Why User Testing Should Be a Permanent Line Item in Your Digital Marketing Budget
Well, OK. So this is a bit dramatic. You will likely not die (except maybe of shame) if you do not user test your website prior to launch and on an ongoing basis. But you might get fired if your manager finds out that you launched the brand spanking new website you just spent thousands of dollars on without considering the user experience.
I think it is obvious from my title that we have strong feelings on the subject. These are rooted in experience. We have had to share the bad news with more than one client or prospect wondering why their gorgeous new website was not generating revenue as expected. For one such client the bounce rate went up from 35% on the “old, ugly” website to over 95% on the “new, lovely” website, and they had to spend tens of thousands of dollars over the next several months (they did quite a bit of testing then) to recover. They discovered that while the new website was appealing, the way the information was organized made it harder for visitors to find what they were looking for and to purchase their product. And all of that could have been avoided with a modest user testing budget (as little as $1,000 is enough) and a little planning.
So, What Are You Selling, Mate?
Your website exists for a single reason: it is there for your visitors (customers, clients, however you label them in your line of business) to quickly find what you want them to find there, and do what you want them to do there. In digital marketing speak we refer to those valuable-to-you visitor actions on your website as “Conversions” and the path taken by visitors to complete the task or action is the “Conversion Funnel” or – if you have an eCommerce website and are actually selling stuff online – your “Sales Funnel”. Similarly your visitors come to you because they have a problem to solve. They want to find a solution, take the action needed to solve it, and go on their merry way. We are all busy. Nobody wants to take the scenic route on your website. If the path from problem to solution takes too long, or is too twisted, your visitors may become frustrated and leave. And they are highly unlikely to come back.
Your Website is Your Virtual Flagship Store
Regardless of what you are “selling” on your website, think of your website is your virtual storefront. In fact, we tell clients to think of their website as their virtual flagship store. As more commercial activity moves online, your website is where you should showcase your brand and purpose. If you would pay for the Chihuly chandelier for your storefront, why are you skimping on the website? Unlike a bricks-and-mortar storefront, this one is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You wouldn’t open a storefront without considering and researching location, considering who you will be selling to, working with an interior designer to plan the layout and decor of the store, considering merchandising, ease of access, sufficient parking, clear signage to make it easy for shoppers to navigate your property and locate checkouts to make both shopping and buying a breeze, right? So why would you not consider and test corresponding online factors when building your website?
Include User Testing in Your Website Maintenance Budget
Not testing your website’s usability prior and post launch is highly risky. And if your management considers the website and all expenses associated with it as an “expense”, that is a red flag. Your website is your primary marketing tool, and should be viewed as an investment, not a cost. Running just five tests on each of your key conversion funnels is sufficient to identify any issues. If you are selling products on your website, a simple task-based online user test, e.g.: “go to www website dot com and buy a red candy apple”, will uncover any friction your visitors may encounter. Issues uncovered could include technical problems, such as a slowly loading site or form, unclear navigation, unappealing product description, hard to see checkout button, a checkout cart that does not inspire confidence, etc. Addressing these issues prior to launch will save you money by keeping visitors on the site and make you money by encouraging returning visits.
Periodic “spot checking” and user testing post-launch will help you grease the skids in your conversion funnel further. Ultimately an effective digital strategy is not just about driving visitors to your website, but also keeping them there to complete a task, and – better yet – making their experience so pleasant, that they keep going back for more.
So test, people, test. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And it beats getting fired.