ecommerce-ab-testingWhat the Sweet Valley Twins Taught Me About Marketing Experiments 

When I was growing up, I loved the Sweet Valley Twins. I devoured every book I could get my hands on, from the middle school years all the way to Sweet Valley University. If you read the books, you know the twins: perfect size-six build, blond hair, and blue-green eyes. They were identical all the way down to the dimples in their left cheeks. As charming as twins might be, the real hook was that almost every girl out there found some way to relate to these fictional characters.

How, you ask, could these identical twins touch the lives of so many people? Well, the answer is also the basic premise behind A/B testing. Under their identical exteriors were two people as different as night and day. What one twin loved, the other hated. These differences managed to reach out to a much wider audience, because every girl found at least one thing in each girl with which they could identify. If you implement these principles with your ecommerce efforts, you’ll see how these A/B experiments, just like having twins, could take your marketing department by storm and change everything you thought you knew.

What is A/B Testing?

Essentially, A/B testing is using two versions of the same content at the same time. In other words, Jessica and Elizabeth meet the same amount of people at the same time. That audience then decides which twin they prefer. The numbers can be measured, which provides irrefutable evidence on which of the twins results in a larger number of pre-transactional contact or sales conversions.

Jessica is our fashionable and trendy twin. She might provide shorter, punchier product descriptions and edgy calls-to-action. Her language choice will probably include popular jargon and clever puns when she writes her tongue-in-cheek blogs. Elizabeth is more sensible—a classic beauty who prefers simple design for her calls-to-action, professional and crisp email marketing subjects lines, and proper informational blogs.

Each twin will set out to bring in the largest number of buyers possible with their individual styles. The one who wrangles the most will be the clear winner -- and that’s how A/B testing works.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is an important part of ecommerce, but many claim that the medium is dying. The real question is are they claiming it's dying because people are using less email -- which they're not -- or because they're not testing and failing to improve and adapt?

When sending an email, even to those who have subscribed to receive it, your first and biggest goal is to get the recipient to open it. With A/B testing, you can determine which subject lines catch your audience’s eyes better. 

Let’s look at an email marketing campaign from that dating website you signed up for last month. Jessica’s email might say Hack Your Love Life with Our Romance Tips. The younger, edgier customers might jump all over the word “hack” because it suggests a shortcut—a secret no one else knows. Elizabeth’s same email to the same number of people might read Get Expert Advice to Find Lasting Love. Those serious about finding partnership may be drawn in by the words “expert” and “lasting.” These tests also give you greater depth of detail around the psychographic dimensions of your buyer personas -- those behavioral elements that help you decide what kinds of content to create to attract and influence the kinds of customers you want more of.

Test both email subjects with the same size audiences for the same amount of time. The email with the highest open rate will be your clear winner. Whether it’s Jessica’s subject line or Elizabeth’s depends entirely on your target audience.

Product Descriptions

Chances are, your ecommerce strategy involves products and product descriptions on your website. A/B testing can also be used to determine which product descriptions and even product images reach the largest number of people. You want your words and photos to catch a buyer’s eye, but how can you be sure you’re getting the best results? By attempting two separate strategies at the same time, you’ll get the data you need to reach the widest possible audience.

Consider for a moment your favorite fashion website with knockoffs from popular designers. Jessica’s version of the website might picture the most popular dresses in red, fuchsia, and other eye-catching colors. Next to the images, her descriptions might read “Be the center of attention in this stunning Versace look-a-like”. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, who much prefers the demure navy, black, and beige hues, might ensure the products on the page show professional colors with descriptions that say Be the image of cool confidence in the boardroom with this Versace-inspired power suit.

For a website selling household appliances, Elizabeth thinks images of people using the products will convince buyers to take the plunge. Jessica, however, thinks the product sells itself and should be the start of its own product page. Through A/B testing, the twins can get a definitive answer. Whichever version receives the highest number of conversions is the clear winner.

Same products—different images and descriptions. You’ll learn more about your target audience with these experiments than any interviews could teach you.


There is no denying your calls-to-action are some of your most important marketing tools. You use them absolutely everywhere in your marketing efforts: in your email campaigns, on your product pages, on your social media sites, and even at the end of your blogs. Your goal with calls-to-action is to direct potential buyers to pages where you can either collect their contact information or actually make the sale. For this reason, your CTAs are crucial.

The phrasing and design of your CTAs will determine who clicks, so your A/B testing is very valuable. To gauge who chooses the bright, crisp designs and who prefers the simple, stark images, marketing automation software can ensure the same number of people see each. For instance, Jessica would probably use the words Get My Free Trial Now, especially since she’s known to be impulsive. Elizabeth, however, may appeal to those seriously considering a product by phrasing her CTA Try 30 Days Free. Jessica would probably add greens and oranges to stand out from the other text on the site, while Elizabeth’s bold colors may be golds or reds.


As impetuous as Jessica may be, she does understand the importance of analytics just as well as her more serious twin. Performing A/B testing won’t matter a bit if you don’t delve into the results to discover why one version might reach more people than the other. If you see your results for each twin are nearly the same, it could be people identify with both versions in some way -- or it might just mean the testing hasn’t been in play long enough. If you continue your experiment and still don’t trust your results, run the test again. Until you’re sure your A/B test has reached statistical significance -- which means you have at least 95% confidence in the results—you can’t put must stock in the results.

Elizabeth also knows a few tweaks to her CTA designs might bring her better results than her twin’s trendy lingo. If her version is the clear loser in the first round of A/B testing, she might consider changing a word or two in her call-to-action and maybe adding a new graphic for a more powerful impact. It’s okay to go a second round if you truly believe your CTA has what it takes to draw in leads.

Keep in mind that someone else might have already performed many of your potential A/B experiments. You can cut down on time and effort by discovering “Which Test Won” by Anne Holland. Hundreds of case studies can show you which call-to-action buttons work best or what marketing copy gets more attention. With those tests out of the way, you can add your own experiments for more personalized results. No matter how many previous experiments have been conducted, there are always ways to tweak the message and reach more people - and you'll always want to replicate experiments conducted by other marketers with your own audience. The effort is worth it, too. You’ll end up with marketing messages that reach a wide variety of people every time, just like the Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley.

Still not sure how A/B testing can help you reach your target audience? Have some thoughts that Jessica and Elizabeth might have missed? Maybe you just want to tell me which was your favorite twin and why. Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Image credit: Marc Levin

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Originally published Oct 4, 2013 8:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


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