There's nothing easier and cheaper in terms of getting instant, candid feedback about your Web site than using online beta testers. You probably have potential testers readily available, but you aren't tapping into their talents.
Where do you find online beta testers? If you publish an e-newsletter, your subscribers are a great place to start. Send out an e-mail soliciting their help with testing a new site or section of your site. When they respond, you can e-mail them some qualifying questions if you want to weed out inappropriate testers, such as teenagers, to test a site for baby boomers.
Next, give specific instructions as to what you want tested and what the testers should be looking for-bugs, broken links, their impression of a color scheme, feedback on the tone of the content and so on.
Put five to 10 questions together for them to answer-the shorter the better-to get immediate reactions and to keep the feedback consistent. Then gather your creative and technical team to share the results. There's nothing like a little reality check when real people go to your site for the first time.
Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books). She is currently working on her next book and new company.