When you consider the monumental shifts taking place in online consumer behavior these days, it’s no surprise Forrester Research reports that many companies with commerce websites intend to start a replatforming effort in the next two years.

Replatforms, however, are tricky. It’s natural to go into the process thinking that shiny new features and functionality automatically translate to better results. But new doesn’t really equal better. Finding the right features and functionality that resonate with the different visitor segments who come to your website—that’s how you get to better.

So the obvious question here is: How do you figure out which bells and whistles deserve to be built into your new website? You test them. In fact, testing can be leveraged to inform all three phases of the replatforming process: planning, execution, and evaluation. (Check out this video to get Forrester Research Senior Analyst Joe Stanhope’s view on how testing can help you improve a replatforming initiative.)

Let’s look at the role website testing plays in these three phases:

Phase 1: Planning

In the planning phase, people will often start floating ideas for how to improve the website that are based on anecdotal research. They talk to industry colleagues who tell them how great ratings and reviews have been for their businesses, or how the addition of visual search lifted their conversion rates. But this information is not reliable enough to predict how these features might perform on your website with your traffic.

A website is this thing that you’re building out of pieces, and not every piece costs the same. To make sure all of these pieces add up to a high-performance website, you first have to figure out the ROI for each. Is it worth having type-ahead search? Is it worth having zoomable product images? How well might ratings and reviews work in relation to other features you could offer?

You can always get a pundit to provide his or her input, or ask for an opinion from your boss or the highest paid person in the room. In the absence of testing, the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) usually wins. But in the long run, you’re responsible for the outcome of the replatform, so you need to get a solid understanding of what the real ROI is for every idea being proposed.

Pre-testing helps ensure that you don’t spend time and resources building features and functionality that won’t have an impact on your current and prospective customers—and their opinions are the only ones that really matter.

As with any big undertaking, the planning and prioritization work might account for just 10% of time spent, but it’s responsible for 90% of the output. If you’re only able to incorporate testing into just one of these three phases, then the planning period is the most critical to the success of the replatform.

Phase 2: Execution

Every replatforming initiative is different, save for three exceptions:
• They’re always late;
• They’re always over-budget; and
• You always end up throwing project items overboard.

When you’re already behind on time, out of budget, and tossing requested features overboard, how do you know what to throw and what to keep? Even if you force-ranked your list of must-have items during the planning phase, at least one of them is still going to get cut—and you really should make sure you are cutting the right one.

During the prioritization process, you gained some insight into your business looking backward. As you begin the replatform, you want to work in some live testing to see what’s happening on your website in the moment, as well as to try to predict where you want to land when you relaunch. This is the perfect chance to confirm that the features and functionality you thought would be important are, in fact, delivering the value you projected. It’s also the time to reveal how these different pieces work together to create an optimal customer experience.

Remember, the world is changing all the while you’re conducting a replatform. You will want to test, analyze, and retest throughout the initiative to make sure that when the new website is ready to launch, you’ve kept pace with your visitors’ needs.

Phase 3: Evaluation

Once you’ve made the cutover to the new site, you’re ready to start reaping the rewards of your team’s hard work. Before you break out the champagne, however, remind your team and other key website stakeholders to prepare for the usual post-launch bumps in the road.

The dirty little secret of a replatform is that key performance indicators (KPIs) tend to drop in the months after the new site goes live, which is the exact opposite of what everyone hopes to immediately see. Again, this is where testing proves handy in helping to get a clearer read on the situation. You can work to understand which factors might be contributing to those lower KPIs (especially across different traffic segments), as well as keep your eye on what’s trending to see if metrics that take a temporary dip and then recover are actually rallying the way you expect.

You also want to determine how good of a job you’re doing at delivering the features and functionality you chose to build into the platform. By testing, analyzing, and refining your approach, you can get the hard numbers that are important to making smart decisions around next steps.

And who knows? After the heart of the replatforming work is finished, website testing insights can open up the opportunity to add back in some of those must-have, and even nice-to-have, items you had to cut out earlier.

Website Development image courtesy of Shutterstock.