I won’t overstate the obvious. You have to test, test, and test some more. There’s a reason “always be testing” has become the new “ABCs” (ABTs, more accurately) for digital marketers. Whether it’s a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, email messaging, promotional offer, page design, or countless other aspects of your site, your app, and your various extensions and marketing platforms, there’s always something that can—and should—be tested, reviewed, adjusted, and optimized. It’s that simple. So simple, in fact, that you’re almost definitely already doing it, even if it’s just some basic incidental testing.

Once you begin testing, there’s no doubt you’ll have a few wins, even if they’re incidental—and with surprising results! So you’ve had a few victories with “red or green,” “image or no image,” “20 percent off,” or buy-one, get-one.” To elevate testing like this into optimization territory, you’ve got to think about the various steps in your site’s purchase flow process. How do consumers end up on your site? Where do they go next? How, during the process, are they responding and reacting to your content, offers, and touch points? Maybe it’s an emotional reaction or a completely intuitive response, but something you’d never have come to through A/B testing. And sometimes it’s not as obvious as you might think. Sometimes you can’t get there without looking over the consumer’s shoulder. Literally.

Here’s where I often see another stumbling block to moving from incidental testing to full-blown optimization: integrating usability testing. For organizations, the testing process should be an iterative, multidimensional, data-driven cycle. Based on the results from your tests you optimize, make more hypotheses, and you test again. Much of this naturally emerges from the numbers, but sometimes it goes deeper—that’s where user testing comes in. The ability to peek over consumers’ shoulders and watch their paths, their real-time decision-making processes, and their unfiltered, untrained feedback is priceless. And it carries a heavy price tag, both financially and temporally.  But now is not the time to slow the cycle down.

One company help bridging that gap is UserTesting, an online-based on-demand usability testing service that lets organizations like yours peek at target consumers while they’re actively engaged in your website content and services. It’s quick, it’s cost effective, it works—and everyone’s using it. UX usability pros are tapping into their innovative methods to test wireframes and prototypes, product managers are peeking at prospective customers initiating a search for their category to observe the natural path in, and even app and game developers are getting in on the action. Does their target market think the game is fun? Cool? Is the app easy enough to use on the go? Would customers pay $1.99 for it? Think of it as a virtual one-on-one focus group—one that delivers results in about an hour from the time you initiate your test.

A good example? OpenTable, the popular restaurant reservation portal, was highly committed to testing and optimization. In 2009, the company started tapping into UserTesting for quicker usability response. Results that once took two weeks now took about an hour. (Side note: about 79 percent of UserTesting partners get their results in 60 minutes or less—you can’t get a pizza that fast.) What were they looking for? Plenty, including the reasons users abandon the site prereservation, how reviews influence bookings, and what information potential diners need to choose a particular restaurant. By “sitting in” with target users via video recording, OpenTable was able to test several site sections, including its search feature, info pages, and even the sign-up process, ensuring a smoother, more seamless experience for diners with less developmental down time, ultimately increasing conversion rates based on these insights.

And it’s as cost efficient as it is time efficient. A simple test can be set up in 3–5 minutes, and programs start around $100 for a three-person test. So check that user testing box—even if you can’t roll out the red carpet to your users personally, you can still pulse-check a critical mass and toss those results into your testing cycle. User testing can really move the needle, helping marketers understand the whys of it all and better inform what, when, where, and how to test, and making those results matter even more.

Now that you’ve got your user testing in place, let’s talk about those wins again. Another offshoot of wins is user-based victories—shouting them from the rooftop, more accurately—to get the kind of buy-in you need for the next and equally important step: strategic alignment. Despite its importance, even some of the most digitally savvy organizations continue to be challenged by getting their testing ducks in a row. Strategic alignment across all testing platforms, practices, and executions ensures a well-informed, well-constructed campaign with more meaningful, actionable results. Testing in a vacuum is better than no testing at all, but it just can’t compete with this multichannel, cross-departmental approach.

We see this over and over at Adobe. As testing programs evolve, it’s more crucial than ever that the overall organization and its marketing arms pull in resources from all key facets of the business. It’s not just knowing what to test—you likely already have that down, or at least a well-informed lead—it’s making sure you’ve got all hands on deck, falling in place and ensuring more germane results. Or maybe you don’t know what to test—what’s getting in the way, what’s keeping customer conversion low, why people just aren’t buying. Rally the troops and take the temperature of the extended crew, gauge their sentiments, and see what’s keeping them up at night.

Testing is critical. I’ve said it over and over, and will continue to drive that point home—though I don’t think anyone’s arguing. But usability testing provides a critical piece of that testing and optimization equation, for organizations that don’t have the time, the investment, or that simply want to be more real-time in their decision making and optimization strategies.

Whether you’re looking for ideas on where to start your testing program or are actively testing and looking to kick it up a notch, this is a great place to start. Give it a whirl and tell me what you’re implementing—and tell me if the results surprise you. We’re working on some great case study assessments with a few truly innovative companies, so there’s plenty more to come on the topic.