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Why Your Testing Tool is Like a Gym Membership

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It has become a cliche that January is the time for a “New Year, new you” makeover. And perhaps with good reason: Data suggests that many Americans take this message to heart. One indicator, new gym memberships spike sharply in January at more than 12 percent growth, up from an average of 8.3 percent monthly growth the rest of the year.

Though the intention is good, these new memberships do not lead to new behaviors—not immediately, at least. One national fitness chain reported an average of 5.2 million visits in January, but this number gets edged out in March. Clearly purchasing a membership is relatively easy, but actually going to the gym is hard.

Testing tools, oddly enough, are similar. Once the decision to acquire a platform has been made, purchasing and implementing a testing tool is relatively easy. Actually using it, however, is much more difficult. And just like going to the gym, there are a few tricks that can help generate the best return on your testing investment.

Make it a Habit

It’s a common misconception that it takes 21 days of regular repetition to transform a new behavior into a habit. It is true, however, that habits can be created—it’s just that in practice, it takes much longer than 21 days.

The process of habit formation has been studied thoroughly. One model for understanding the transformation was developed by Tom Bartow, a famous business coach. Bartow’s model describes an initial period he calls “the honeymoon” in which initial inspiration motivates a person to perform a new behavior consistently. This stage is typically characterized by the feeling “this is easy,” but this drive does not last forever.

When it begins to fade, the person enters the second stage, known as the “fighting thru’s.” During this period, new behaviors begin to feel more difficult and old habits start to return. Bartow’s model addresses this period by recommending a person recognize the challenge, ask questions to place the behavior in context, and to visualize how much better life will be in five years if the new habit is formed.

Finally, we enter stage three, characterized by feelings of “getting in the groove.” Even though this stage represents a period in which new behaviors become second nature, there are still potential challenges. Bartow identifies three key factors—discouragement, disruptions, and the seduction of success—which can derail positive habit formation at this late stage.

Testing is, in many ways, like a habit that must be consciously developed to succeed. Introducing a testing process into an organization can be difficult—by its very nature, testing upends assumptions and challenges opinions. Teams must work hard to move from a pre-testing culture, through a honeymoon phase typically characterized by lots of random testing without a lot of strategy, to finally reach more advanced stages.

READ MORE: Develop your testing culture with our roadmap

Get Help from an Expert

Pushing through these stages is, of course, much easier with an expert standing by your side, cheering you on, holding you accountable. In the gym, that person is usually a personal trainer. When it comes to testing, that champion typically needs to develop from within the organization. A committed CMO, for example, can help guide a team.

Even experienced athletes, however, benefit from a coach. And with testing, programs new and mature can typically benefit from a third-party expert capable of identify strengths, developing weaknesses, and creating a plan for continued improvement.

Use it or Lose it

If you stick with an exercise routine, you usually keep improving. But as soon as you slip, the benefits begin to fade. Just like exercise, the impact of testing is only temporary. If you keep up the routine, your site performance can continue to improve. This is why no one is ever really “done” testing. The customer changes, the environment changes, the market changes, and thus, testing must continue in order for your site to keep up.

If you have made a resolution to start or expand testing this year, don’t become discouraged if the process has been slow to develop—or if you’ve encountered hurdles along the way. Building new habits, a new culture, and a new strategic perspective takes effort and only persistence over time will lead to big results.

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