Split testing – when you’re not sure how to decide between two options

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You probably quite often find yourself in a situation of struggling with how to decide between two options you have on the table (like we all do); or maybe you obsessively compare two things to choose the one that would work best for you. Split testing is a very popular experimental method in the online world and it might help you make the right choice when you find yourself in a situation like that.

The idea of split testing in personal life is that you go a step further from only weighing advantages and disadvantages of each option that you have on a piece of paper – you know, drawing the standard table with pluses and minuses and then still going for the option with more minuses, just because you feel differently from what the table is showing you.

Sometimes a simple pro-con table can’t give you good enough insights to match your instincts. And your instincts can always be wrong. That’s why it often makes sense to do real experiments in life that give you deep insights and understanding of the situation. An understanding that’s more reliable than only your instincts and assumptions. Split testing is one of the best ways to do such experiments.

In this blog post, we will look at many ideas and ways of using split testing in personal life. But first we will quickly overview how this method is used in the online world – you know, to understand the background and the basics.

Not to get confused, split testing is also often called A/B testing (when you’re comparing two isolated variables) or even multivariate testing (when you’re testing two different options where several variables are changed).

AB testing

Split testing in the online world

The most important rule in the online world to achieve any kind of success is: Always be testing. Split testing is a great way to follow this philosophy, because it’s fast, easy, simple and gives clear results. All successful digital marketers are doing split tests as part of their regular daily routine.

If we go for a definition, split testing is a method of conducting controlled, randomized experiments with the goal of improving website performance. You try to improve the number of clicks or other completions (conversions) on your blog, such as clicking a banner, filling out a form or making a purchase.

In practice, split testing means that you show different versions of parts of your website to your readers and track which one works best. With many different software solutions and plugins available, it’s not difficult to set different split tests. Here are some examples of what you can test with split testing:

  • Headlines
  • Call-to-Actions and banners
  • Social buttons
  • Visual elements
  • Website navigation
  • Landing pages for your products
  • The time you send out your emails

You can test many other things, like typography, colors, font size, different widget positions on your sidebar, copywriting, testimonials, form fields etc. The basics are simple, but at some point things get really complicated. Fortunately, we don’t have to go into detail.

Here are a few practical examples of split tests in the online world:

  • You send out a mailing on two different days at the same time and measure results
  • You use Google AdWords to compare which of two headlines is catchier
  • You change the color and text on your “call-to-action” button and compare the results
  • You use heat maps to compare two layouts and structures of an article
  • You compare two email subscription banners to see which one gets more subscribers

There is one shocking thing about these tests. I tested dozens of ads with Google AdWords and many different subscription banners and blog post titles. It’s very simple to do that.

For example, you open Google AdWords, make two different headlines of an ad, show it to hundreds of people and see which one catches more attention and, in the next step, which one leads to more conversions (Google offers you a coupon to start using AdWords, and you can do it yourself as a test). But here’s the thing.

You can be so sure that the option A is going to be the winning one, but then the other option works better. You get so shocked at how you could have been so wrong when you were so sure. Sometimes the more boring option wins, sometimes the more shocking one, you really never know what the results will be.

Thus there is a rule to always put data before any arguments, and to put everything to the test. Your personal life shouldn’t be an exception to that.

How to decide

Split testing and conducting experiments in personal life

Doing split tests in personal life can’t be as exact, simple and scientific as it is in the online world. Nevertheless, we can take many ideas and good practices from online split testing and apply it into experimenting in personal life.

If we take a step back and go to the basics of experimenting, there are four main things you need to have to conduct a professional experiment and a professional split test:

  • A goal or purpose: What kind of an outcome you want to achieve and especially why
  • A hypothesis: It’s an educated guess based on your prior experience and knowledge.
  • Data collection and methodology: A plan for how you will collect data and what kind of experiments you will perform.
  • Data analysis and conclusion: You perform the experiments, you analyze the data and come to certain conclusions. You get the superior insights you need to make a solid decision.
  • Well, you also need a piece of paper or a spreadsheet to write everything down and measure the results. Never do tests only in your head, those aren’t real tests.

A goal and a hypothesis are the simplest parts of an experiment. You always need to first clearly know what and why you want to achieve something. The best way to clarify your “why” is to write a short life story.

For example, if you want to lose weight, you could write down a short life story like this one: I want to lose weight to feel good when I look in the mirror, walk proudly on the beach, draw more attention from the opposite gender, be able to climb the highest mountains and enjoy high levels of energy every day.

Then you need to set a hypothesis. You assume, with an educated guess, what will work better for you, option A or option B. The idea of conducting an experiment is that you validate or disprove your assumption. That’s why you need a hypothesis, but that also means you must detach yourself from the hypothesis and have no problem being wrong. You have to properly manage your ego.

The main value of experimenting is to not act based on your wrong assumptions, but based on superior insights that you gather with experimenting. To do that, you must have no problem being wrong. You must be committed to finding what works best for you, no matter how many times you fail.

When you state a hypothesis, you make an educated guess. Now, educated is quite an important part of it. Before doing an experiment, you always have to educate yourself.

In our case of dieting, that would mean reading a few books about dieting and a healthy lifestyle, analyzing what options you have, thinking about past experiences and what worked best for you, and so on. You can’t just blindly do an experiment; you have to do an initial investment to get at least a little bit educated. That’s what most experiments require.

Now comes the hardest part. In the online world, it’s very easy to set the metrics and then track what works and what doesn’t. In personal life, it’s not so simple, but there are metrics you can rely on if you think hard enough. You can gather feedback in four different ways:

  • Internal metrics – your body, mind, heart and soul metrics or, in other words, what’s happening with you as a person and whether things are going in the right direction for you as an individual.
  • External metrics – the feedback you get from your environment and how your environmental variables change with you changing yourself, including your relationships, balance sheet, public status and potential promotions.
  • Hard core (cold) metrics – They can be internal or external, but they are always numbers and measured facts that most often show the cold, hard reality. You never lose body fat as fast as you would want to.
  • Soft (reflective) metrics – All the qualitative data you gather, together with your feelings, opinions and all other descriptive metrics.

Here are examples of different types of metrics. Body fat percentage is an internal hard core metric. How happy you are following diet A or B is an internal reflective metric. Because you often lie to yourself, an opinion of your spouse of how happy you seemed every day on diet A and diet B is an external reflective metric. The number of hours spent preparing food for diet A or B is an external hardcore metric.

There are two other types of metrics you have to know – actionable and vanity metrics. As I mentioned, we all have a tendency to lie to ourselves. To protect our self-image and ego. We all like to focus on vanity metrics and deceive ourselves that we are better than we actually are. Vanity metrics are all the metrics that give you a good feeling about yourself, but in reality you are making no progress. You should avoid them.

Examples of doing vanity actions regarding a diet would be:

  • Only reading and getting educated but in reality doing nothing
  • Focusing only on how much you weigh, but not on body fat percentage and all other metrics
  • Going on a diet for two weeks and then going back to your old lifestyle, where you only lose water
  • Following an extreme diet that hurts your health
  • Starting to use olive oil for your salad and assuming you live a healthy lifestyle

When you have your metrics in place, it’s time to conduct an experiment. This is again the simpler part. For a period of time you do A, then for a period of time you do B, and you regularly gather data and measure results during both periods. It takes some effort, but it’s not that hard to do. Then you compare the results and draw conclusions from your experiment. Let’s look at a concrete example of how to do that.

Split testing

Practical examples

Example of split testing in personal life

It’s time for a practical example of how to do a split test in personal life. Since we already talked a lot about how to apply experimenting in finding a perfect diet, let’s build up our case on the same example.

Let’s say that you’re trying to decide whether to eat meat or not (to become a vegetarian, in other words), even though you want to gain muscle mass and thus need to consume enough protein (the easiest way to consume enough protein is to eat meat).

First we have to define how to perform an experiment. A framework could look like this:

  • Consume 2g of protein per 1kg of body weight, which sums to 150g of protein daily
  • Get 30g of protein with every meal during 5 meals per day
  • Keep the work‑out regimen the same during the experiment time
  • Keep as many other variables the same as possible– sleep pattern, stress levels, water intake etc.
  • Option A: You eat a 150g steak 2x per day, 1x 300g cottage cheese or 3 eggs, 2x protein shake
  • Option B: Instead of meat, you eat 100g of soy, 50g of seitan (wheat gluten), 3 eggs or the macro equivalent of dairy

Of course you should prepare a more detailed eating plan that’s comparable in macro- and micro-nutrients. You try to isolate the variable you measure (eating meat or not) as much as possible, while keeping all other factors the same. You can then decide to follow option A for three months and option B for three months.

A professional nutritionist can give you additional recommendations and directions on how to do an experiment (always consult experts when doing experiments with your body, wealth, and other important life areas!).

In the next step, you need to define metrics. You can measure how the change in your diet affects your body composition, fitness performance, overall health, energy levels, schedule, how well you’re feeling and many other different metrics that are important to you. You should focus on the most important metrics (the ones that matter to you the most as an individual), not to get overwhelmed. For example, you could choose the following metrics:

  • Blood analysis (laboratory)
  • Weight (kg)
  • Body fat percentage (%)
  • Circumference of core muscles (cm)
  • Fitness performance – aerobic endurance, muscle endurance, strength (with standard metrics)
  • Your energy levels (on a scale from 1 to 10)
  • Your general happiness levels (with happiness index)
  • How long it takes to prepare meals (in hours)
  • How hard it is to get proper meals when eating out
  • Social pressure that you get
  • How the diet impacts your grocery budget
  • Other metrics you might find important

Since going from a vegetarian diet to eating meat is a big change, it makes sense to take more metrics into consideration. With minor changes, you can go with way fewer metrics. You can also skip all the metrics that aren’t very important to you. For example, if you are wealthy and have an unlimited budget for food, you don’t have to measure changes in your budget for grocery shopping. It all depends on the goals you have.

Then you create a new spreadsheet, you build Excel tables for all the metrics, and you note the results you get every day (here is an example). After conducting the experiment, you draw the conclusions and go for option A or option B.

I did exactly that when I had to make a decision whether I should start eating meat after 7 years of being vegetarian and vegan. Because it wasn’t an easy choice, I needed strong arguments and facts that eating meat works better for me.

When I changed my diet, my blood analysis got way better, I gained 10 kg of muscles, my fitness performance improved and I had way more energy. It was an extremely hard change for me to make, because I really wanted to be vegan, but all the metrics except my ego were showing a different direction.


There are so many different split tests you can do

If you are a little bit creative, there are many different split tests you can do. Below is a list of split testing examples I regularly do (and a few additional ideas I have for how you could use this experimenting methodology):

  • Eat a certain food for a period of time and then don’t (sugar, fruits, diary …).
  • Drink only water for 3 weeks and for 3 weeks all different kinds of beverages you usually drink.
  • Compare two different types of exercises to find out which works better for you.
  • For a month, use a few core food supplements and for a month eat none.
  • Build landing pages for two of your business ideas and drive some traffic to it to see which one gets more interest.
  • Compare having a credit card in your life with having none at all.
  • Try two different operating systems on your computer for a month.
  • Join two projects in different industries and compare which industry works better for you.
  • Use social media/phone/read news for a month and then don’t use it at all for a month.
  • Do a 30 Day Challenge and then compare your life with the previous month.
  • Socialize like the biggest party animal for a month, and then go into monk mode for a month.
  • Live without a car for a month and then live for a year with the most expensive car you can afford.
  • Compliment your spouse every day for 14 days and compare it to previous regular 14 days.
  • Work 10 hours a day for 14 days and then 7 hours for 14 days.

There are so many options and so many things you can try and experiment with. You just have to be a little bit creative, curious and bold. The rule is simple. Always be testing, and put everything to the test. You should constantly experiment with different life settings, and compare different options you have in order to find the ones that work best for you.

It makes life really interesting, fulfilling and exciting. Sometimes you can do an experiment very quickly and easily, especially for minor decisions, and sometimes you really have to dive in and do it obsessively like a crazy scientist. But it’s fun and it really is worth it.

Now let’s get down to business. It’s time for you to brainstorm the first split test that you’ll do in your personal life (or choose one from all the ideas mentioned above.) Think hard.

What is the split test you can do that has the potential to change your life in the most positive way? What kind of a test would give you insights into how you can change your lifestyle or redesign your life to be more successful and happier? Dive in, start experimenting, and put everything to the test.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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