For a long time, marketing teams have been relying on client-side testing to run experiments on a website’s front-end features. However, there is no denying that web applications have increased in complexity which have necessitated more sophisticated approaches to testing, mainly focused on the back-end.

This is where server-side testing becomes indispensable as it widens the possibilities of experimentation.

What is server-side testing?

Server-side testing refers to any type of testing, usually A/B testing, that occurs directly on the web server instead of the user’s browser.

In contrast, client-side testing is where experimentation occurs on the client side through Javascript that runs in the browser to optimize the customer experience.

Therefore, in server-side testing, all the work happens at the server level instead of the browser.

Client-side solutions usually don’t require any technical expertise since they generate the experiment code themselves. Therefore, they are particularly popular with marketing teams for conversion rate optimization purposes. 

Meanwhile, server-side solutions need technical and coding skills as you will need to incorporate experiments into your code and deploy them. 

This doesn’t mean that marketing and product teams cannot make use of such solutions. Non-technical teams would define the experiments in server-side tests and then the engineers can execute them, promoting collaboration and a truly agile workflow. The experiments can then be monitored and analyzed through a dashboard.

Benefits of server-side testing

Since experiments are not rendered on the browser, the experiment is not as noticeable on the user side. Thus, the page load time will suffer minimal impact thereby bypassing the so-called ‘flicker effect’, which is when the original page loads and then is replaced by the test variation. This flicker is usually seen by the user.

Furthermore, with server-side testing, your tech team has full control over the server-side code so they can build experiments without any constraints.

One of the most important benefits of such testing is while client-side testing can only help you test the look and feel of your website, server-side testing allows you to test anything on the back-end such as algorithms and back-end logic. Basically, you can test anything back-end in your application.

Finally, server-side testing is not just limited to testing websites but it also enables you to carry out omnichannel experiments such as on mobile apps and email. Thus, there’s no limit to the devices and platforms you can test.

Use cases for server-side testing

Working server-side allows you to run much more sophisticated tests.

Such advanced testing and advanced experiment capabilities go deeper beyond the scope of UI or cosmetic changes, which revolve around the design or placement of key elements on a web page. It also goes beyond website testing and unlocks a whole new world of experimentation so you can optimize your products or mobile apps.

Testing mobile apps

With client-side testing, you’re limited to devices that have a default web browser; thus, it is impossible to run A/B tests on native mobile apps or even connected devices. With a server-side solution, however, you can deploy A/B tests as soon as the device is connected to the Internet and you can match the identity of the consumer.

Running server-side experiments using Feature flags allows you to run multiple experiments and roll out multiple versions of your mobile app to measure the impact of a change or update to meet customer demands.

In this way, you will be able to determine for a given feature what the impact would be on your users and revenue as you can quickly test new features and modify ones that don’t work.

With remote config implemented through feature flags enables you to upgrade your app continuously in real-time based on feedback from your users without waiting on app store approval.

Testing algorithm efficiency

As already mentioned, server-side A/B tests are efficient for testing deeper level modifications related to the backend and the architecture of your website.

For example, you may want to test different algorithms to convert visitors into customers by making suggestions to potential customers of products that might interest them (product recommendations). In this scenario, you can test out multiple algorithms to investigate which one is leading to higher conversions and revenue based on various product recommendation algorithms.

Server-side testing can also be used to run tests on search algorithms on a website. This can be challenging to run through client-side solutions as search pages are based on the search query and so they are rendered dynamically.

Thus, server-side testing offers more comprehensive testing and allows you to experiment with multiple algorithms by modifying the existing code.

Testing pricing methods

Server-side testing allows you to test complex or significant changes without relying on Javascript such as pricing models or testing a pricing change. For example, you can test out various shipping costs, which are usually run on server-side.

You can also use feature flags to test out a new payment method on a subset of users and see how they adapt before rolling it out to everyone else.

When dealing with such sensitive data, server-side testing is the way to go since it ensures that the data remains safe internally within the server without worrying about a security threat.

Server- vs client-side testing

Client-side testing can be quite beneficial to teams because it’s so easy to set-up, particularly by non-technical teams. It also helps you gain valuable insights in order to customize and optimize the user experience while investing little time and money.

Up to a certain point, client-side testing may be sufficient, especially for testing small changes on your website like the visual aspects to your website. After some time, however, and as your application becomes more advanced, you may want to do more in-depth testing techniques.

Server-side testing is useful for running more sophisticated experiments since the implementation is more direct allowing you to test across the full stack. With this type of testing, you can delve deeper into experiments that explore how a product works.

Whatever method of testing you decide to use will ultimately depend on your objectives and use cases. You can even use both together to heighten productivity and achieve maximum impact.

For example, AB Tasty offers a client-side feature that helps marketers optimize conversions as well as a server-side feature that you can use to enhance the functionality of your products and/or services.

For more of an in-depth look at both types of testing and their pros and cons, check out our article on how to drive digital transformation with client- and server-side optimization and the related infographic.

Using feature flags to conduct server-side testing

Feature flags are a software development tool that allows you to decouple deployment from feature release making releases quicker and less risky.

Therefore, with feature flags you can conduct server-side A/B tests by rolling out new features to a small group of users. You can then measure their performance on this group of users before rolling out to everyone else.

If you want to try your hand in server-side testing, AB Tasty offers server-side experimentation in order to conduct safe experiments for your features by setting up user-targeting and KPIs to track and put you on the road to quicker and safer releases.

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