In my last three columns, I described some key roles necessary for a successful landing page optimization program: the product manager, Webmaster and graphic designer, and copywriter, marketing manager and user experience.
Today, we'll look at the final three roles: the programmer, system administrator, and quality assurance tester.
Programmers are responsible for the functional aspects of your Web site.
Skills and Training
The background of programmers is diverse. There are few acknowledged accreditations in the industry. Many excellent programmers are self-taught.
The speed of technological changes requires programmers to become lifelong learners or face the prospect of skill obsolescence. Some programmers are focused on the presentation of information to the end user and are adept at scripting languages that make up the front end (i.e., the visual portion of the software application with which the visitor interacts).
Others concentrate on the representation, storage, and manipulation of the underlying data that make up the back end (i.e., databases and algorithms).
Any functional changes to your landing page or Web site may potentially require programming support:
- Mouse rollover behavior.
- Reconfiguration of form elements based on visitor actions.
- Capturing additional information (changes to the database).
- Business rules and logic.
- Changes in the flow through your pages.
- Reorganization of the area where you collect data (and the order in which you collect it).
- Processing any new Web-based forms.
Programmers tend to be poor user interface designers, graphics designers, and copywriters. They think only in functional terms. If a certain capability is technically possible, they usually won't try to optimize or improve the user experience.
Landing page changes touched by programmers are often very unappealing to your visitors (with the consequence of lower conversion rates). So you must be specific in your quality control and testing about the details surrounding any changes that the programmers make. This includes background colors, fonts and font sizes, form field order and layout, text labels, and error messages.
The best way to deal with this problem: have detailed specifications for the required functional changes. Include screenshot mock-ups of the proposed designs. Also, spend time sensitizing the programmers to the subtleties of good design and emphasizing its importance.
On the other hand, programmers are often very receptive to empirical real-world data. If you can show them that a design option actually performs better than an alternative, they will likely be enthusiastic about finding more options like the successful one.
Your system administrators keep your server network running and operational. They're responsible for Internet connectivity, Web server load and demand, keeping software up to date, data backup, and computer security.
Skills and Training
System administrators usually come from technical backgrounds. They're often detail-oriented and keep track of a large number of operational details and procedures related to their job duties.
System administrators will be involved in the following ways in your test:
- Moving from the staging to the live environment.
- Rerouting traffic for the test.
- Reviewing the proposed testing technology and implementation requirements.
- Certifying that personal or private customer data isn't disclosed during testing.
- Ensuring that network security isn't compromised by the testing.
- Assuring that server loads and Web page loading times aren't significantly affected by the test.
Choosing a particular tuning technology or testing company partner involves technical elements, so system administrators will typically want to get involved. They will vet the underlying technology and project implementation procedures in a lot of detail to understand the impact that it will have on their domain. In some cases, they have veto power over choosing certain kinds of tuning technology approaches.
Part of the system administrator's concern has to do with control over the hosting and presentation of the alternative tuning elements during the test. Some testing technologies rely on outside hosting of site elements on the Web servers of the testing company.
This is often strongly resisted by system administrators, because they can't guarantee the security or response times of another company's Web servers. Other technical approaches allow all new content for the test to reside within the technical environment of the landing page. Alternative tuning elements are also hosted on the company's Web servers. This is much more likely to put the system administrator's mind at ease.
Other concerns of system administrators center on security and data integrity. They want to make sure that your testing method doesn't introduce any new vulnerability. This includes inadvertent disclosure of private customer data (such as e-commerce credit card information or personal contact information).
These issues are usually easily addressed if you review the proposed technical approach in detail with system administrators, or arrange for them to talk directly with the technical staff of the proposed testing technology company that you're considering using.
Quality Assurance Tester
The quality assurance (QA) tester ensures that all proposed changes to your Web site function properly before being released as part of your live site.
Skills and Training
Most QA positions aren't full-time. Typically, they're project based (e.g., parts of a complete Web site redesign process). Consequently, QA staffs have a variety of backgrounds and may spend the majority of their time in other roles, such as Webmaster, graphics designer, copywriter, or marketing assistant.
QA should always be involved in the tuning process after the test plan has been implemented (and before the changes are moved to your live site prior to the commencement of data collection). Once problems are uncovered, they're sent back to the implementation team for rework.
It's important that the person assigned to perform QA isn't the same person who oversaw the implementation of the test. Otherwise, there's a clear conflict of interest and a tendency to shortchange the QA testing process.
Your landing page optimization should be based on a formal written test plan document that defines the specific elements and values to be tested. As soon as the test plan is completed, you should independently create a QA plan to go with it.
The QA plan should note all important design and technical constraints for the proposed test. The QA tester should use this plan to make sure that all variable values are independently tested and that all key combinations of variables are also considered.
QA testers are supposed to be detail-oriented. This is a requirement for the role. However, some people take things a bit too far. They refuse to sign off on any deviations from the original test plan that are even a little bit out of compliance.
At this point, you must often make a judgment call about whether the discrepancies are likely to significantly affect the outcome of the test. You may have to overrule the QA tester and accept the state of the implementation.
Not all landing page tests will require the full cast of characters I've discussed in these four columns. Depending on the scope of your test and the size of your company you may be able to start small and build on your initial successes. As you involve more people, you just need to think about their training, motivations, and concerns. I wish you good luck and higher conversion rates!