Seven Tips for Building a Successful Testing Program

Today I’m turning the conversation over to Brooks Bell (@BrooksBell), founder and CEO of Brooks Bell , one of our valued partners in testing, optimization, and conversion. Speaking of which, she’d like to share seven tips for ensuring testing successes for your business.

Take it away, Brooks!

Every day, it seems, more data is published illustrating the importance of testing for all types of businesses. The value has been clear to e-commerce retailers for some time. A recent survey conducted by Adobe found the top 20 percent of respondents had pushed their average conversion rates above 4.5 percent—some even higher than nine percent—through testing. This number may seem small to some, but the industry average still hovers around 2.6 percent. The takeaway is obvious: Testing isn’t optional; it’s a competitive advantage essential for growing businesses of all types and sizes.

So why aren’t more companies investing in testing and optimization programs? The answer is simple but surprising. Testing is hard. And the biggest challenge isn’t technology. It’s not even strategy. The element that organizations struggle with most is alignment.

Testing requires more constant collaboration and deeper alignment than almost any other marketing initiative. This means analysts need to work with the creative director. And this group must work with merchandising managers, product managers, and the VP of commerce. This isn’t something that can be accomplished with one-time or even infrequent-but-regular meetings. It demands continuous effort and dedication.

Though challenging, addressing this need is not impossible. The following seven initiatives can help ensure success.

1. Hire a dedicated team

You can’t execute effectively on borrowed time. You need a great team. Start with someone who is business oriented and outgoing, gets along well with creative, and excels at simplifying complex systems. This person doesn’t need to be an expert with testing tools yet—those are specific skills that can be learned on the job.

Another essential team member is a front-end developer, someone with excellent JavaScript skills. Many testing platform vendors argue that their tools make testing so easy a developer isn’t required, but this, simply, is not the case. Sure, there are some very basic tests that can be implemented through a WYSIWYG interface, but the vast majority of tests—certainly the complex, visionary tests you want to run—require the skills of an actual developer.

2. Create an ideation committee

A common testing mistake is to fail to take the ideation phase of optimization seriously. What results are test strategies that have been formulated through an informal process, based on input from a few (sometimes only one) stakeholders.

Creating an ideation committee helps the best ideas get tested at the right time. A good test is feasible, aligned with your brand, and has a high potential impact on the business as a whole. Finding these ideas requires multiple perspectives and wide representation—at least one person from every major discipline in the business—and an opportunity for everyone to have a voice.

3. Create a scoring system to prioritize tests

For a program to operate efficiently, it must strive to create tests that will have the greatest impact on the business with the lowest level of effort. Identifying which ideas will meet these criteria, however, can be difficult—especially when there are several good options.

Establishing a formal scoring system that accounts for potential business impact, level of effort, opportunity for learning, and actionability—the reasonable ability for a test to be implemented site-wide if it wins—is the best way to accomplish this objectively.

4. Document everything

In a world striving to be more and more agile, it’s easy to skip some steps in the effort to move more quickly. Unfortunately, documentation is among the seemingly little things that get neglected. However, documentation is one of the most important components of a world-class testing program.

Effective documentation includes a record of the test queue, campaign setup requirements, and a formal QA script. Having this library of information helps train new team members, measure program growth and success, and inform iterations on test ideas.

5. Spread testing knowledge through training

Once you’ve formed a core testing team, it’s possible to increase velocity and efficiency. But for a program to grow, everyone in the organization needs to understand testing. At world-class testing organizations, nearly everyone understands the process and is eager to participate. Testing is so entrenched it becomes part of the cultural DNA.

Whether it’s through internal “road shows” and “lunch and learns,” online quizzes, or the addition of a formal component in new employee onboarding, education and communication should be a priority.

6. Become expert storytellers

Testing isn’t just about creating a lift in revenue. It’s about addressing a consumer need. Whether that requires fixing a usability issue, refining an experience to better suit customer preferences, or developing a better understanding of optimal product mix, testing ultimately creates a more vivid image of customers, their needs, and their behaviors. In this way, testing is about storytelling.

It’s important to keep this in mind when reporting results. Try to start with an explanation of why a test was conducted, then use data to support the conclusion.

7. Keep it fun and celebrate

So much work goes into each test as it moves from ideation to development, launch to analysis. The wins that result are exciting but sometimes the wins alone are not enough. To maintain morale—especially for a young testing team struggling to gain traction—it’s important to keep testing exciting. Simple things like ringing a gong every time a test launches or throwing a small party to celebrate a big win seem trivial but are powerful tools for building and spreading a data-driven culture focused on testing.

When testing is fun—addictive, even—for everyone in an organization, people begin to embrace the process as part of the business and as a fundamental piece of the brand. Your testing program will benefit from this transformation—and the customer, who enjoys a more effective, relevant experience, will win too.

Brooks Bell is the founder and CEO of Brooks Bell Inc., the premier firm focused exclusively on enterprise-level testing, personalization, and optimization services. She launched the company in 2003 by combining her study of psychology with a passion for digital design. In doing so, Brooks became a pioneer in bringing the scientific disciplines of A/B testing and optimization to the traditionally subjective field of marketing. Since then, she has helped dozens of leading brands build data-driven cultures while optimizing their ecommerce experiences.