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How To A/B Test Your Domain Name

Hover on September 9, 2015
split test domain names

When it comes to finding a domain name, it’s all about choosing a string of characters that instantly communicates whatever your idea is. This will naturally take place before your website goes live, since you will need your domain in order for people to go to your site in the first place.

There are some scenarios, however, where you can determine what domain is the best after your site is online. This can be done through A/B testing, also known as split testing, which will allow you to try variations of your domain name and let the data show you which one is the best.

What is A/B Testing?

An A/B test is an experiment where you present two nearly identical identical items that have one key difference. After enough time has passed, the data can be examined to see which item most successfully achieved your goal.

For example, let’s say you have two versions of your pricing page, and your goal is to get more people to buy your medium-tier plan. One version of your site says ‘Most Popular’ over your medium-tier pricing plan and a different colour, and the other version does not:

pricing page example

If you notice that the page with ‘Most Popular’ converts more customers to the medium-tier plan than the other version, then that is the page that has won the A/B test and can be implemented into your main website.

How Do I A/B Test A Domain Name?

In our case, the unique element that we are testing is our domain name, and the goal is to get more visitors to our website. You can try this for replacing something small like a promotional landing page or more large-scale like your main website.

Since all of the content on our site will remain the same, we will be running our experiments off of our website — specifically, wherever people first discover our domain names. This can be done anywhere you speak with your site’s visitors outside of your website, such as social media posts and email newsletters.

Split Testing Domain Names With Domain Forwards

The best way to A/B test your domain names is by using domain forwards. This will allow you to measure how much traffic each new domain sends to your existing site, which will then determine which new domain is a strong contender to replace your old one.

To use domain forwards, you will need one dedicated domain name that your site lives on, and 2 or more domain names that you are testing as potential alternatives. To get started, follow the steps below. You will likely already be doing some of these so feel free to skip ahead if that’s the case.

  1. Register a primary domain name for your website.
  2. Set up a Google Analytics account for your website under the primary domain name.
  3. Register two or more domain names that you would like to test.
  4. Set up your test domains so that they forward to your primary domain.
  5. Promote your test domains. Be sure to use the exact same methods of promotion for each domain. For instance, a sponsored Facebook post with the same messaging and targeting for each domain, with only the test domain name in the copy/imagery being changed.
  6. Let your experiment run for enough time to get meaningful data (at least one week).
  7. In the Google Analytics account for your primary domain, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals.
  8. Under source, look for your test domains. This will show you which website had the most visitors and sent the most traffic to your website.

One thing to be conscious of is that because the domain being clicked on is forwarding to a different domain, it is important for the test domain to not be radically different from the domain that it is being forwarded to. Otherwise, visitors might be confused why they clicked on one thing and were taken to something else. To help with this, you can turn on domain masking so that even though your original site is being served up, the test domain name will remain in the address bar.

Here are a few examples of domains that would be a great fit for testing by using forwards:

Once you’ve found your winner then all you need to do is swap out your old domain with your new one! Just make sure to be extra careful when making the change. Here’s our guide on how to change your domain name the right way.

If you have any other tips on split testing domain names, please share in the comments below!