From the April 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Not long ago, A/B testing was solely available to large companies--it was time-consuming, expensive and required much IT help. But now, many companies offer hosted testing and optimization services affordable to smaller businesses.

That's good news for e-tailers seeking to improve their sites. A/B testing (aka A/B split testing) allows you to test two versions of your website. You can measure how customers respond to both versions and then optimize the site based on that information. Kefta, Offermatica and Optimost are three leading companies that offer A/B testing; services run about $10,000 per month.

RingCentral Inc. in San Mateo, California, is one growing e-tailer that's had success with A/B testing. The multimillion-dollar telecommunications firm targets small businesses and sells its services exclusively online. Last summer, the company worked with Offermatica to run some A/B tests with the goal of boosting the percentage of visitors signing up for its services.

RingCentral tested various elements of its site, including the home page. Two versions were prepared: one with a laundry list of features--more graphics, links to a user guide and FAQs--and one with a detailed description of the benefits of working with RingCentral. RingCentral learned that the page with more links to additional information led more people to the sign-up page.

After changing the site accordingly, the 35-employee company saw a 46 percent increase in overall sales by year-end. "Thousands of people look at our site each day, and we have many ways we can present information to them," says Vlad Shmunis, RingCentral's 45-year-old founder. "A/B testing lets the public vote--basically with their wallets."

To be effective, A/B testing should be ongoing. Some additional tips from Offermatica CEO Matthew Roche:

1. Run tests on the registration or shopping cart page. Says Roche, "Improving these areas generally provides the greatest impact on the bottom line."

2. Focus on big elements. Instead of testing text color or font size, says Roche, focus on areas such as product, pricing, primary copy, images, offers and calls to action.

3. Test heavily trafficked campaigns in two weeks or less. Says Roche, "This creates better answers fast."