you add additional CSS rules in your WordPress and, thus, configure the look and feel of your site (that is, change the color of buttons or links, a font, rearrange some elements, and so on). Unfortunately, once the experiment is over, you’ll need to work a little bit more. In particular, you’ll have to decide where the winning CSS fragment has to be included in your theme:

  1. The file style.css. You may need to edit your (child) theme’s style.css and add the rules you created in the experiment.
  2. Theme Settings. Some themes include additional settings for further customization. Among these settings, there’s usually a field for adding additional CSS and/or JavaScript files. If your theme has one of those, you may want to add the CSS styles there.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, making the best alternative permanent and the default one in WordPress is extremely easy if you’re using Nelio A/B Testing. Having a native WordPress solution for running your tests will help you save time and, therefore, money!

Featured Image by Kristian Niemi.


He obtained his PhD in Computer Science at UPC. David leads the analysis and design of our services and the user support area. He's interested in a variety of areas, including conceptual modeling, virtual reality, and 3D digital printing. He contributes to the WordPress community by participating in meetups, seminars, and the WCEU.

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