Runners - Thomas King - 26.11.12

Usability testing can be an invaluable tool in the arsenal of a digital marketer and web designer.

Get it right, and it can provide solutions to problems that you didn’t even realise existed. But get it wrong and you may end up making unnecessary changes that could negatively impact the performance of your website.

Here are my top tips for getting usability testing right, including some simple things that you need to avoid in order to get the most out of what can be a vital activity.

1.  Get The Right People

Usability testing is about finding out how visitors interact and engage with your website. Where do they get stuck? How long does it take to complete the checkout? There is no point in doing usability testing with people who would not normally visit and engage with a site like yours.

Ask questions that will force the testers to think for themselves and you will be provided with honest feedback

As marketers, it is essential to make sure that the messaging, design and functionality of the site is catered to appeal to your target audience. Get the demographic right and you will be provided with a wealth of juicy, money-making information. Delicious.

2.  Ask The Right Questions

This may sound like an obvious one, but it is essential to ask the right questions. Loading tasks and questions to provide you with an answer you already knew – to either make yourself look good or to provide you with some credit for your design work – is pointless.

Ask questions that will discover issues that you didn’t realise existed and you can then reward yourself six months down the line when your site is a success. Ask questions that will force the testers to think for themselves and you will be provided with honest feedback. Create scenarios and tasks that offer the tester the opportunity to freely browse the site as they would if they were in that situation.

3.  Work Out Your Goals

User testing is best used to analyse and evaluate the user path and journey to completing a goal. These goals can be anything from completing the checkout process, to filling in a contact form, to simply finding the information that is going to encourage your visitors to pick up the phone. If you work out what your goals are then this will give your testing some context and a purpose.

If you have no goals then what are you testing for? What are you trying to achieve? If your goal is to improve checkout conversions, then ask the testers to go through the process of buying a product (you could set up a product with no value if you want them to go all the way!). If it is to increase contact form completions then test the user’s ability to find the form and ease of use completing it. Be sensible.

4.  Compare the Market

A great way to get an honest opinion of how your site compares to other sites in the same industry is to ask the testers to compare them blind. Provide a list of four or five websites (including yours of course!) and ask the testers to point out which ones work best and which don’t work at all.

This is also a valuable task as on-line shoppers have the tendency to ‘window shop’ so it may also give you an indication into which site a potential customer may actually part with their hard earned cash on. Simples.

5.  Test on Different Devices

This is important, now more than ever. With the ever increasing number of people browsing and shopping on a wide range of devices – from iPads and tablets, to iPhones and smartphones, as well as touch screen display PCs and Macs – it is important to make sure that the user experience is consistently good across all platforms.

What someone experiences on a tablet may be vastly different to the experience that someone has whilst on a PC. The same rule applies to browsers.

6.  Explanation

Asking questions in pairs is a fantastic way to ensure that testers actually give up the reasoning for their answers. Asking the question “Do you think that X can be improved?” encourages a Yes or No answer, and this is not useful to anyone. Asking the question “Do you think that X can be improved? Please provide explanation for your answer” immediately forces the tester to provide you with some valuable feedback.

So there you have it, my guide to doing usability testing like a pro. Remember that user testing is about finding problems and gauging customer interaction, and not about providing yourself with an ego boost! Follow these simple tips and you will be sure to get the most from an invaluable component of web design.

If you have usability testing needs then why not get in touch with us here at Strategy?

Images by Xavi Tolleda on Flickr

How to do Website Usability Testing like a Pro by