Is testing on your website ethical?
Recently, we've been surrounded with news that we're being split tested on. We heard from Facebook that our News Feeds had been manipulated to show either positively or negatively themed status updates to test how this affected user behaviour (presumably by counting resulting LOLs) . OKCupid conducted multiple experiments - testing variants of dating profiles with or without text, testing the match percentage shown to potential couples and testing how 'blind' love really is by taking away profile pictures (the results won't give singles out there much faith). Naturally, many people were unimpressed about being the unwitting subjects of experiments designed to manipulate their emotions. Facebook and OKCupid defended their actions - in the words of OKCupid, "if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work". Yikes!
User experience vs. user emotion
Testing to optimise for user experience is pretty common, like OKCupid says. The key issue for many people with the above experiments is that the experiments deliberately manipulated user's emotions - not just their experience on the site. There are also issues around consent, as many people would not have realised these experiments were happening (Facebook pointed to some terms and conditions, but as we all know, nobody reads fine print). At the end of the day, the testing was done with the primary focus of benefitting Facebook and OKCupid, with an attitude towards their users akin to the saying, 'YOLO'.
So should you still split test your website?
Well, since we're an agency that does a lot of split testing, you can probably guess that we think it's a good idea. Split testing can deliver amazing insights into your customers and online behaviour that can help you not only optimise your website, but optimise your business. We think split testing shouldn't just be about the website owner though. What about your users? How do they benefit from your tests? The kinds of tests we do help you to help your website visitors - we can find out how best to structure your information, to design your website and to present your copy so that users have an easy time on your website. We don't see it as manipulating your users - we see it as better connecting with them. There's no bait-and-switch tactics, or straight up fibs. We put your users first, taking into account their needs, their pain points and their optimal outcomes. It just happens to work out well for you too! So rest assured, if you're working with us, you're working with an agency that takes the ethics of testing seriously. As seriously as we take our internal ping pong competition, and that's saying something.