A/B Testing and Local Governments

The Importance of A/B Testing
Posted on 07/11/2017
CivicLive Blog - The Importance of A/B Testing

One thing all government websites should excel at is focusing on their constituents. A great citizen-focused website makes staying-up-to-date with city news and endeavors easier. It also makes it easier for busy, on-the-go citizens to easily find answers to their questions and successfully complete tasks like paying for bills and requesting permits.

Enhancing citizen engagement through your website requires you to know what works best for your site. It also requires more than just understanding your site users' needs. You need to understand what compels your audience to open an email, a newsletter, or even submit an application online or sign-up to volunteer with the city. One of the best ways to figure out what subject lines, calls to action (CTAs), landing pages and buttons inspire your citizens to take action is through A/B Testing.


What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is a way to compare two versions of content (landing pages, CTAs, subject lines, emails etc.) against each other. For example, you can test two different CTAs on a landing page designed to encourage sign-ups for volunteering.This kind of A/B test can help you gain a better understanding into what inspires your constituents as well as what best entices them to engage with the city.


Why Should You A/B Test?

Many companies use A/B testing to help them improve their conversion rates.Typically, a conversion rate is the percentage of people who took a particular action—often that action is a move towards a purchase, if not the purchase itself. A government website isn't working towards building leads that end in financial gain, but there are still (non-monetary) conversions to be gained. For instance, if your monthly newsletter has over a thousand subscribers but a consistently low open rate, you'll want to know why so few subscribers are opening it. In this case, you may consider testing your newsletter subject lines to help you determine what compels a subscriber to open the newsletter. After running a few A/B tests on subject lines, you'll be able to look at the change in percentage for each subject line tested. From this, you can determine what types of subject lines convert subscribers into actual newsletter readers.


A/B testing helps you to not only justify your choices, but to make better choices overall. When you A/B test frequently, you develop an understanding of what works best for your audience, in the case of a municipal website, that audience is your citizens. When you know what works best for your citizens you develop a strong, citzen-focused website.


What Should You Test?

You can run A/B test on just about anything. You may look to test your website for conversions connected to CTAs—how many volunteers were inspired to sign-up to take part in the local food drive based on one CTA over another. Alternatively, you may test images—which images get the most engagement when shared on social media. Or, you might test headlines—which headlines get the most clicks or whether or not readers prefer headlines with more or less detail?


Common A/B tests include:


  • Subject lines
  • Headlines
  • Images
  • Landing pages
  • CTAs—text and buttons
  • Social media posts
  • Links

This list is in no way exhaustive. You can run an A/B test on just about anything. While it's good to vary what you test, to get the best and most accurate results,it is best to test for only one thing at a time. If you change X and Y, you won't know which factor led to the success of your test.


Develop More Than Just Conversions

When embarking on A/B testing it's important to remember that you can test just about anything, even the placement of buttons, links or content. Constant, consistent testing creates better optimization for you, your site and your citizens.


A/B tests are simple to execute, but they do require variety. You'll need at minimum two of whatever you choose to test. While this might seem like more work, it's really also a further benefit provided by A/B testing. The more you test, the more readily you'll find yourself capable of developing alternatives for your content. From this, you'll learn to develop the most thoroughly optimized headlines, landing pages or CTAs for your audience because you'll have learned their needs, wants and likes through consistent, smart testing.

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