Why Should We Optimize?

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“Why would we optimize our site? We just launched it and it works fine.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You did everything “right”. You talked to customers to understand their needs. You interviewed stakeholders and confirmed the business objectives. Based on your “discovery” work, you are confident that the solution you developed is rock solid.

Everything looks good. The design is on point and aligns with the latest trends. Copy tone is consistent with the brand and all is well in website land.

Except it isn’t.

As the weeks go by, the results start to appear in your GA account. Engagement is lower than expected. The customers that you thought would discover the site and flock to it simply aren’t. “What’s going on?” you ask. “Doesn’t the intended audience understand how great my website is?”

Let’s face it, launching an app or website isn’t the end of the story, it’s really the beginning.

Living in Perpetual Beta

Even the most informed team can learn a lot by observing how their product is being used in the wild. A funny thing happens when real people start using a product. They behave in ways the personas didn’t anticipate. They use the “wrong” features. They use devices we’ve never seen (seriously, look in your analytics and see how many devices you’ve never heard of that are there).

Analytics, user testing, and customer feedback are vital in determining where the sharp edges are and how to best address them. If customers aren’t pathing through a site the way you expected or or using a key feature, analytics will tell you that. User testing and customer feedback will tell you why.

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Underpants gnomes explaining digital strategy

The 6th Grade Science Fair

Without customer feedback and validation during key phases of the project, ultimately we’re guessing. What’s worse, if you’re not monitoring and optimizing things after launch you’re costing yourself (or your client) brand affinity, enrollments or sales. We can look to tried and true best practices and user trends but without customer feedback, your project is a lot like a 6th grade science fair project gone wrong. We have hypotheses that we think will work. We gather data and determine the conclusions. What we miss are the observations which results in incomplete information that feeds our conclusions. Conclusions without observations are really a new set of hypotheses. It becomes a familiar cycle: wash, rinse, repeat.

Create a Culture of Learning

A far better approach is to involve customers however you can throughout the lifecycle of a project- not just the discovery phase. Have architecture questions, perform a card sort. Need wireframes feedback? Do a low-fi prototype test. Have copy written? Probe on comprehension and reading level. Visual design? Do a hi-fi prototype test. Every time you get customer feedback, you have an opportunity to refine the approach. This enables you to create a solution you can have confidence in once it’s released to the masses.

Minimal Viable Optimization

After you launch, the real fun begins. Listen to customer feedback and review the monthly SEO and analytics reports to see what is working well and what isn’t. Take all of this information and determine your optimization plan. Rather than tackling everything at once, create a minimum viable optimization (lower effort, higher return) approach to help prioritize the changes that will have the biggest impact. Focus on the key areas of the experience where you can move the needle the most. If there are multiple approaches for an optimization, you can always perform an A/B test to see which option works best in the real world.

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Go forth, learn and optimize!

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from you.

Originally published on here

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