Just because your Web CMS works, the digital assets are live and the site is conducting transactions, doesn't mean there isn't great value in capturing your users' feedback!

In the last few months, we have seen the fall of retail giants such as HMVBlockbuster Rental Stores and Jessops. All were transactional but their customers needs were constantly evolving and not always being met.

Consistent testing throughout a sites development should be ingrained within the psyche of Marketers, Web Managers, E-commerce professionals and anyone else invested in conversion.

Businesses struggle with implementing customer experience testing. The reason for this can come from a general lack of understanding of how improvements could be implemented into the product life-cycle. Testing is usually seen as an optional “add-on” to be dealt with at the end of the project, rather than an integral and ongoing part of the development process.

There are 7 main stages where testing can occur:

7stages.png

Out of this seven we can condense the stages into four points in development where testing should be compulsory.

Wireframe and Concept Stage (Research to Prototype)

Wireframing is one way to see and test your website before investing time and resources to coding and programming. A wireframe is the primitive skeleton of your website. It is crucial to test your website during this stage as after all, users are going to be the ones using it -- and why would you waste time and effort building something that, in the end, users don’t need, understand or want?

Other significant reasons include:

  1. Save money on development by identifying user struggle as you build and not when it's too expensive to change at the end of your project.
  2. Understand if your bright idea is understood by users, even with a flat Home Page image.
  3. Test your journey assumptions with users as you build.
  4. Focus the team on what works, as opposed to what "looks nice."
  5. Put senior management "back in their box" by deflecting their hunch-based views on how something should work with real user insight.

Pre-live (Development to Staging)

To cover as many possible points of failure, the pre-live testing environment should be as similar to the final production environment as possible. In this environment, every website release that is considered production-ready will be tested thoroughly before it is actually rolled out in production. Other reasons to test at pre-live:

  1. Get greater confidence as you approach launch that users really will use what you've built.
  2. Quickly spot the issues you missed because you're too close to the project.
  3. Refine your promotional emails and campaign based on users' perceptions (and not Marketing's hunches).
  4. Save developer time and money by making the refinements on pre-live that you usually only make when it's in the wild.
  5. Identify and fix performance issues from real usage that automated tools can not simulate.

At Live (Release)

Not the best stage to begin testing but them again preferred to no testing at all. If you are at the live stage, do not despair there are still persuasive reasons to test:

  1. Stop relying on customer service to report issues and capture them even before they're reported.
  2. Remove the guesswork from any changes that GA or your web stats package is reporting.
  3. Inform your MVT tests by basing your hypothesis on user feedback, not your hunches.
  4. Save time by prioritizing your snag list based upon real user issues and not what your Manager thinks is important.
  5. Motivate the project team by showing them the positive impact they've had on your users' experience.

Ongoing Testing

This is what separates the “men” from the “boys” so to speak. Usability is an ongoing process and when sales and conversions must be optimized only a site with no competitors would not prioritize ongoing testing throughout the year. I recognize however that ongoing testing may be hampered by internal buy-in so five reasons to test at this stage are:

  1. Compete more effectively by continually benchmark your site against key competitors.
  2. React faster to environmental changes that don't come to light until it's too late (or the HelpDesk Manager submits their report).
  3. Inform your ongoing MVT programme by removing the guesswork of which hypothesis to test and base your tests on user insight.
  4. Get behind the "Why?" of GA and pro-actively address issues like "Why is this page not performing?"
  5. Let users determine your next round of enhancements based upon what they do and think and not your own hunches.

To summarize, you can test a new site in development, marketing communications and promotions before they go live, apps as they are being developed, or your online store and checkout process to increase sales. Most importantly, customer feedback can enrich your sales efforts at any time during the product cycle.

Editor's Note: Still not convinced you should test? Then read Mark Simpson's Five Reasons Testing Should be Included in Your 2013 Marketing Plan