A/B testing (bucket tests or split-run testing) is a randomized experiment with two variants, A and B. It includes application of statistical hypothesis testing or “two-sample hypothesis testing” as used in the field of statistics. A/B testing is a way to compare two versions of a single variable, typically by testing a subject’s response to variant A against variant B, and determining which of the two variants is more effective.
As the name implies, two versions (A and B) are compared, which are identical except for one variation that might affect a user’s behavior. Version A might be the currently used version (control), while version B is modified in some respect (treatment). For instance, on an e-commerce website the purchase funnel is typically a good candidate for A/B testing, as even marginal improvements in drop-off rates can represent a significant gain in sales. Significant improvements can sometimes be seen through testing elements like copy text, layouts, images and colors, but not always.
Multivariate testing or multinomial testing is similar to A/B testing, but may test more than two versions at the same time or use more controls. Simple A/B tests are not valid for observational, quasi-experimental or other non-experimental situations, as is common with survey data, offline data, and other, more complex phenomena.
A/B testing has been marketed by some as a change in philosophy and business strategy in certain niches, though the approach is identical to a between-subjects design, which is commonly used in a variety of research traditions. A/B testing as a philosophy of web development brings the field into line with a broader movement toward evidence-based practice. The benefits of A/B testing are considered to be that it can be performed continuously on almost anything, especially since most marketing automation software now typically comes with the ability to run A/B tests on an ongoing basis.