As we wrap up the soft release of our latest and greatest peer-to-peer fundraising site, I’ve been musing on the importance of a soft launch for the success of your website. After all, in peer-to-peer fundraising you have a lot of different user groups to account for: fundraisers, donors, administrators, volunteers, not to mention “lookie-loos.” Making sure each of their user experiences is optimal is essential to the success of your site AND your fundraising event or campaign. A soft launch is the best way to make sure that each of those audience segments gets to QA the site before unleashing it into the universe at large.
When a piece of work is completed, it’s understandable to want to bang the drums right away and show the world your great new product. And when you’re on a tight timeline, it makes sense to want to work up to the last possible minute. But foregoing a soft launch makes for more stress and too many unknowns.
Friendly users are your best asset in a soft launch
You can (and should!) take care of all the planning, testing, usability conjecturing, and general quality assurance before releasing a site. But no matter how much work you put in, you can almost always bet there will be details that only emerge once it’s out in front of people. The team building a site is just too close to it to catch everything. Because you are so intimately familiar with the way the site works, you have an unconscious bias in the way you interact with it when you do your testing.
The fact is, no matter how much work you do internally, your end users are your most valuable asset in QA testing. They’re the ones who will actually be using what you built, and in doing so will likely encounter all sorts of corner cases and idiosyncratic scenarios that your team would not have come across. They may even have some great suggestions to improve on the great job you have already one.
When you do a soft launch you build in that all important safety period where your nearest and dearest (and most forgiving) users can poke around and kick the tires on your site. Together you will catch anything you missed and ensure you get a chance to add that final polish and perfection. And in the worst cases where you discover a major bug or issue, you will be thankful not to have had it uncovered in front of the massive audience you eventually want coming to your site to make donations, raise funds, and more.
And about that site I mentioned just launching? I’ll be back with a link to it in a week, AFTER the soft launch is over. I can almost guarantee it will be even better next week than it is today.