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Setting up your own slice of the internet—your very own website—is a pretty long process: you search far and wide for the best web hosts, pick one that suits your needs the best, and work your magic on a website builder (or even build your own custom layout).
Once you’ve done all that, what comes next? Do you start churning out content? What about a forum? Is your security up to snuff? Before you start doing any of these things, you should consider how usable your website is.
That’s where our topic—website usability testing—comes in. What exactly is it? What are its different types and metrics? How can you use it to improve your website? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more.
As a bonus, we’ll even teach you how to conduct usability testing on your own! So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and read on!
Before you do anything, you might want to get a basic understanding of what usability testing is. Simply put, usability testing is the process of evaluating a website or application to find out how easy (or difficult) it is for users to use.
As it is an evaluation, usability testing has several metrics to test a website, with the most common ones being:
User-friendliness refers to how easily people can comprehend your website’s user interface and layout and then perform various functions. Consider this example:
You’ve set up a small e-commerce website and want to see how user-friendly it is. You can ask a test participant to purchase a specific product on your website.
Did they pick the right product? Were they able to easily see how much it cost? How easy was it to use a credit card (or some other payment option) to make a purchase?
Their responses to these questions (among others) should be noted, as their answers can help determine how accessible (or not) your website is!
Next up, efficiency measures how quickly users can perform various actions, such as creating an account, accessing a forum, or making a purchase. Let’s go back to the previous example:
Now that you’ve tested your site for user-friendliness, next comes efficiency. You can simply measure how long it takes for a user to make a purchase, from searching for a product and setting up shipping details to finally inputting their payment details and making a purchase.
Efficiency lets you know which tasks take the most time on your site, letting you recognize which of your site’s parts and processes may need some improvement. For example, if users take a long time to search for a specific product, your search function may need some tweaks!
Third, you can test your site for errors—you can count how many errors users run into, which can range from relatively simple spelling or grammatical errors, to broken links or site elements. Generally speaking, anything on your site that isn’t working as it should can be considered an error. Let’s head back to your e-commerce site:
You’re now testing your site to identify minor and major errors. First off, you can check each of your products’ descriptions for erroneous grammar and spelling, which can leave a bad impression on users. After all, no one wants to buy a “colon” instead of cologne!
Also, you should comb through your site’s hyperlinks to see if all of them are working properly. Broken links are not only bad for your customers, but they can also negatively affect your SEO, albeit indirectly.
This metric helps identify the errors on your site, allowing you to fix them before they cause even more damage!
Finally, user satisfaction measures how pleased your audience was when they used your website. Overall, this metric just determines what else you can improve on your site that wasn’t exactly covered by the other metrics. Consider the following example:
Users may find your site easy to use and error-free, but they may offer suggestions for its general design, color scheme, or font choices. These issues don’t exactly fall into the other metrics, so they can be added to the user satisfaction metric.
All in all, these metrics let you get an idea of how easy (or hard) your site is to use and navigate. You can then use the feedback that you’ve received to make your site even better!
Now that you know what usability testing is and what to test for, it’s time to learn the most common types:
In-person usability testing involves bringing participants to a physical space, providing them with some instructions, and then having them use your website while some hired (and qualified) researchers observe their behavior and take notes.
Participants are selected based on what you’re testing. For example, if you’re testing for an e-commerce website, you might need to select people who are used to shopping online. You may even need to include online shopping newbies, just so that you’ll have a better understanding of how easy it is for a novice shopper to browse your site.
You may also consider having your own employees as participants, though this may lead to biased results (as they might already know the ins and outs of your website). As such, picking participants from outside of your company is still the best option.
Your tests should use a usability testing lab, which ensures that all tests use the same environment and equipment, curtailing the effects that various external factors may have on your tests.
The main downside to in-person testing is that it requires a lot of resources—you’ll need to set up a usability testing lab and hire qualified researchers, after all.
Also, such tests can only involve a small group of people, which may limit the quality of the data that you gather. As such, participants should be chosen based on how much they can contribute to the study. For instance, your participants should include novice, veteran, and average users, not just one type.
Unmoderated remote usability testing, on the other hand, doesn’t require as many resources as in-house testing—participants can simply use an online tool on their own devices for the test.
For example, services such as Gazepoint or RealEye let you conduct eye-tracking tests (you can see what your audience is looking at on a page) remotely, while Maze lets you conduct task-based tests.
The main advantage of this testing method is that participants aren’t stuck in a lab or some other controlled environment, so they’re more likely to act like they normally do, which helps you gather data that better reflects real-world usage.
What’s more, this test is also significantly cheaper than an in-house one, and it lets you gain feedback from a larger number of users.
The downside to unmoderated remote usability testing is that it doesn’t provide you with findings that are as detailed as a moderated test.
Generally, this testing method is used to test out any hypotheses that you’ve developed from a moderated test. For example, you can use this method to see whether a change in your site’s layout helps improve its efficiency, and so on.
Moderated remote usability testing is almost identical to the previous type of testing, albeit with one key difference—someone is watching and moderating the participants. This type of testing is done when you’re not sure if an unmoderated test will yield reliable, clear results.
However, you’ll need to have a moderator to talk to and monitor participants throughout the test. And, you’ll also need to use a tool, such as Lookback.io, which lets you send links to usability tests and then communicate with users as they’re undergoing a test.
Guerrilla testing is a form of usability testing that involves gathering feedback from random people in a public place, such as a café. This method may even involve paper prototyping, where you draw your digital product on paper.
Given this, guerilla testing is a low-cost form of usability testing, as you can make do with a paper prototype instead of a functional one. It is also quick and time-efficient, as you do not have to do a lot of setup, such as recruiting qualified researchers or filtering participants. You simply go to a place, show random people your prototype, and gather feedback.
The main disadvantage of this testing method is that you don’t get to pick your participants. For example, if you’re testing for an e-commerce site, your participants may not actually purchase goods online, which could result in data that isn’t exactly useful.
As such, this method is useful for more general, early testing, such as checking to see if your website design “works” (i.e., if it meets the basic requirements) before actually creating a functional prototype site.
In phone interview testing, researchers call participants and then ask them various questions or instruct them to perform various tasks. Their responses are then gathered as feedback.
This method can be useful if you’re aiming to cater to a wider international audience, as it allows you to gain a broader outlook on your site’s potential issues. Alternatively, you can also use phone interviews as a follow-up to unmoderated remote testing, allowing you to understand the reasons behind participants’ choices during the test.
Like most tests that require moderators, this requires you to employ well-trained ones to gather the best feedback, especially if you’re going to be interviewing participants from other countries, as they may speak different languages.
As we’ve stated, the main benefit of website usability testing is that it gives you an idea of how easy or difficult it is to use your site. However, usability testing also helps you do the following:
To conduct a usability test yourself, you’ll need to plan a lot of things as well as understand how to make use of the data that you gather, which may not be an easy task.
You might need to hire qualified researchers and moderators to conduct your testing for you or even set up a location for testing. Here are the steps to conduct a usability test yourself:
Before you start testing, remember the age-old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Planning should be the first on your list of tasks, because without a solid plan, you might as well be stumbling about in the dark when you start testing.
Make sure to include the following in your planning:
Next, you’d need to plan the logistical details of your test:
Once you have all of these details, you should collect them in a document that you can easily access and use as your guide throughout the testing process, ensuring that you don’t miss out on any of your planned activities and tests.
Your planning involves determining the types of users you want to test. The second part of testing involves actually searching and recruiting those individuals. The most popular methods for finding participants for your test are:
As you (or an agency) search for participants, you can also start with planning and designing the test itself. You can develop various scenarios and tasks for your participants to undergo and perform, respectively.
For example, if you’re testing for an e-commerce website, you could ask your participants to purchase a product. This task will let you determine how easy it is to make a purchase on your site, allowing you to optimize or refine certain aspects or pages to make buying a product on your website as quick and easy as possible.
It’s showtime—run your test, and stick to the plan! All that time that you spent planning goes to waste if you start deviating from it. Inform your participants of the test’s duration, and let them know how they should submit their feedback for the test and its tasks.
Also, remember to make the test consistent for all participants: don’t randomly change tasks, and don’t suddenly give out hints to participants who look like they’re having a hard time—that’s what the test is for.
If they’re having a hard time, that just means that there’s something about your site that’s hard to understand or navigate. Take note of what they’re having a hard time with, and ask questions regarding why they were experiencing such difficulties.
Once the tests are all done and you’ve gathered all of the data that you need, it’s time to analyze the tests’ findings. Go over the data, and make a running tally of the most common (e.g., not being able to find the “Buy” button) or severe issues (e.g., broken links or a page that crashes browsers).
Doing this lets you identify the issues that users will often run into as well as which ones should be prioritized.
Once you’ve gone through all of your data and analyzed it, create a plan that responds to and resolves most, if not all, of the issues that were revealed by the test—then, take action!
You can think of usability testing as something like a preemptive health checkup: it’ll let you know what’s wrong and what to improve before they cause issues. Usability testing informs you on what your website is doing well and what it’s doing poorly, allowing you to make revisions as needed.
Keep the tips and processes we’ve outlined in mind, and you’re sure to capitalize on the many benefits brought by usability testing, ensuring your website’s success for years to come!