A beginners guide to establishing a successful testing and optimization program

If you are reading this, chances are you are the lucky individual that’s been chosen to own and champion testing and optimization within your organization. Congratulations, you are about to embark on one of the most exciting journeys of your career. You’ve been given the unique opportunity to have a direct impact on the business’ KPI(s), establish a test and learn mentality that allows the organization to make decisions based on data rather than the HiPPO, as well as establish design best practices that will improve the way you go to market with future campaigns.

That said, like many before you, you most likely have a ton of questions. What’s involved? What can I or can’t I optimize? How much time and resources must I put in to be successful? How do I get started? The last question, “how do I get started?” is where I want to focus this discussion. My goal is to empower you to capitalize on this opportunity and get the most value possible from your efforts. Here are a few ways you can get your testing and optimization program off the ground in no time. Let’s get started.

1. Organize the program & identify your goals

When embarking on the journey of optimization, the first step is to organize the program and identify your goals. Organizing your program and identifying the right goals from the on-set is an important step because they will inevitably impact your larger strategy.

The individual goals you identify will depend on your goals for the overall optimization program. For example, many organizations divide optimization efforts up by department, whereas others establish a CoE (Center of Excellence) and oversee optimization efforts at the organizational level. In our experience, larger organizations tend to implement a CoE to keep things centralized and ensure the goals of the organization are addressed. Smaller organizations tend to divide optimization up by department to limit scope, prove the value and eventually work their way towards a CoE. Both approaches have their respective benefits, but it is important to make the decision of where optimization will sit within the organization before establishing any individual goals.

After you’ve determined where optimization will sit within the organization, the next step is to establish your individual goals based on that decision. Below is an example of how a business within the travel industry might organize their goals and what their specific goals might be for either of the two scenarios.

Notice how companies that establish a CoE identify many broad goals that may cross departments and marketing functions (Figure 1), while companies that organize testing at the department level have very specific goals related to their specific function (figure 1.1).

We recommend going through a similar exercise for your program.

2. Identify opportunities & build pipeline

Much like the first step, the second step in the process, identifying opportunities and building pipeline, is an important one. Our objective in this step is to determine where and when it makes sense to apply testing and optimization. The good news is, as marketers we can find opportunities to test and optimize in almost every aspect of our day-to-day. Here are a few examples of how our customers are identifying opportunities and filling their testing pipeline.

  1. Data analysis: Data should be driving a significant percentage of your opportunities. The objective with data analysis is to actively comb through your various repositories (e.g. web analytics, VoC data, session replays, CRM) and identify areas or elements of your website or other digital entities that may be causing visitors to abandon. High bounce rates, high abandonment rates (within your funnel) and low conversion rates are all signs that testing and optimization is necessary.
  2. New functionality/Designs: Our websites, landing pages, email campaigns and the like are constantly changing and evolving. They are given creative refreshes, functionality is often times added or removed, old content is replaced with new and so on. We recommend adding these scheduled changes to the testing backlog and gathering data to determine whether or not the proposed changes are in the best interest of the customer and your business.
  3. Executive level requests: Inevitably, as the owner of testing & optimization, especially as your program gains notoriety, you are going to receive requests from executive management. These opportunities should be added to your pipeline and prioritized accordingly.

For those of you that are just getting started with testing & optimization, it is a best practice to identify a handful (or more) of opportunities to kickstart your program and fill your pipeline. However, if you already have a testing pipeline established, continue to identify opportunities regularly.

3. Develop tactical strategy

Now that you have a handful of opportunities identified, the next step in the process is to develop your tactical strategy for each individual opportunity. Think of a tactical strategy as an execution plan or a test plan. Here, you want to develop a formalized document that communicates your hypothesis, the goal of your test, what you plan on testing and how you plan on measuring success. Having a formal document will not only get all parties involved on the same page, but it will also help you develop your success story after a test has completed.

When developing a tactical strategy, especially when you are first starting off, you may want to team up with your cohorts in other departments. For example, you may want to rely on your analytics team to provide additional data that might support why visitors bounce from a particular page or what might be causing a leaky funnel – analytics and data help make your hypotheses and goals for testing stronger. Moreover, you might also want to rely on your design team to develop mockups of your testing ideas, allowing you to validate your creative ideas. At the end of the day, relying on experts throughout the organization is going to help you develop strong tactical strategies.

4. Get your first test live

The first couple of steps are essential to establishing the right foundation and setting yourself up for long-term success, however getting your first test live is all about short term success. We recommend working on the opportunity that has the most potential for success with the least amount of effort involved. This approach helps us get a test to market quickly and ensures we walk away with a good story to tell. Here are a few reasons why getting your first test live is essential to your programs success.

  • Getting your first test live is a major milestone. It says to management that you were the right person for the job and that there’s been a considerable amount of progress made in establishing an ongoing practice.
  • The process of getting your first test launched helps you establish a repeatable process, which can be used to get tests up and running quickly and efficiently in the future.
  • The first test is also an opportunity for you to tout your success. The quicker you can get a test up and running, the quicker you can share your learning’s with your stakeholders.

5. Establish regular testing cadence

By this point you should have a saturated pipeline of opportunities, a number of tactical strategies assembled and an established process for getting tests live and in market. The next step in the process is to establish a regular testing cadence. The idea at this phase of the process is to always be testing. The more you test, the more potential ROI you realize and the more you learn about what works and what doesn’t work – setting you up for long term success.

In our experience, successful testing and optimization programs typically a) have multiple tests running at any given time, with no less than 1 test live b) have established goals around how many tests they plan on launching each week, month, year and c) regularly add to their testing & optimization pipeline.

6. Evangelize wins

Now that your program has gained momentum, it is time to share your success and learning’s with your stakeholders and colleagues on a regular basis. Doing so is going to help you:

  • Increase interest in testing throughout the organization – ultimately deepening its roots within the business
  • It will allow you to reflect on your learning’s and adjust your program regularly
  • Improve efficiencies through knowledge sharing between departments

The best forum for sharing success with your peers is a recurring meeting. The frequency of the meeting should be based on the number of tests you run monthly. As a general rule of thumb, if you run an average of 5 or more tests monthly, you should have enough content to keep your audience engaged and eager to continue attending these meetings, whereas if you are executing less than 4-5 tests per month, you should think about conducting your meetings every 2 months or once every quarter.

Keep in mind, the ideas discussed are not an exact formula or a step-by-step guide, rather shared experiences that will guide you on establishing your own testing & optimization program.

Here at OpenText we have helped thousands of clients develop and mature their testing programs over the years. We pride ourselves on building successful testing practices within our client’s businesses and would love the opportunity to help you realize significant improvements from our years of expertise in the industry.

If you would like to start testing today or simply learn more, get in touch with us via the contact form on the page here, we’d love to start a conversation with you.

Robert Brennan

Robert is a marketing optimization professional with over 8 years experience in developing and executing optimization strategies. He has executed hundreds of experiments for top tier brands that blend art and science, resulting in significant business impact. Robert blogs on all things marketing optimization related - including how to build effective strategies, the use and impact of data, as well as testing best practices.

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