Many of us are quite familiar with the concept of testing ideas. Not sure which Buy Now page design will work better? Use an AB test and find out. Not sure if a feature of your site is clear and easy to use? Get some users in front of it and watch how they use it.
Services like Google Web Optimizer Google Analytics experiments make this so simple it seems crazy not to test any idea with real people and get real figures on what works and what doesn’t.
This is the type of thinking encouraged by The Lean Startup, an influential new book by Eric Ries. He systematically dismantles the reasons for using what he calls “vanity metrics”, e.g. How many new visitors your site is getting per month. The reason he doesn’t like this type of thinking? Because if you’re making changes to your site it’s way to easy to imagine the changes you’re making are the reason for the increase in visitors. In fact this may be due to word of mouth and your graphs would keep going up even if you did nothing.
It may appear that this book is for hardened software developers and their CEO’s, not for web designers and site owners but we’d argue there’s a lot to be learned here for both camps. A web site is a big interactive thing and site owners can easily fall into business traps just like software developers.
Now a word of warning: In our opinion the book became a little repetitive, but even if you only read the first few chapters it could get your brain buzzing and soon enough you may find your thinking completely rewired and your way of viewing your work could be greatly enhanced. You can get the book here.