Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paying the Price: Why usability testing is not a luxury

A recent issue of Jared Spool’s UIE Tips struck a nerve when he shared that a client’s management team had perceived usability testing as a “nice-to-have luxury.” I’ve heard similar statements from companies large and small that pass on usability testing, believing it’s “not critical,” “will delay our launch,” or that “the site experience is less important than accurately conveying the brand.”

No company with a web site tied to business results can afford to disregard usability testing, and here’s why:

* Your site experience represents your company and brand. Think of the last time you had a frustrating experience on a site – did you ever want to do business with that company again?

* Your investment pays off – in multiples. It costs less to invest in usability testing up front than to overhaul a site in 6 months due to minimal user engagement, poor sales, and/or weak lead generation. Plus, it’s costly to pay for leads that will drive traffic to your site so you need to keep – and engage – customers who are already visiting.

* You’re not a mind reader. Not every web project will produce disastrous results without testing, but, in my experience, testing has repeatedly surfaced opportunities to improve user interactions that, if left unaddressed, would have significantly impact the site’s success.

* Your credibility is at stake. With usability testing, you’re in a position to fix user issues before you launch and guarantee successful user adoption of your new feature(s). And, with a series of successful launches on your side, you’ll build your team’s credibility, making it easier to secure funding for future web projects.

Debunking the Myth
All too often, usability testing is misunderstood as an extremely costly, time consuming, and clinical process administered by social scientists. Unfortunately, many usability shops compound the problem by presenting overly complex theories and methodologies in order to convince clients that:
a) there’s a good reason to pay tens of thousands of dollars for their services; and,
b) they shouldn’t try doing this on their own.

Apply Home-Grown Testing
In my experience, the exact opposite is true. As a site owner/manager, there’s nothing more powerful than having direct contact with your users. Information about your customers is valuable: have you noticed how a colleague can quickly garner support for an idea by citing customer feedback that supports her claim? By presenting customer insights about your web site, your extended team is more likely to support your goals.

If you’re a small business, your only option may be to conduct testing on your own with some assistance and coaching. In the next post, I’ll share more details about usability testing and how you can build this competency in house.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Subscription sites get sophisticated

A recent MarketingSherpa article highlighted results from a survey of 400 subscription marketers who rated these tests as delivering the best ROI:
1. Multivariate testing of site pages
2. Email list cleansing to improve quality of responses
3. Usability testing of registration and/or shopping cart
4. Implementing high-end Web analytics
5. Shopping cart design/functionality tests

My reaction: These marketers are wearing Chanel! I'm impressed they're employing more sophisticated techniques like multivariate testing (these people don't have time for A/B testing!) and usability testing, but my only criticism is that they're qualifying email list cleansing as a test to deliver high ROI.

Isn't list cleansing common sense? If you spend less in email delivery costs to reach the same amount of engaged customers (because you're paring down the 20% of your list that are deadbeats), then sure, anyone will achieve a higher ROI.

A better test would be to test offers to re-engage the deadbeats on your list. Test various offers within a set time period and if they don't bite, then hit "delete."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Problem Child

I recently read an interview with Scott Berkun, the author of "The Myths of Innovation," in which he advises companies that want to be innovative to focus on people and their problems. "Few great innovators worried about anything else. The fact that they found a new idea had more to do with their passion for solving someone's problem than anything else."

I used to joke when managing the web site at Forrester Research that I'd be in "business for life" given the abundance of user challenges with our site. Was the Forrester site any different than most? Probably not, we just talked to our users on a more frequent basis so we were familiar with their gripes.

Are you on a first-name basis with users who complain on a regular basis? If not, why? These customers are trying to accomplish tasks on your site - despite all the roadblocks you have in place - and doing you the courtesy of telling you what's broken. What better way to tee up your next web updates and scenarios for usability testing? Oops, not running any usability tests? Stay tuned, I'm working on some articles that will help you out.