How to Effectively A/B Test Display Ads

Digital media budgets have tripled in the last three years and account for nearly 50% of global ad spend across all channels. With significant investment, there’s a new emphasis on performance-driven creative ads. Advertisers are constantly looking for performance improvements which have led to substantial investments into the understanding audience.

Google Media Labs claims 70% of an ad’s success is derived from the creative. If you think about it, it makes sense because ad creative helps deliver brand values visually, which taps into strong emotions leading to sales. However, to continuously improve outcomes, you need to A/B test your ad creatives against each other.


Why Should You A/B Test?

Before making dynamic creative optimizations, you must learn which variables are ‘moving the needle.’ A/B Testing, also known as split testing, is the process of testing different versions of your ad unit to see which elements of your creative perform better.

Essentially, by splitting your target audience into groups and running different versions of your creative, you can figure out which works better. A/B testing helps you understand how your creative is performing and provides a framework for consistent measurement. You can continuously refine, and A/B test new variables as data come in to keep improving performance.


Setting Up Your A/B Test

You can run A/B testing for performance testing in landing pages, email marketing, and paid search. Many advertisers struggle to make this part of their standard procedures for display because versioning creative is time-consuming and expensive. It’s critical to make sure you’re comparing “apples to apples,” meaning the variables being split-tested are comparable and will yield productive data for future decisions. Here’s what you need:

  • What you’re going to test (A vs. B)
  • Your hypothesis

For example, you might A/B test: promotional content vs. no promotional content. Below is how you might set up the variables in your testing:

A/B Test Display Ads

With A/B testing, you’re not limited to any one variable. The best marketers are testing with copywriting, imagery, CTAs, ad design, and more. Using a dynamic creative (DCO) platform, creating several versions is simple, making A/B testing a reality for companies of all sizes.


What to Test for Display Ads 

When creating a display ad, some of the most common variables that can be split-tested are:

  • Headlines
  • Call to action copy
  • Value Proposition & Key Benefits
  • Images (Product or Lifestyle)
  • Creative Concepts


Headlines, Copy & Call to Action

It may not be obvious but copywriting is just as (if not more) important than ad imagery. Small changes in word selection, sizing, etc., can significantly affect an ad’s success or failure.

Headlines or call-to-action copy are a great starting point– testing these can help you determine the best practices for generating copy specific to your business. After you’ve run a few tests, opt for the most robust copy to keep your audience engaged enough so that they’re prompted to explore your product or service further.

Then keep A/B testing headlines. Remember, you’re never “done.” You’re just getting better.


Value Proposition & Key Benefits

As you continue to rework and improve copywriting, you’ll uncover the terminology that resonates with your brand’s target customer. You can then use this set of terms across all communication channels, including website, email, and more.

You can develop a value prop messaging framework that communicates the key benefits of your business. For example, some services respond better to technical language, while others do with playful messaging. The point is A/B testing unlocks insights into your customer’s psychology.



Image testing lets you compare images of different styles. For example, imagine a hotel property that can test family fun vs. young couples’ nightlife. They can demonstrate other value props by experimenting without confusing customer segments.


Creative Concepts

The creative concept refers to the ad design, including content layout, fonts, colors, and images. Modifications to innovative ideas are simple and quick with dynamic creative. By testing variables against each other over time, you’ll arrive at high-converting ads that speak directly to your customer base.

Additional Testing Practices to Consider

As time passes, your A/B testing display ads prowess will improve. This will lead to better decision-making and faster iterations. Successful campaigns are centered around gathering data to learn more about the customer and continuous improvement.


Test contrast, not nuance.

Split-tested variables should start with significant contrast. If the change in your test variables is too tiny, like “Buy Now” vs. “Buy” as a call to action, you’ll likely see insignificant results. Advertisers often implement too subtle a change, and the results reflect that. Test with significant changes initially; as data improves, A/B testing can narrow for micro-improvements.


Think of testing as a process, not a campaign event.

Testing should not be a single event; it should be built into your process to constantly test and improve creativity, striving for incremental changes. The big mistake many companies are doing a single test and then not following up with new content or images to test next. You should introduce new marketing messaging followed by multiple cycles of refinement:


Business Takeaways

A/B Testing is one of the simplest ways to shift your ad strategy toward a performance-driven creative approach. Businesses focusing on learning more about their customers will win over the long run. A/B testing is a continuous and iterative process designed to uncover what matters most to your customer. Then, use this data to influence change across your organization and watch customers respond!

Check out Advanse, a leading DCO platform that makes A/B Testing easy.

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