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.

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