The creative testing process at some companies.
Tom Fishburne, marketoonist.com

Creativity: the ability or power to create. 

In advertising, “creative” is the term used to describe elements of a marketing strategy that tell your brand’s story such as ad copy and images. Creative is unique, something that the robots behind the data still can’t conjure up. (Although GPT-3 is coming alarmingly close.)

Instead, creativity is the responsibility of you and your team. You must deliver creative that attracts and converts your target consumer. And you won’t get it right every time. The increased pressure you’re under to make your marketing perform better should lead you down one path: Creative testing.

What Is Creative Testing?

As part of a promotional schedule, branding and design teams will often make creative updates to a company’s website at least on a monthly or even weekly basis. Yet, teams rarely understand if the promotion or other changes are performing most optimally. 

To push out a new update, such as a Black Friday deal, one set of creative assets is developed, including elements like a brand new hero image, call to action or landing page. 

  • How do you know these assets work?
  • How do you know the updated creative is better than the ideas on the editing room floor?
  • How do you know you’re not blindly following a trend? 

You take the creative assets and test them against each other to determine which one performs the best based on a measurement of key metrics driven by user outcomes.

Experimentation Delivers Value & Streamlines the Creative Process

Creative testing helps you deliver the most value to your organization. It helps you remain user-centric by creating and ensuring you’re delivering an optimal experience for your visitors.

It also streamlines the creative process. For example, a copywriter or designer may spend days developing a single concept only to hope they receive leadership approval. And what if after all that hard work the approved concept doesn’t drive a meaningful impact to your users or your organizational objectives?

Through experimentation, a creative team can develop a handful of concepts to test against each other through A/B, multivariate or multi-arm bandit testing. Not only does it save time by eliminating and aligning on one concept, but it ensures the creative is driving the best consumer and business outcomes.

“Experimentation allows your creative team to do what they do best: Create. It gives them the power to follow their creativity in multiple directions. With testing, we can then determine which concept or creative performs the best. As a result, we can create the most optimal user experience and business outcome by using data over opinions.”
– Grant Tilus, Sr. Growth Product Manager, Cro Metrics

The Creative Testing Framework

A successful creative testing method always begins with a goal. What goal do you want your campaigns, website or other marketing tools to achieve? For example, do you want to increase awareness of your brand? Do you want to drive increased sales of a specific product for a holiday push? You can’t strive for success via testing when you’re not sure what success even looks like.

Performing the Test

Just like any other testing method, creative testing should include a control and a variation. For example, you must test a control landing page against other variations of the page in a controlled environment.

You’ll need to select specific metrics to judge each page’s performance such as goal completion and transactions, depending on your objectives. Allow your creative test to run to Statistical Significance to gather enough data to feel confident in selecting a concept. Whichever concept is the most effective, you push out to your visitors to drive the best outcome.

Build Experimentation Into Your Process

To optimize your creative concepts, experimentation through testing should become an extension of your planning process. For example, you should launch a creative test before the launch of any campaign. Instead of developing the creative, publishing and hoping for the best, test some variations to see what’s most effective, every time.

Creative Case Study: Information Scent Example

Cro Metrics performs creative tests often on behalf of businesses who want to better attract and convert their audiences. There are virtually endless elements to test and optimize to make the most of your paid media campaign budgets.

Take our recent test on behalf of a wellness company, for example. We completed an A/B test focused on increasing the information scent—the strength of relevant messaging throughout the customer journey—between the paid media creative and the website experience. 

Our goal was to provide contextually relevant creative and value proposition messaging to website visitors driven by an ad campaign that our client partnered with. By increasing the information scent for users landing from the website with imagery and messaging, we believed we would create a user experience that better supports the user’s path to purchase.

To test our hypothesis, we launched creative updates as a test, in line with the campaign launch. We then ran the test until statistical significance was achieved. That data enabled us to make the necessary changes to create a campaign that worked best for the client and their customers.

Tools to Simplify Your Creative Testing Efforts

Your team will need to analyze the data resulting from creative tests to determine which concept is a go. Available tools can help you track and analyze this data simply. Some of these tools include:

  • Optimizely: Optimizely is an experimentation platform that allows you to perform A/B and multivariate experiments across your website. 
  • VWO: VWO enables you to create and run tests to see which concepts perform best across every channel. The tool also allows you to view session recordings, heatmaps and more to diagnose problem areas on your website.
  • AB Tasty: Using AB Tasty, you can run your experiments, including A/B, multivariate and funnel testing. The tool also offers a robust analytics platform that includes over 200 website metrics.
  • Google Optimize: Google Optimize integrates with Google Analytics to show you how your website can be improved. Through A/B, multivariate and redirect tests, Google’s tool enables you to discover your visitors’ preferences to improve their online experience.

Creative Testing Ideas to Boost Conversion

With a simple framework and various tools in hand, it’s time to put in the work. As we said before, the elements you can test within your campaign or on your website are virtually endless. Let’s dive into some of the testing ideas you can implement into your experimentation strategy now.

Landing Pages

An unoptimized landing page can derail the entire customer journey, causing your conversion to suffer. Landing pages are the entry pages on your website determined by data to have the highest conversion potential. To optimize them properly, you must A/B test.

What do you test? Everything. Yet, there are a few core page elements to start with:

  • Copy: There’s a specific and personalized message that will compel your audience to take the next step with you. Testing your landing page copy helps you find that specific message.
  • Images: Do images matter on your landing page? Like everything else, it depends on your audience. For example, you can test images of people versus images of your products to see which work best.
  • Social proof: Testimonials, product reviews and endorsements add social proof which often boosts conversion. Use A/B testing to determine which third-party validation signals inspire your audience to move forward.
  • Call to action: Your call to action is a critical component of the landing page. It’s the gateway between the web visitor and a conversion. Test every element included within your call to action such as copy, call-out button options and style.
  • Offer: Will a lead magnet convert more visitors than a free consultation? The only way to know is to test your landing page offer.

Images play a much bigger role than just beatification of a webpage. One needs to carefully consider the relevance of every image to the purpose and messaging of the page. Testing relevant images plays a crucial role in pushing more visitors down the conversion funnel.161% more conversions, 40% increase in CTR, 9.46% additional revenue – these are some of the improvements achieved by VWO clients just by testing the images. Various studies dictate that images are processed 60,000 times faster compared to text by the human brain. The key is to understand the art and science behind the role images play in user experience and test it constantly.
Paras Chopra, Founder and Chairman, VWO

Facebook & Instagram

Facebook and Instagram ads are some of the most popular in the social media realm. And when it comes to ad creative, they’re extremely flexible. Not only do they include traditional elements such as copy and images, but these ads also come in varying formats, depending on what works best for your audience.

For example, via Facebook, you can test a single video ad versus a single image ad or a carousel ad versus a collection ad. Via Instagram, you can test a Stories ad versus a photo ad or an IGTV ad versus an Instagram Shopping ad. 

Once you determine an ad type that’s best for your campaign, move forward with testing the creative elements such as headlines, calls to action and ad copy.

Google Ads

Much like Facebook and Instagram, Google offers several ad formats to choose from, including:

  • Text ads
  • Responsive ads
  • Image ads
  • Video ads
  • Product shopping ads
  • Showcase shopping ads
  • Call-only ads

With your campaign goals in mind, select a few ad formats and test them to see what resonates the most with your audience in search. From there, start to test your other ad elements such as headlines, page descriptions, videos, images and copy.

Email

Welcome emails, thank you emails, newsletters and more keep your audience engaged throughout the customer journey. That is if you can get recipients to open them. Your email subject lines must be tested to see what inspires that click. Beyond the subject line, other elements include:

  • Long versus short copy
  • Sender’s personal name versus  company name
  • Images versus no images
  • Email frequency and time of day
  • Call to action
  • Layout

Display Advertising

Display ads show up on websites relevant to your service or product. Just like Google Ads and social media ads, they’re customizable to fit your audience’s preferences. For example, display ads can be simple banner ads that display a call to action or HTML5 ads that feature interactive elements such as videos or polls.

You should test the various display ad formats as well as the content inside the ad. This includes your copy, video content, call to action, images, banner style, banner size and more.

Other Types of Creative Testing

Anything and everything that has any creative element involved can (and should) be tested to ensure you’re delivering optimized campaigns. Other examples of creative testing include:

  • Concept testing: Through concept testing, you can test an ad campaign before you release it to the public. Most of the time, concept testing involves sending surveys to your customers, asking for feedback regarding your concept. With feedback in hand, you’ll make changes to your campaign to reflect your audience’s needs and desires.
  • Painted door tests: Before you build a new landing page or website functionality, you can test it via a painted door test. In this test, you can update your website with a simplified version of the proposed new feature or element and measure to see how well it might perform if an investment was made to permanently build the feature. If the result is positive, you’ll know it’s time to invest the time to actually build the functionality.
  • Focus groups: Focus groups are an age-old testing method that results in immediate insight into a product, service or concept. Simply gather some individuals within your target base, present your concept and gather feedback.
  • Market research: Market research in the form of consumer interviews, surveys and observation is also a great way to gain insights into what concepts work and which ones don’t. Simply listening on your social channels, on your website and in your inbox can teach you so much about the performance of your campaigns.

Important: Nothing Should Operate in a Silo

“All we need to test right now is our ad copy.” 

Many preconceptions exist when we talk about testing. The truth is every aspect of your digital strategy should work together to support the customer experience.

The ideas found in this article shouldn’t be “piecemeal” options that you pick and choose from. Although we primarily focus on website experimentation at Cro Metrics, everything, from your Facebook ads to your website must work together seamlessly. 

Results and wins from one test should inform your efforts in other areas of your strategy. While you may feel the need to start with your ad copy, there’s a landing page attached, followed by an email, followed by…well, you get the picture.

You must move beyond piecemeal testing to a culture of data-driven experimentation where considerations for optimization testing are always standard operating procedure. When the decisions you make are data-driven, you prevent wasting precious time and resources on ineffective efforts. Plus, you’ll keep your most important asset, your customers, top of mind.

Boost Conversion Through Experimentation With Cro Metrics 

Are you ready to create a culture of experimentation within your business? It’s the only way to ensure you’re delivering what consumers need to convert. For more experimentation and testing ideas and information, subscribe to our conversion rate optimization newsletter.