Measuring how effective your website is can be challenging. Often, one of the first thing clients do when they get a new website up and running is ask others what they think. We had one client who swore that everyone he spoke with thought a particular section of his website wasn’t essential, but when we looked at his website statistics, it was one of the most popular sections and obviously providing value!
As soon as you ask people what they might do in a situation, they become highly critical and offer all kinds of suggestions. They will tell you they don’t like something, suggest alternative placement for content, or tell you something is difficult to use. Unfortunately, many times, these suggestions are contrary to what they would do if they really were trying to find information on your website. Soliciting this type of feedback can lead you in circles.
What Is Web Usability Testing?
That’s where usability testing comes in. With usability testing, you bring in someone unfamiliar with your website and ask him or her to complete a task (like purchase an item or download a paper). You then record what steps they take to accomplish that task – including where they look for the information, which links and pages they click, and how long it takes them to finish.
How To Conduct Web Usability Testing
If you want to test how user-friendly your website is, follow these six steps.
- Choose your participants – Pick no more than five people to test your website. These people should ideally be part of your website’s target audience and should not be company employees, your friends, or family members.
- Make participants comfortable. In order for your usability testing session to be productive, your participants must use your site the way they might at home or at work. Keep participants informed of how long the testing will take and what types of tasks they will perform. Make sure they sign any appropriate legal forms and assure them their test results will be confidential.
- Note first impressions. When participants first look at your website, how do they describe their first impressions? What words do they use?
- Give participants tasks. Your website was created with a purpose – to help visitors take a specific action. Give participants tasks related to those actions. For instance, rather than say “find our contact us section,” give them a scenario. “Scenario 1 happened and you need to talk with someone immediately. Can you find the phone number?” Do scenario testing with each type of action you want them to take, one at a time. How easily can they buy your products? Contact you for a consultation? Join your members-only program?
- Monitor behavior. Watch what participants do during the testing. Where do they move their mouse? Which links do they click? To get the most benefit, you should be outside the room during the testing. You don’t want to give participants the impression they are “doing it wrong,” inadvertently give them clues to complete the task, or make them uncomfortable by peering over their shoulder. If you provide any feedback, make sure it is neutral.
- Ask for final thoughts. When the testing is over, ask participants for their overall impressions and any suggestions they have.
Combining Usability Testing With Web Analytics
Usability testing takes place in a formal environment so you can control what people will actually do. However, this doesn’t take into consideration how persistent people are in trying to complete their task.
In real life, they may decide they absolutely must have this item and will go to extreme lengths to complete their purchase. Or, they may give up and decide to purchase the item on a different site because they don’t have the patience for your website.
To determine how motivated people are to complete a task, usability testing should be used with web analytics to determine what actual users do on your website.
Web analytics involves analyzing your site statistics to see which pages are popular and where people usually enter or leave your website. Often this is a starting point for which pages could use some work. Once you detect a problem, you can use usability testing to narrow down possible problems and how you might fix them.
The two methodologies go hand in hand. Web analytics gives a true representation of what people are doing on your website, while usability testing helps you get a sense for why people might be having problems. Web analytics tells you where to look while usability testing helps you figure out what’s causing the problems and how to fix them.