User testing for disposable websites

Paul Boag

Increasingly any marketing campaign is accompanied by a landing page or microsite, but how do you justify user testing such short term sites.

I recently received an email from a boagworld listener called Adrian…

I work for an integrated marketing agency, and many of the site’s we create are campaign driven, that is to say they are short lived, small to medium sites.

My questions are…

  • How do you apply justification for usability and what emphasis do you think is important for usability on small sites?
  • How would you manage this on a compressed time line and tight budget?

Those are good questions and you are not alone in asking them. Headscape also builds short term campaign orientated websites and we have asked ourselves whether we should be user testing such sites.

As with most things in life there are no set answers. However, it is possible to argue that it is as important (if not more important) to test campaign sites.

Why it is so important to user test campaign websites

As Adrian points out in his email these campaign websites are often built with limited budgets. However, the budget of the overall campaign is often substantial. What is more, the website fulfils two critical roles in these campaigns.

First, the website tracks the success or failure of the campaign. The website is the call to action users are encouraged to complete after viewing a TV advertisements, clicking an online ad or responding to whatever other form of promotion the campaign uses. Without the website there would be no way to judge the response rate.

However, more importantly the website is a crucial step in engagement. Getting a large response from a marketing campaign is only the first step. The more crucial metric is how many of those people actually take action.

Big Butterfly Count

Take for example of the “Big Butterfly Count” built by Headscape. It is not enough for users to view the website after seeing it featured in some publication. They also need to take action by downloading a Butterfly ID chart and counting butterflies.

With only a finite time to drive traffic and make conversions it is imperative that the website has the greatest impact possible.

Visitors to the site do not return often enough to overcome usability hurdles and don’t care enough to be self motived.

It falls to the website to motivate users and guide them painlessly through the processes of taking action. The only way to ensure we are doing that successfully is by testing.

But time and budgets are tight

The problem (as Adrian has pointed out) is that time and budget are tight. However user testing does not have to be extensive for time consuming. Here is a few things to bear in mind when doing quick and dirty user testing…

  • Test early in the process – Show users sketches and mockups rather than waiting until you have produced the final design. This makes it much easier to change elements if required.
  • A handful of people is better than none – You don’t need to test with lots of people. 6 is perfectly adequate to catch the major howlers. However even showing the site to 3 people is better than nothing at all.
  • Screw demographics – Recruitment is by far the most time consuming aspect of user testing. If time and budget are tight just get anybody outside of the project to look at your work. Any fresh set of eyes will pick up things you have missed. Ideally, find somebody who is not a web ninja like yourself. Your mum is always a safe bet.
  • User testing does not to stop once the site is live – If time is tight, launch the website and refine afterwards. Infact live sites provide a superb opportunity to test with large numbers of users who exactly match your demographic. You can use tools like the Google Website Optimiser to A/B test different approaches.

As you can see user testing does not need to impact your timeline and will only have a minimal effect on the budget. With tools like the Google website optimiser available for free, there is nothing stopping you.