In my last column, I challenged you to do a usability audit of your website and create an action plan. But you’re probably thinking “How do I go from knowing what the problems are to developing a test plan to fix them?” So I’m going to dedicate these next few columns to walking you through the critical first steps.
When we start an engagement at my company, the first thing we do is gather some background information about the client’s business and online marketing programs. This framework guides our action plan development and identifies constraints or potential issues early in the process.
You obviously have a pretty good understanding of your own business and online marketing programs. Still, I encourage you to go through this exercise, as it can help you understand the big picture before you start your test, and also allow you an opportunity to get others in your organization on board. So your homework assignment for this stage of the process is to try to answer as many of the questions below as you can, because in the next steps you’ll be glad you have the answers readily available.
Marketing and External Factors
- Are there any seasonal traffic spikes or bumps in your industry?
- Are you planning to launch any significant marketing or PR campaigns?
- Are you planning to introduce any new products?
- Are you planning to significantly change the functionality or pricing of existing products?
- Who are your three biggest online direct competitors?
- What are your main differentiators and positioning points against your competitors?
Site Performance and Traffic Levels
- What traffic source(s) will be used for the test?
- How many conversion actions per day do they represent?
- What site elements have you tested in the past? What were the results?
- What site elements would you be interested in testing? Why?
- Do you have any service-level or response time guidelines for your web servers?
Site Appearance and Functionality
- Do you have a formal creative brief for your logo and/or site?
- Are there any technical requirements for your site (screen resolution, plug-ins)?
- Are any portions of your site design or organization “off-limits” for our test and may not be changed?
- Do you have access to the original graphical files that make up your site (e.g., Photoshop or Flash)?
- What kinds of technologies and languages make up your site (operating system, scripting languages, content management system, and databases)?
- Do you have “staging” web servers for implementing and reviewing the modified web pages?
Use the contents of this simplified questionnaire as a starting point. You may want to create a more detailed or modified set of questions to suit your particular needs and environment.
Testing Tip: Don’t Fail to Plan
Here’s the bottom line: to build a truly high-performing website, you must begin with a solid understanding of your business objectives, and know how your landing page(s) or website supports them.
What drives your business? Is it sales, subscriptions, leads, downloads, email sign-ups, or advertising and page views? What portion of your business marketing intersects with the web? Is all of it conducted online? Are key parts influenced by offline marketing, or do they require subsequent phone or in-person follow-up? You may not have control over the whole process and may be just a single step in the value chain. Your goal should be to make your piece as powerful and efficient as possible.
You may be tactically focused on hitting your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) numbers or growing your volume by a certain percentage. But you may not have a good sense of your contribution to the company as a whole. Dig for financial information. Go as high up the financial management ladder as necessary to get the numbers that you need. You’ll not only build an excellent foundation from which to build your website improvement plan, but you may also impress the higher-ups with your newfound interest in the company’s bottom line.
This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column December 13, 2011