Website usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product design by testing it on users. Typically, during a test, participants will try to complete defined tasks while the administrators observe and take notes. The purpose of testing is to identify any usability problems and to ensure your website is accomplishing its intended goals. Large companies have been known to invest in million dollar usability labs. But deep pockets aren’t required to carry out usability testing. Even a small budget will substantially improve a site's business value. Here is how usability testing can be quick and relatively cheap.
4 Steps to Simple & Effective DIY Usability Testing
1. Define What Your Customers Are Looking for On Your Website
Make sure you customers can easily find what they are looking for so they don’t hit the back button. First, outline the questions and needs of your target audience. If you’re not positive of their needs, consider setting up a survey to ask. You will get a higher response rate if you offer customers an incentive for their feedback, such as a discount on your site or the chance to win a gift card. Promote your survey on your site or via your e-newsletter list. Want a simpler approach? Interview your customers or ask questions on social media. Often the simplest way is to ask your staff. Identify your team members who interact most with your potential or actual clients and ask them what questions or concerns they hear most.
2. Leverage Usability Guidelines to Optimize Your Website
Perform a Google search to find a guide for best web practices such as Neilson Norman Group’s 113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability. Once you identify an effective reference, assess how your design stacks up to standards and make a list of items you can improve for your users.
3. Try a Paper-Prototype or Webinar Test
Now, it’s time to test the design with real users. Develop a series of tasks fwith associated outcomes you want users to do when they visit your site. Do you want your user to fill out a form? Call you? Purchase a product? Sign-up for a newsletter? If your new website is already coded, users can go on the site directly from their own laptop. If it is just in the design phase, you can print enlarged copies of your design mocks ups to test for usability prior to coding. Give specific directives like - You are looking to purchase a gorilla cage- what would you click on first? Then, record what action they would take. If on a webinar, recording the session digitally is ideal so you can refer to it later. You can even use jpg or png files in place of print outs. Encourage users to talk out loud as they are making decisions to help you discover why they made certain choices. Tests can be quick, at 10 minutes a piece. You want to test at least 5 users.
Once complete, compile and review your data and ask - did your user take the path you expected them to? If not, why? Did they accomplish your end goal? If not, where did they get lost and why? How can you improve the experience to help users find what they are looking for easier and to direct them more effectively to your desired action(s)?
In summary, try this…
1. Sit next to someone and watch them navigate through your site.
2. Ask them to perform simple tasks and see what they do.
3. Have them talk about their thought process the entire time.
4. Follow up with questions “why did you click that button?”
5. Retest on other users to grow your usability outcomes.
4. Implement Findings for Better User Experience
Once you have identified problems and sticking points with your website user experience, spend some time modifying your site to fix the worst problems identified in your review. Which of your design elements were furthest off the mark when referencing your chosen usability guidelines? When carrying out user testing, where did users most often get stuck or confused on their way to converting? Spend time remedying the most blatant problems first, then you can get more granular.
5. Bonus Step: Improve Search Engine Visibility
93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. What good is usability if users never find your site? Make sure as you are going through and auditing design, you are also double checking key areas of your site not only to optimize user experience, but to improve your search engine optimization (SEO*). Ensure the following for top-notch search engine visibility:
1. Make sure you are publishing relevant content targeting specific keywords/ phrases.
2. Update content regularly to indicate your site’s relevancy to search engines.
3. Make sure you are adding metadata* and reviewing/ updating it overtime.
4. Use Alt Tags* on your images and video media.
5. Check your links and use descriptive link text with keywords.
Cost Saving Tips for Usability Testing
- Location: A spare conference room or webinar can be ideal locations for usability testing.
- Payroll: Rather than hiring expensive usability professionals, hire a consultant to teach existing staff how to conduct studies.
- Reach: Use a video conference platform to avoid concerns about location and reaching a wide enough demographic. Choose from one of many free webinar tools out there.
- Prototype: If you don’t have the budget for interactive automated prototypes, low-tech paper prototypes or png/jpg mock-ups can bring valuable results.
- Participants: You also don’t need a lot of participants - 5 users can be enough to test for specific tasks. In fact, studies show that 5 users will find 85% of usability problems.
Usability testing is well worth the time and monetary investment to ensure a maximum ROI for your website. But it can feel overwhelming or even confusing. Not to worry. We are here to help and can help strategize an effective plan for a range of budgets. For guidance conducting affordable usability testing, contact 10 Pound Gorilla today.
Glossary of Terms
*SEO- Search engine optimization is the process of making your site better for search engines.
*Metadata- Metadata is the information about the contents of your page inserted between the <head> tags.
*Alt Tags- Alternative text descriptions show search engines to locate your page.