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Say the words ‘site re-design’ and if you listen really, really hard you can probably hear a collective shudder from IT and marketing teams around the world.

Anyone who has ever been involved in a site re-design will know it’s a huge project and requires coordination of a number of parties involved.

With resources constantly under pressure, testing can often be forgotten. However, this can actually cause more problems in the long run!

Ultimately, without testing, a company is potentially sailing into choppy waters. For a start, a total redesign has a much higher probability of not performing as well as the original version – you never know how a customer is going to react to change.

Moreover, when you’re in re-design mode, it is easy to become locked into a certain idea and theme, and start to lose the wood for the trees. A more complex design, even if on just a single page, can go wrong in many more ways than making one or two simple changes.

Many big names have redesigned without testing and lived to regret it. The story goes that five years ago a major UK pharmacy chain underwent a major site redesign without the use of optimisation solutions, and the result was a significant decrease in online performance.

The website launch release ended up being rolled back with, no doubt, significant costs to the company due to additional work the team had to put into understanding what the issues were, re-redesigning, and then implementing... in other words, a complete headache!

Mitigation of risk, then, is the number one reason for optimisation before, during, and after site re-designs. Given potential risks of site re-designs coupled with today’s increasingly competitive online markets (not to mention the risks for a purely online retailer), optimisation can be key to a website’s - and company’s - success.

So now I’ve convinced you why it’s important, how can you implement testing without causing too much extra stress?

Firstly, it’s important to have experts in the field to provide guidance in testing by digging into the detail of how best to generate learning and value, and prioritise accordingly. Impact potential, degree of difficulty, development effort, and area of the page are all features which should be considered during optimisation efforts.

The type of testing deployed will be dependent on a company-to-company basis, but the following stages can be useful to consider:

  1. Using A/B and MVT to feed ideas into site redesigns.
  2. Using A/B test old vs. new.
  3. Releasing a new site or part of a site to a % of visitors to gauge performance, and ramp up.
  4. Using A/B and MVT to drive performance and conversion on the new site as soon as it is live.

The above steps are relatively simple to implement in real life, and can be combined with each other to produce optimum results. I’ve outlined below some handy tips and examples for each approach to show how it can be done:

Option one

A/B testing allows you to test multiple homepages to identify the most favourable version. It was something Urban Outfitters chose to apply when the company rolled out a re-skin of the website in 2011.

By feeding ideas through these testing strategies it can show if you’re on the right track.

Option two

Using A/B testing to compare an old and new version of a site  is an overarching strategy which could be followed by an MVT enhancement on the winning version.

This is the best method to understand the impact of what you are going to implement, as the pages are likely to be radically different. Of course, you may not wish to go back to the drawing board in the event that the Control version of the page actually continues to be the top performer. 

In this scenario, you could have an MVT planned and ready to go for the redesigned version as soon as you decide to deploy this to your production environment. If you go ahead with this approach, you are able to mitigate the risk of just delivering one version of the page. 

Option three

Releasing a new site or part of a site to a percentage of visitors to gauge performance. It’s likely that not all pages will need to be tested before the re-design goes live. There are, however, a number of key pages that need to be considered, such as the Homepage, Booking Page, Search Results, etc. 

A/B testing would allow you to test the effectiveness of one funnel against another, or test multiple homepages to identify the most favourable version. If you can isolate individual learnings on an individual page, and compile them, you can regularly feed these lessons into projects to show where redesigns have gone astray.

Option four

Companies can get carried away with re-design and forget to test their sites. Sometimes it can seem too late for optimisation – a company might be in the process of re-designing its website, realise it doesn’t work, but not have the time or resources to overhaul the new edition.

Yet, even then, testing can help by trying to control some of the new elements, or by testing new versions of key pages as soon as a new version is out.

The takeaway is that testing shouldn’t be seen as separate to re-designs. They should work in tandem to produce the best possible website and, as a result, business success.

With huge resources poured into site re-design projects, testing can help to ensure the project is on the right track and the end result will deliver enhanced site performance and, finally, conversions!

Ultimately, without testing, one is essentially making the choice to take a considerable amount of risk. 

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Published 29 August, 2013 by Tom Waterfall

Tom Waterfall is Director of Optimisation Solutions at Webtrends and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

6 more posts from this author

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Dave Mullen

Dave Mullen, Analyst & Optimiser at Freelance

Another big reason is that site launches rarely happen as quickly as expected. I've lost count of the number of clients who've said "We don't want to split test on the old site right now because we'll have the new site in X months."

X months often becomes a year or worse. If you've stopped optimising for this period, you've lost a lot of revenue and basically stood still while your competitors press on.

over 2 years ago

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Tom Waterfall, Director of Optimisation Solutions at Webtrends

Great point, Dave. Sounds as though we've been working with the same customers.

It's something we also hear all the time and it is often surprising how many aspects of the business come to a halt as soon as the word 'redesign' is uttered. With the common delays of most redesign projects, it is a mistake to put a pause on your optimisation program.

over 2 years ago

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Chris Michael

Great post. Agree with the theory of this, and certainly the concept of using A/B and MV testing on an existing site to inform a major site redesign. But for a big site redesign, there are big barriers to launching in test mode.

Site owners feel more comfortable with the concept of a big redesign rather than implementing in stages or as a public beta. It's a bit like if you want to renovate a room your house, and the builder says why don't we paint one wall red and the other blue. And then next month we'll try some different types of furniture. And the month after, we'll try out some flooring. Many people just don't get the concept of beta testing stuff in a public forum - despite the fact Google have built their business on this principle.

But the real barrier is that for a big scale site, often the redesign happens at the same time as a platform update. And it's simply too complex and expensive to build in proper beta testing with real users.

over 2 years ago

Dean Marsden

Dean Marsden, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai Ltd

I see so many re-designs launched for the sake of having a redesign. Nearly all are because senior members of the business decide they are bored with the current site, that's all. Little or no consideration is usually given to what works for their website users in the case of small and medium websites.

As the saying goes, never stop testing. So I agree it needs to be continued even after extensive pre-site launch testing. In my opinion, every stage of a redesign needs to be tested. From customer journey planning to wire-framing included.

I think testing complete redesigns to limited users if you are super sized website such as Facebook also works well.

over 2 years ago

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Tom Waterfall, Director of Optimisation Solutions at Webtrends

@Chris Michael
Great point - it takes a significant amount of planning and overhead to implement a full scale redesign AB successfully and I've only played a part in a couple myself over the last 6 years.

Depending on the business model, there are opportunities to think about things in piecemeal. For example, in retail or ecommerce, you can separate the checkout from the browsing area of the site, or look at the header and footer site-wide as a completely separate test. Similarly in Insurance or Finance, you would look at the brochureware site as a distinct opportunity versus a secure application journey. Other businesses that have multiple channels or verticals can also be separated by these different lines of business. Often times, these areas of the site already look somewhat different so looking at them as separate 'tests' shouldn't be detrimental to the overall user experience.

@Dean Marsden Amen!

over 2 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Chris

You're spot on:

> But the real barrier is that for a big scale site, often the redesign happens at the same time as a platform update.

We get involved in a lot of redesigns and re-platforms - we contribute the vital link between site as delivered and the change in speed/slowness of User Journeys: User Journey speed and error-rate / Out of Stock rate.

The benefit being: measuring that 24/7 before and after a redesign launch ensures that even the smallest slow downs spread across the site can be spotted and corrected rapidly - either at pre-launch or just after: rather than hang around for months, leaking your performance away.

over 2 years ago

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