There are lots of ways to approaching testing and optimization. Leveraging data and keeping focused will be your ticket to success.

Grounding yourself in data

You can be more opportunistic and even successful by testing pages or elements ad hoc, but it’s often by chance. Grounding yourself in data will yield much higher returns. Assuming you’ve got an overall strategy in place, you need to determine what you should test and where. (If you haven’t got the foundations yet, take a look at my previous post on Taking optimization from strategy to execution.) Question why certain behaviors might be exhibited and utilize those reports to feed your test charters. Once you get a lot of tests under your belt, those results get fed into your pool of data available to you and can catapult you into more test ideas.

Where to test

It goes without saying, but identify top visited pages, top pages for conversions, and review reports to pique your curiosity. In addition, your home page is a good start, but depending on what line of business you’re in, it might be tough to know what visitors’ intent is. At Adobe, we get millions of visitors a month coming to our site just to download the Flash plugin or Adobe Reader. Others come because they recalled advertising they saw and just typed in the URL. We constantly test and target experiences on our home page for optimum results. You can also look at search keywords to understand what your customers are looking for and leverage those pages as well.

Test types  

There are lots of types of things to test:

  • Content
  • Appearance (creative execution)
  • Layout
  • Functionality
  • Existence (does having an element on a page matter)

Content and appearance are the easiest things to test. As long as you have the means to have well written content and/or well executed design, it’s fairly easy to implement.

Layout and functionality require a bit more work. And by someone who has web development skills.

Existence falls somewhere in the middle in terms of level of effort. It really depends on the page and it depends on what you’re removing or adding in.

A methodical approach 

It’s great to know all these different types of tests you can do, but now what? Ideally, you’d want to find out first which elements make a difference or do an existence test. Surprisingly on some of our web pages, we have actually experimented with removing the purchase “pod” to see if it makes a difference. In some cases, it actually doesn’t, so we’ve taken it off the page to keep focus on the page.

If you’ve determined you have the right elements, you can try moving the elements around (layout test) or treat them differently creatively (appearance test).

Lastly, and certainly easiest, you can experiment with content. You can try different positioning, specific words to define a feature of your product, or maybe experiment with catchy headlines.

Functionality is by far the toughest thing to test. And because it is, you have to have a pretty good reason to want to. Do you have access to usability studies or customer satisfaction reports from your site? These are good indicators if the user experience is amiss and you need to intervene.

You know your business best

Ultimately, you might find yourself weaving in and out of these different types of tests because of opportunities that present themselves. As long as you can continue to learn while you approach your testing program, you are well on your way.