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Bigger, Bolder Tests for Better Returns in the New Year

Posted on 12.07.2015

:: By Doug Cohen, SiteSpect ::

In the highly competitive world of online retail it’s all about the customer experience.

Creating the experience that draws customers in and keeps them coming back again and again is the name of the game for retailers. Other industries, such as finance, banking and healthcare are also catching on to just how important the customer experience is to attracting and retaining customers. A/B and multivariate testing when used correctly has proven to be the most effective way to optimize websites, which is critical in delivering a better user experience.

This optimal experience isn’t only created through intuition and best practices - not in the least. Too much money, time and brand reputation rides on the success of campaigns. After more than a decade of adoption site testing has earned a lengthy resume that includes proven return on investment, results and success at making an impact on shaping the customer experience.

So what des success look like when it comes to building a better customer experience? When companies are committed to implementing permanent optimization and testing programs it creates a “culture of optimization” that permeates the organization and really pushes the limits of what is possible through site testing. Now that many companies are experienced at building and launching tests and analyzing test data the stage is set for what could be the breakout year for cross-team, cross-discipline advanced site optimization. A few of the trends picking up steam, which indicate a sea change in the site optimization discipline include the following:

1. Moving beyond simple testing to an “all hands on deck” mentality

Even though A/B testing and multivariate testing are more important than ever, the days of simple A/B testing are in the past and with good reason. For example, a simple A/B test compares two variations of font sizes or banner color do not impact behaviors in a way that will make a big difference on conversions. Companies that spend most of their time and budget testing the most basic site components are missing out on the bigger opportunities for dramatic conversion upticks by trying to create a better customer experience through site changes that really don’t matter. 

However, there has been a gradual trend toward testing well beyond just the front end and going much deeper. Testing features and functionality, third-party applications, checkout flows and different capabilities that are much deeper rooted into the architecture of a website. This testing trend continues to grow and desn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon. One reason for this is testing has moved from being siled in the marketing department to becoming a “team effort” involving product managers, UX developers and throughout the entire IT organization. With the more diverse mix of talent driving company testing programs testing has moved beyond just usability and user experience to bigger architectural changes. 

In line with the goal of moving testing beyond the UI and testing deeper into the application and the architecture, testing is evolving to being part of the entire organization and the corporate culture. 

While increasing the volume of testing is still a priority, finding a balance between quantity and quality has become increasingly important. Prioritizing testing in different and more advanced ways is how successful testing organizations get value out of their testing program. Using various methods that tap into Web analytics and previous test results to determine optimization opportunities as opposed to just intuition and gut feel also contributes to the value and return on investment from testing.

Rather than a haphazard to-do list of tests, 2016 will be the year that companies adopt a more thoughtful, systematic way of building out the testing program and prioritizing the tests they’ll run: Some of the questions that companies should be asking to get better results from their testing campaigns are:  

- What’s it going to take for us from a resource perspective to get this test out the door?

- How much traffic would this test get? 

- Based on our hypothesis, what’s the potential lift we could see from this test?

The old model of “push and pray” will continue to evaporate as testing becomes more sophisticated and includes more stakeholders: from marketing to IT and all the way up to the chief information officer (CIO). Although the inclination to test very subtle site changes still plague many company roadmaps, especially when they first begin testing, they soon see that these are non-starters because they just don’t move the needle as much as they’d like (or as expected). Testing bigger, bolder changes provide a higher probability of a bigger return, and this is when the needle really starts to move.

2. Site Speed is Gaining More Traction as a Customer Experience Game Changer

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to the connection between page load times, site speed and the customer experience. According to Kissmetrics, 47 percent of Web users expect a website to load in under two seconds. During peak traffic times up to 75 percent of consumers prefer to visit a competitor’s site rather than waiting for a slow loading page. If anything, this proves what we already know: people are impatient. We receive text messages in seconds - how long should we have to wait to find the pair of shes we’re looking for?

As companies started adopting more and more digital marketing solutions that were designed to build, launch and deploy campaigns, many of these same tools were Javascript tag-based which degraded site speed significantly. Although the intrinsic connection between site speed and customer experience wasn’t immediately recognized companies are finally coming around and taking steps to optimize site performance. 

Going into 2016 companies will have a keener instinct on the impact the applications and tools they’re using might have on overall site performance. Not just from a speed perspective but from a conversion rate perspective. Companies have seen the negative effect that layers of Javascript tags have on page load times and have become more cautious about the combination of tags and the requirements of modern browsers which require more code and are far more complex. Companies now have to manage the user experience across multiple channels, including mobile, and keep in mind that their entire user base des not yet have the latest iPhone or Android devices running the newest browsers. The site changes they make must be tested for multiple screens to make sure they don’t adversely impacting the overall performance for their entire customer base.

3. Single-Page Applications Will See Broad Adoption

While responsive design was previously seen as the solution for multichannel applications, companies recognized that responsive design created almost as many challenges as it solved, particularly in terms of performance. The industry, however, is seeing a rapid move toward single-page applications (SPAs) on desktop and mobile sites. SPAs, often used in conjunction with responsive design, allow companies to overcome the limitations of responsive design-only sites.

As companies move rapidly toward SPAs, testing becomes even more important. Third-party tools, site releases and performance concerns create more need to test these changes to make sure they are not negatively impacting the customer experience.

The ability to build a single application that performs well and provides richer experiences for users across desktop and mobile and tablet channels is extremely attractive. Much of the industry is already moving toward SPAs and 2016 may be the year that it replaces responsive design-only as the preferred method to support the multichannel experience. The testing landscape will need to catch up with this move toward SPAs faster than originally expected.

There’s a great deal of value in the process of migrating traditional website architecture to a SPA, however, the primary migration method so far has been to move chunks of sites until ultimately the entire site is built on a single-page application. The process of testing each of those phases, each of those “chunks” of the site is actually risk mitigation which may stop the dreaded “broken link” effect to counter the extensive effort made to create a better customer experience dead in its tracks.

2016: The Year of Bigger, Bolder Tests and Higher Conversion Rates

The real driver in testing innovation is the movement from just being a tool owned by marketers to a more collaborative, team-driven process that brings stakeholders from all corners of the business together to test more than just superficial site content to richer, deeper testing on site architectural features, on-site search, third-party tools and more. Thankfully, the days of “push and pray” are waning. Onward to 2016 and the promise of new and bolder approaches to testing and the tremendous impact this will have on the optimized customer experience and the ability to exceed company goals and financial forecasts.

In his role as director of professional services, Doug Cohen combines his expertise and creativity to lead a team of business and technical consultants focused on delivering successful optimization programs for SiteSpect's clients.

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