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December 13, 2023 - By Barron Rosborough

From Data to Dominance: The Power of Multivariate Testing in Marketing

Introduction to Multivariate Testing

Multivariate testing is like hosting a dinner party. You’re not just trying out one new recipe (as in A/B testing); instead, you’re experimenting with multiple dishes, each with different ingredients, to see which combination tantalizes the taste buds of your guests the most.

Definition and Overview

In technical terms, multivariate testing (MVT) is a method used to test multiple variables in a controlled environment to determine which combination has the best impact on your defined objective. 

Imagine you’re tweaking a website. With MVT, you can change multiple elements like headlines, images, and button colors all at once, rather than testing them one by one. This method provides insights into how different elements interact with each other, offering a more comprehensive understanding of user behavior.

Importance in Marketing

Why is MVT a big deal in marketing? It’s like having a superpower that lets you read your audience’s mind. By testing multiple combinations, marketers can pinpoint the most effective version of a web page, email, or ad. This leads to higher conversion rates, better user engagement, and ultimately, more revenue.

Difference between A/B Testing and Multivariate Testing

Now, let’s talk about the difference between A/B testing and multivariate testing. Think of A/B testing as a duel between two knights, where you compare two versions of a single element. In contrast, MVT is like a chess game with multiple pieces moving simultaneously. A/B testing is simpler and great for testing major changes, while MVT is more complex and suitable for optimizing multiple smaller elements.

Let’s take a real-world example to illustrate this. Suppose a popular eCommerce site wants to increase its conversion rate. They could use A/B testing to compare two different homepage layouts. However, with MVT, they could test variations in the headline, image, and call-to-action button all at once. This approach would reveal not only which headline works best but also how it interacts with the image and button to influence user behavior.

According to a HubSpot report, multivariate tests can lift conversion rates by up to 30%. Another study by ConversionXL showed that MVT helped an online retailer increase its sales by 46% by optimizing multiple elements on its product pages.

Planning Multivariate Tests

Multivariate testing is like conducting a symphony of variables to understand their collective impact on user behavior. It’s far more complex than A/B testing, as it involves testing multiple variables simultaneously to see which combination produces the best outcome.

Key Steps:

  • Hypothesis Formation: Start with a clear hypothesis. What are you trying to prove or disprove? For instance, “By changing the color and placement of the CTA button, we can increase click-through rates by 10%.”
  • Test Design: Decide on the full factorial or fractional factorial design. Full factorial tests every possible combination, while fractional is a subset, reducing time and complexity but potentially missing interactions.
  • Technology and Tools: Ensure you have the right tools in place. Tools like Optimizely, VWO, or Google Optimize can handle the complexity of MVT.

Setting Clear Objectives

The objectives in MVT should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). For instance, rather than a vague goal like “improve website engagement,” a SMART objective would be, “increase the average session duration on the product page by 15% in Q2.”

Practical Tips:

  • Link to Business Goals: Each objective should tie back to a broader business goal, such as increasing conversion rates or improving user experience.
  • Clarity and Conciseness: Keep the objectives clear and straightforward to ensure everyone involved understands what success looks like.

Identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are the compass that guides your MVT ship. They quantify your objectives and provide measurable outcomes.

Selecting KPIs:

  • Relevance: Choose KPIs directly related to your objectives. If your goal is to increase sales, a KPI could be the conversion rate or average order value.
  • Balance: Balance between short-term (like click-through rate) and long-term KPIs (like customer lifetime value).

Understanding Target Audience

Knowing your audience is crucial. You’re trying to speak to someone in a language they understand. Use data from analytics, surveys, and customer feedback to segment your audience.

Key Considerations:

  • Demographics and Psychographics: Age, gender, interests, and behavior.
  • Customer Journey Stage: Tailor the test according to where the customer is in the buying cycle (awareness, consideration, decision).

Selecting Variables and Combinations

This step is the heart of MVT, akin to choosing the right ingredients for a gourmet meal.


  • Choose Variables: Based on your objectives and hypothesis. These could be elements like headlines, images, or CTA buttons.
  • Determine Combinations: How these variables will interact. If testing three variables with three variations each, you’d potentially have 27 (3x3x3) combinations.

Practical Application

Suppose Netflix is conducting an MVT to increase viewer engagement. They might test combinations of thumbnail images, movie title fonts, and placement of the play button. Their KPIs could include click-through rate and time spent viewing.

Netflix’s detailed analysis on thumbnail personalization, for instance, provides insights into how seemingly minor changes can significantly impact viewer engagement.

Designing Effective Multivariate Tests

  • Define Clear Objectives: Begin by establishing what you want to achieve. Are you testing the effectiveness of a landing page, an email campaign, or a social media ad? Clear objectives guide your test design and ensure results are actionable.
  • Select Variables Thoughtfully: Identify elements that could significantly impact user behavior. These might include headlines, images, call-to-action buttons, or layout designs. It’s crucial to choose variables that align with your objectives.
  • Limit Variables to Manage Complexity: While it’s tempting to test many elements simultaneously, too many variables can make your test overly complex and hard to analyze. Stick to a few key elements to maintain clarity in your results.

Best Practices in Test Design

  • Ensure Sufficient Sample Size: The size of your test group must be large enough to detect a meaningful difference between variations. Tools like Optimizely’s Sample Size Calculator can help determine the right size.
  • Randomize Assignment to Variations: To avoid bias, ensure that participants are randomly assigned to different test variations. This randomness is crucial for the validity of your test results.

Ensuring Statistical Relevance

  • Set Statistical Significance Levels: Before running the test, decide on a threshold for statistical significance (usually a 95% confidence level is standard). This will help you determine if the observed differences are due to the test variations or just random chance.
  • Use the Right Statistical Tests: Understand and choose appropriate statistical tests (like chi-square tests for categorical data or t-tests for continuous data). These tests help in determining whether the variations in your test significantly impact the outcomes.
  • Consider the Duration of Your Test: Run the test long enough to collect adequate data but be wary of running it too long as this can lead to other variables contaminating your results.

Creating Variations: Tips and Tricks

  • Focus on User Experience: Any variation should enhance the user experience. Avoid changes that make the site harder to navigate or slow to load.
  • Be Bold, Yet Relevant: Test bold variations, but keep them relevant to your audience. For instance, a drastic change in CTA button color might be more effective than subtle text changes.
  • Learn from Past Tests: Use data and insights from previous tests to inform your current test designs. What worked? What didn’t? This historical data is invaluable.

Use of Visual Elements in Test Variants

  • A/B Testing with Images: Test different images to see which resonates more with your audience. For example, does a lifestyle image outperform a product-only image?
  • Videos vs. Text: Experiment with embedding videos versus using text. Videos can be more engaging but might not always be the most effective way to convey your message.
  • Color Psychology: Colors can evoke different emotions and actions. Test different color schemes in your designs to see which performs better.

In practice, companies like Amazon are constantly running multivariate tests to optimize user experiences. Amazon tests website elements regularly to enhance user shopping experiences.

Technical Aspects of Multivariate Testing

Key Steps in MVT:

  • Hypothesis Formation: Start with a clear hypothesis. What are you trying to learn or improve? For example, if you’re testing a landing page, your hypothesis might be about how different combinations of headlines, images, and CTA buttons affect conversion rates.
  • Designing the Test: Choose the elements you want to test. Each element should have several variations. In our landing page example, you might have three different headlines, two images, and two types of CTA buttons.
  • Segmentation and Sample Size: Ensure your sample size is statistically significant. Tools like Optimizely’s Sample Size Calculator can help here. Remember, the more variables you test, the larger your sample size needs to be.
  • Running the Test: Use a robust MVT tool (like Google Optimize, VWO, or Adobe Target) to run the test. These tools will randomly show different combinations of your variables to different segments of your audience.

Required Tools and Software

Several tools are critical for effective MVT:

  • Testing Platforms: Google Optimize, VWO, Adobe Target, or similar platforms are essential for setting up, running, and analyzing tests.
  • Analytics Tools: Integrating with tools like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics is crucial for deeper insights.
  • User Behavior Tools: Heatmapping and session recording tools like Hotjar or Crazy Egg can provide qualitative insights into how users interact with your test elements.

Integration with Existing Marketing Tools

Effective MVT is not in isolation. Integrating with your existing stack – like CRM, email marketing tools, and analytics platforms – is vital.

  • CRM Integration: Understanding how different segments react in MVT can enhance your CRM’s segmentation and personalization.
  • Email Marketing Tools: Use insights from MVT to tailor your email campaigns. For instance, if a particular headline style works well on your website, test it in your email subject lines.

Ensuring Accurate Data Collection

Data accuracy is paramount. Ensure:

  • Proper Tracking Setup: Verify that your tracking codes are correctly implemented. Inconsistent or faulty tracking can lead to misleading results.
  • Browser and Device Testing: Test your variations across different browsers and devices to ensure consistent user experience and data collection.
  • Control for External Factors: Keep an eye on external factors (like seasonal trends or marketing campaigns) that could skew your data.

Handling Multivariate Testing on Different Platforms

MVT can and should be applied across platforms:

  • Web: This is the most common platform for MVT. Focus on elements like layout, navigation, and content.
  • Mobile: With mobile, consider factors like load time, button sizes, and touch-friendly navigation.
  • Email: Test different subject lines, email layouts, and content. Remember, email clients can be quite varied in how they render content.

Practical Tips:

  • Always tailor your tests to the specificities of each platform.
  • Remember, what works on one platform might not work on another.

Timing and Duration of Tests

The timing and duration of your tests are crucial for accurate results. Run your test long enough to gather significant data, but not so long that external factors (like seasonal changes) skew your results. A/B Testing Duration Calculator tools can be helpful here.

  • Duration: Typically, a test should run for at least one full business cycle, which could be a week or a month, depending on your industry.
  • Timing: Avoid running tests during atypical periods, like major holidays, unless that’s your specific focus.

Segmenting Audiences for Testing

Segmenting your audience allows for more granular and relevant insights. You might segment based on demographics, behavior, acquisition channel, or even past purchasing history. The key is to ensure that each segment is large enough to provide statistically significant results. Tools like Google Analytics offer robust segmentation capabilities.

  • Purposeful Segmentation: Your segments should align with your hypothesis. For example, if you’re testing a new feature aimed at improving user engagement, you might segment by user engagement levels.
  • Control Groups: Always have a control group to measure against your test groups. This is essential for understanding the impact of the changes you’re testing.

Managing User Experience during Tests

User experience should remain a top priority during testing.

  • Consistency: Ensure that users have a consistent experience during their visit, even if they belong to a test group.
  • Performance: Monitor the performance of your site. Adding test elements shouldn’t significantly slow down your site or degrade user experience.
  • Feedback: Consider gathering direct user feedback during tests, as this can provide qualitative insights alongside quantitative data.

Analyzing Test Results

When analyzing test results, the goal is to understand how different variables influence user behavior or conversion rates.

Key Steps:

  • Define Clear Metrics: Begin with a clear definition of what success looks like. This could be click-through rates, conversion rates, or time spent on a page.
  • Gather and Clean Data: Ensure your data is clean and free from anomalies. This involves removing outliers and ensuring the data is consistent.
  • Visualize the Data: Use tools like Tableau or Google Analytics to visualize data. This makes patterns and trends more apparent.
  • Statistical Analysis: Employ statistical methods to make informed conclusions. This could involve t-tests, chi-squared tests, or ANOVA, depending on the data and the test structure.

Interpreting Data and Metrics

Interpreting data goes beyond just looking at numbers; it’s about understanding the story behind those numbers.

Key Considerations:

  • Contextual Analysis: Look at metrics in the context of your marketing goals and industry benchmarks.
  • Trend Analysis: Identify whether the data points are part of a larger trend or an anomaly.
  • Segmentation: Break down the data into segments (like demographics, behavior, etc.) to uncover deeper insights.
  • Correlation vs. Causation: Be careful to not confuse correlation with causation. Just because two metrics move together doesn’t mean one causes the other.

Understanding Statistical Significance

Statistical significance helps you determine whether the results of your test are due to chance or if they are reliable.

Key Concepts:

  • P-value: Understand the p-value, which indicates the probability that the observed results occurred by chance. Typically, a p-value of 0.05 or less is considered statistically significant.
  • Confidence Intervals: Use confidence intervals to understand the range within which your true effect lies with a certain level of confidence (usually 95%).
  • Sample Size: Larger sample sizes generally provide more reliable results but be mindful of practical constraints like time and cost.

Example: Google Ads uses statistical significance to help advertisers understand the performance of their ad variations.

Learning from Failed or Inconclusive Tests

Not all tests will yield clear winners. However, there’s value in these tests too.


  • Root Cause Analysis: Understand why the test failed. Was it due to poor design, external factors, or just inconclusive data?
  • Learn and Hypothesize: Use the insights to formulate new hypotheses for future tests.
  • Iterate: Don’t be afraid to retest with adjusted variables or in a different context.


Example: Coca-Cola’s ‘New Coke’ fiasco in the 1980s was a failed test that provided valuable lessons in consumer preferences and brand loyalty.

Beyond The Basics

Advanced Strategies in Multivariate Testing (MVT) are an essential part of a marketer’s toolkit, especially when you’re delving into the deeper layers of customer experience and behavior. At an advanced level, MVT isn’t just about changing a few colors or headlines. It’s about deeply understanding how different elements interact with each other and influence user behavior.

  • Advanced Strategies in Multivariate Testing:

    • Complex Test Designs: Instead of basic A/B testing, consider factorial designs or fractional factorial designs that can test multiple variables simultaneously. This approach helps in understanding the interaction effects between different variables.
    • Segmentation in Testing: Divide your audience into meaningful segments based on demographics, behavior, or purchase history. This can reveal how different groups respond to variations, providing more nuanced insights.
    • Statistical Rigor: Ensure statistical significance by choosing the right sample size and test duration. Tools like Optimizely’s sample size calculator can be useful here. Also, consider Bayesian methods for a more nuanced understanding of test results.
  • Leveraging Machine Learning and AI:

    • Predictive Modelling: Use machine learning algorithms to predict user behavior based on past data. For example, a regression model might predict customer lifetime value based on website interactions.
    • Automated Personalization: AI can help in creating personalized experiences at scale. For instance, tools like Adobe Target use machine learning to automatically offer the most relevant content to each visitor.
    • Content Optimization: AI can also assist in generating and optimizing content. GPT-3, for example, can create varied content for testing different headlines or product descriptions.
    • Automated Test Design: AI algorithms can now suggest test designs based on your objectives and past data.
  • Dynamic and Adaptive Testing Methods:

    • Bandit Algorithms: Unlike traditional A/B tests that wait until the end of the test period to choose a winner, multi-armed bandit algorithms dynamically shift traffic to better-performing variants in real-time.
    • Adaptive Design: This involves changing the test in response to early results. If one variant is underperforming significantly, it can be dropped, and resources can be reallocated to more promising variants.
  • Long-term Testing Strategies:

    • Continuous Testing Culture: Foster a culture of continuous testing and learning. Long-term success comes from constantly iterating and improving.
    • Holistic View: Look at how changes impact the entire customer journey. Long-term strategies should account for downstream effects like retention and lifetime value, not just immediate conversion rates.
  • Predictive Analysis and Future Trends:

    • Predictive Analysis: Use historical data to predict future trends. This could involve analyzing past marketing campaigns to forecast ROI or customer responses to future campaigns.
    • Future Trends: Stay abreast of emerging trends in technology and consumer behavior. For example, the increasing importance of privacy and data security is likely to impact how we collect and use data for marketing.

Emerging Technologies and Innovations

Emerging technologies are reshaping MVT:

  • Voice and AR/VR: With the rise of voice search and AR/VR, testing in these new environments is becoming crucial. How does a change in a VR setting affect user interaction? This is a new frontier.
  • Blockchain for Data Integrity: Utilizing blockchain to ensure the integrity and reliability of testing data, especially in decentralized environments.

Advanced Analytical Tools and Software

Advanced tools offer deeper insights:

  • Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning: Tools like SAS, Tableau, and R provide sophisticated data analysis capabilities, making sense of complex multivariate test data.

Integration with Big Data and IoT

The integration of MVT with big data and IoT opens up vast possibilities:

  • Big Data for Deeper Insights: Integrating MVT with big data tools (like Hadoop or Spark) allows analysis of massive datasets for more nuanced insights.
  • IoT for Real-World Testing: Testing in the IoT realm means assessing how changes affect user interaction with physical devices and environments.

Best Practices Recap

  • Comprehensive Planning: Before testing, clearly define your objectives and hypotheses. Understand the interplay of different variables and anticipate potential interactions.
  • Segmentation and Targeting: Tailor your experiments based on customer segments. Personalization can significantly influence the effectiveness of different variations.
  • Statistical Rigor: Ensure that your test results are statistically significant. Use tools like Optimizely’s Sample Size Calculator to determine the appropriate sample size.
  • Iterative Testing: Don’t stop at one test. Use the insights gained to refine your hypotheses and run subsequent experiments.
  • Holistic View: Integrate MVT insights with other data sources (e.g., customer feedback, analytics) for a more comprehensive understanding.

Multivariate testing in marketing is a powerful tool, but it requires a methodical approach to design, execute, and interpret tests. The key is to start with clear objectives, select the right variables, and use the right statistical methods to analyze results. For an in-depth study, books like “Multivariate Data Analysis” by Hair et al. provide comprehensive coverage. You can also learning from case studies and industry benchmarks. For example, Adobe’s case studies often provide valuable insights into successful MVT strategies.

Remember, the world of marketing is dynamic, so staying updated with the latest trends and continuously testing is the key to success.