The code has been written. The domain name secured. The branding guidelines are finalized, and the content is approved. You’re ready to launch the client's website.
However, there are a few things you should consider before pressing the "go live" button.
Testing a website is often overlooked in the mad rush to get a project out the door. It is perceived as either too expensive or too time consuming. But because your company’s website is one of the most important marketing tools available, it’s important that you conduct the proper tests that will dramatically improve the performance of your site before it’s even launched.
Website Launch Checklist: 3 Tests to Run Before You Go Live
Here are three tests that you can run on your website prior to launch that will help you ensure that your site meets your client's and users’ expectations:
1) User Research
Before you take the first steps of designing the website, you need to understand and address the needs of your audience. What kind of experience are they looking for? What are they hoping to accomplish by coming to your site? There are two ways to do this: contextual inquiry and user interviews.
User interviews are straightforward. You have an open-ended conversation with the people who interact with your system or sites. Ask them about their goals, how they accomplish those goals now, and where there are gaps in their needs. Find out how they’re using your product or service and the benefits and problems they’ve encountered.
A contextual inquiry is very similar to an interview but with the distinction that you must go to where the user is actually using your website the most (i.e., their home office, local coffee shop, or coworking space), and observe their behavior. Are they accessing your website on a laptop or mobile device? Is that transition seamless for them or is the user experience different?
If you know what is most important to your users and the environment they typically use your product in, it can help you better understand where to invest your development time and efforts.
2) Card Sorting
When creating a brand new site or restructuring an existing site, card sorting can be extremely useful. Usability.gov defines card sorting as “a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site.” Card sorting helps you better understand how your users group information and can be used to help define the structure of a site or product.
There are two methods of card sorting: open and closed. Open card sorting asks users to organize topics into groups that make the most sense to them, and then name them based on the content. This method of card sorting can help you gain further insight into how your users categorize content and the verbiage they use, so it’s especially useful in the initial creation of your navigation. Closed card sorting asks users to organize topics into predefined categories, allowing you to see how users sort items when given an already determined navigation. This method is most useful as a follow up to an open card sort or when you’re adding content to an existing site.
Large ecommerce sites such as Amazon are great examples of sites that benefit from card sorting since they host millions of items in various categories. For example, a user might be asked to categorize “soccer cleats” in either the shoe category or the sporting goods category. If either category is more consistently chosen, you might decide that the item lives in that category. If both categories are frequently chosen, you might decide that it lives in both. Either way, card sorting can help you define an intuitive structure for your users.
3) Usability Testing
Out of all the different ways to gather information and test your products, usability testing is probably the most basic and most useful form of testing. While usability tests can take many forms, the most common types of tests are designed to ensure all the different components function and operate as designed.
The most common approaches to usability testing are remote unmoderated and moderated testing. Remote, unmoderated testing means that you’re not physically present with the user -- typically you set up a script to cover your main questions and record users’ screens as they perform the tasks you’ve set up. Moderated testing means you directly interact with the participant and provide a deeper understanding of user expectations and experience.
You may also hear the term “guerrilla research,” which refers to the approach of condensing timeline, costs, and rigor to get just enough information -- typically you’ll reduce focus to test only one small piece at a time and/or eschew rigorous recruiting efforts by finding participants in non-traditional locations such as cafes. Regardless of methodology, the sooner and more frequently you can test your site and pivot based on findings, the better your site will be able to meet the needs of the client's users.
Bonus: Post-Launch Testing
To be honest, we never really recommend that you stop testing. Your website is not just a checkbox you can mark complete. You should keep testing and iterating your site to provide your customers with the best possible product. Iteration -- gradually introducing new site features and improvements, rather than completely overhauling your site -- is the most effective way to deliver the best possible experience that resonates with customers.
While building your site, you should incorporate tracking and analytics so that you can start monitoring your goals as soon as you launch. Depending on the goals of your site, such as whether you’re trying to generate more leads or increase engagement, you can monitor things such as clickthrough rate, drop-offs, and form sign-ups to to assess how well you’re doing. If you identify weak spots, you can follow up with usability testing to try to understand the root cause of the performance issues.
Additionally, you can run A/B or multivariate tests to optimize performance. This type of testing (sometimes referred to as split testing) allows you to compare multiple versions of elements in real-time and see which version gives a better conversion rate. Determine what goals you are hoping to reach, whether it be more clicks on links, conversions, or page visits. Anything from headlines and paragraph text to CTA buttons and images can be A/B tested.
Taking the mind shift from “complete” to iteration is the key to creating beautiful websites, applications, and software. There is never a finish line -- there is always more testing, researching, and strategizing that can be done to make the product better.
To yield insights into their audience and better target them with messaging that resonates, agencies should test their client's websites before and after launch. Web development is never a one-and-done type of process. Be sure the experience for your users is one that is built from thorough research and testing. Your visitors will thank you.
Originally published Nov 10, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017