From experience, usability testing is THE most enlightening and powerful activity that brands can carry out to answer an extensive range of questions which can be crucial to how their website performs.
As well as providing genuine evidence of what people are doing on websites, usability testing provides compelling insights as to WHY people are doing what they are doing. OK, stay with me on this, I know I’m not enlightening anyone so far with this statement…
The problem (or opportunity) is the term usability testing, or user testing, whichever you prefer to use. Testing is much more than just testing the ‘usability’ of a website, much more than just testing how affective a website is in achieving its goals.
If planned and moderated well, usability testing can answer questions around user perceptions, user behaviour, business processes, brand perception and customer research - as well as whether or not users can get from A to B and if not, why not.
In this post I have listed out a wide range of questions which we typically aim to answer for our clients when conducting usability testing, whether this through moderated lab sessions or remote user testing.
These are just some of the questions around general online behaviour that usability testing can provide answers to:
- How do users usually interact with websites?
- How do users typically browse websites in our industry?
- How do users usually interact with search results pages?
- What expectations do users have based on past experience?
- At what stage would users end up phoning customer services or sales?
- What do users expect to see when they click key buttons on the website? (ask before they click the button!)
- How important are product images when users are considering an online purchase?
- What questions do the users want to know the answers to in order to commit to buy/click/proceed?
- What features do users now come to expect on websites i.e. postcode look-up facility?
- What presumptions do users make when browsing your website?
- What elements could we introduce which would provide a more persuasive experience for users?
- How can we generate a more emotive response from users?
- How important is security for users when submitting sensitive information online, and how does our website cater for this?
- What do users do when they are presented with terms & conditions?
- Is banner blindness a myth?
- What level of control (filters) do users expect to have when browsing large categories of content?
Usability testing can provide businesses with invaluable insights on whether the current business processes, which may well be based around offline processes and systems, are a help or a hindrance to users.
- Do our current business processes meet with user expectations?
- Can we mirror our offline processes for online, or should we take a different approach?
- Do our strict data capture requirements force users to abandon?
- Do our backend systems force users to make un-necessary steps?
- Do we name things (features/navigation/promotions/content) on our website based on our business terminology rather than what users want/expect?
As well as behavioural insights you can gain very valuable evidence of what are user’s attitudes to specific elements of both websites in general and of your website.
- What are the major issues which will make this user leave our website?
- How do users respond to being forced to register or create an account?
- How do users think a guest checkout will compare to an account creation checkout?
- How much information are users comfortable in submitting online, and what do they really not like providing?
- What are user’s attitudes when presented with marketing preferences?
- How long are users willing to spend on a particular process before they get bored/frustrated/consider leaving?
- How do users respond to video content as part of their browsing and exploration experience?
- What are the reasons users prefer to interact with us online versus offline, and vice-versa?
Who doesn’t want to know what people think about their brand? For our well recognised brands a part of any test sessions is aimed at uncovering the perception users have of the brand, both before and after the test session.
- What is the user’s current impression of the brand?
- How much does the user know about the brand before the test?
- How has the current website experience changed the user’s perception of the brand, if at all?
- How do users respond to our USP's?
- How credible is our brand compared to our competitors?
- How does our brand credibility affect user’s experience of our website?
- How do users respond to the tone of voice used in our product and editorial copy?
- Are users aware of our full product/service range?
- What are the reasons users would or wouldn't engage with us through social media channels?
Why not make the most of usability testing sessions and carry out some customer/market research while you are at?
Depending on the time you have with each user it can be quick and efficient to carry out a bit of research which doesn’t have to be specific to your website – and this can be particularly useful for brands with a high street presence.
- How does our site compare to our competitors?
- In which ways does the user currently buy from our brand?
- What is the user’s impression of our in-store experience?
- What does the high street store do that the website needs to replicate?
- How important is our virtual catalogue functionality?
- Will users understand this new feature that we are currently developing?
- What do users think to this new feature we are considering developing?
- Are people using our website in the way it was concepted/designed?
- Are there any features & functionality which our website would benefit from?
Usability & user experience
Don’t forget what we came for in the first place! Of course gaining insights on the usability & user experience that your website delivers is the cornerstone of any usability test, unless of course you’ve got different objectives.
Below is a list of questions you can answer, but there are many more which I’m sure some people may point out in the comments…
- Can users complete key tasks with no un-answered questions?
- Are users able to locate key features & functionality that the site provides?
- Do users understand our primary and secondary navigation?
- Is there important information missing from our key pages?
- What do users make of our targeted landing pages?
- Does our search facility meet user expectations?
- Are users able to use our page control features easily?
- Are we providing the right level of product information detail?
- Do we provide suitable tools for which users can compare products & specifications?
- How do users respond to our cross sell and up-sell promotions?
- Do our primary USP's get seen by all users, irrespective of where they go on the website
- Do we make our full proposition transparent to users?
- Does our page load speed cause any issues with the users site experience?
- At what stages do users exhibit anxiety during a user journey i.e. application, checkout, sign-up, booking, reservation
- Are users able to locate the button/action we want them to do on key pages?
- What issues do users have when completing our web forms?
- What flexibility do users expect to have at specific parts of their user journey?
- What exactly is stopping users from doing what we want them to?
- How can we make our website experience more intelligent to speed up how users interact with us online?
I hope this post has demonstrated the sheer variety of insights businesses can get through carrying out usability studies. Of course this isn’t a definitive list of questions which can expect to get answers for but it should certainly get you started (if you aren’t already usability testing of course).
In wrapping up, another one of the major benefits of usability testing is that it can and does provide compelling evidence of what to test where on your website, providing a testing & conversion optimisation strategy is in place.
Whether through split testing or more in-depth multi-variate testing it provides real insights (along with your analytics data) that are worth its weight in gold.
Comments & Questions
I’d love to hear your comments on this post as well as sharing your answering to some of these questions:
- What questions have you answered through usability testing?
- How important is usability testing with your online strategy?
- Which no-brainer questions have I missed off this list (there are bound to be plenty)?
You might be interested in
There are many things to consider when you are building a new website. Your site needs to be attractive enough that people want to look at it. It also needs to contain all of the information that you want to share with your readers in order to help them achieve the objective for which they came to your website. One of the most important aspects of building a website is testing for usability. Internet users are accustomed to being able to figure out how to use a website quickly. Most of them will not take the time to figure out a site that is not usable.
What is Usability?
Usability is how easy an object is to use. The object can be almost anything, including a machine, tool, process, book, software application or website. Anything that a person can interact with should be usable. In the case of websites and software applications, usability has been defined as the ease at which an average person can use the software or website to achieve specific goals.
Usability is comprised of learnability, memorability, efficiency, satisfaction and errors. Learnability is how easy it is for a new user to accomplish tasks the first time they visit your website. Memorability is how easy it is for someone to come back to using your website after they haven’t used it for a period of time. Efficiency is how quickly users can complete tasks on your site after they are familiar with its use. Satisfaction is whether users enjoy the design of your site and errors refers to the number of errors users make when they use your site, the severity of the errors and how easy they are to recover from.
Why is Website Usability Important?
The main reason that usability is so important is because there are so many similar websites that people will go to the next site if the first one they visit is not usable. You can have the most beautiful website in the world, but people will leave immediately if they are unable to figure out how to navigate your site quickly.
As stated in the article Why Web Site Usability is Important for a Company, on the web, companies entirely rely on their web presence in order to achieve their online goals. Similarly, a user of a company’s web site will formulate a judgement about that company that is strongly correlated with the way they perceive its web site. Furthermore, usable websites increase user satisfaction whereas web sites which violate usability conventions confuse users and result in a loss of revenue for the companies behind them. This is because improving usability is a great way to encourage users to visit your site instead of the sites that belong to your competitors and is often an approach that keeps customers coming back to your site again and again. Indeed, high-quality websites that are easy to use bring in customers and give a particular site a competitive edge over the competition.
What is Usability Testing?
Usability Testing is a technique used to evaluate a product (in this case a website) by testing is on users. Most people who set up a usability test carefully construct a scenario wherein a person performs a list of tasks that someone who is using the website for the first time is likely to perform. Someone else observes and listens to the person who is performing the tasks while taking notes. Watching someone perform common tasks on a website is a great way to test whether the site is usable because you will immediately be able to see whether they are able to perform the tasks and any difficulties they have while doing so.
There are 3 main categories of usability testing:
- Explorative: Used early in product development to assess the effectiveness and usability of a preliminary design or prototype, as well as users’ thought processes and conceptual understanding.
- Assessment: Used midway in product development or as an overall usability test for technology evaluation. Evaluates real-time trials of the technology to determine the satisfaction, effectiveness, and overall usability.
- Comparative: Compares two or more instructional technology products or designs and distinguishes the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Types of Usability Testing Methods
The following is a brief description of the main usability testing methods that are used.
(Side note: As you will notice, most of these methods involve observing users. For a set of tips on how you can invite users for your usability tests using email, I would recommend Eddie James’ excellent article “Inviting Stakeholders To Usability Sessions: 14 Tips & Considerations For Email Invitations“)
- Hallway Testing: Using random people to test the website rather than people who are trained and experienced in testing websites. This method is particularly effective for testing a new website for the first time during development.
- Remote Usability Testing: Testing the usability of a website using people who are located in several countries and time zones. Sometimes remote testing is performed using video conferencing, while other times the user works separately from the evaluator. Nowadays, there are various software available at a relatively low cost that allow remote usability testing to be carried out even by observers who are not usability experts. Typically, the click locations and streams of the users are automatically recorded and any critical incidents that occurred while they were using the site are also recorded, along with any feedback the user has submitted. Remote usability testing allows for the length of time it took each tester to complete various tasks to be recorded. It is a good method of testing because the tests are carried out in the normal environment of the user instead of a controlled lab.
- Expert Review: An expert in the field is asked to evaluate the usability of the website. Sometimes the expert is brought to a testing facility to test the site, while other times the tests are conducted remotely and automated results are sent back for review. Automated expert tests are typically not as detailed as other types of usability tests, but their advantage is that they can be completed quickly.
- Paper Prototype Testing: Quite simply, this usability testing method involves involves creating rough, even hand-sketched, drawings of an interface to use as prototypes, or models, of a design. Observing a user undertaking a task using such prototypes enables the testing of design ideas at an extremely low cost and before any coding has been done. For additional details about paper prototype testing, please read the article “Paper Prototyping As A Usability Testing Technique“
- Questionnaires and Interviews: Due to their one-on-one nature, interviews enable the observer to ask direct questions to the users (apart from double checking what they are really doing). Similarly, the observer can also ask questions by means of questionnaires. The advantage of questionnaires is that they allow more structured data collection. However, they are rigid in nature as opposed to interviews.
- Do-it-Yourself Walkthrough: Just as the name implies, in this technique, the observer sets up a usability test situation by creating realistic scenarios. He or she then walks through the work themselves just like a user would. A variation of this technique is the group walkthrough where the observer has multiple attendees performing the walkthrough.
- Controlled Experiments: An approach that is similar to scientific experiments typically involving a comparison of two products, with careful statistical balancing in a laboratory. This may be the hardest method to do “in the real world” but due to its scientific nature, it yields very accurate results that can eventually be published
- Automated Usability Evaluation: Probably the Holy Grail of usability testing. Various academic papers and prototypes have been developed in order to try and automate website usability testing, all with various degrees of success. One interesting approach has been discussed in this blog is Justin Mifsud’s USEFul Framework. You can read about it in the article “USEFul: A Framework to Automate Website Usability Evaluation“
What To Do After Website Usability Testing is Complete
After you have received the results of your website usability tests, the first thing you should do is compile the information and take note of any issues that testers had in common. Look at the amount of time it took them or their test subjects to complete various tasks and think about what you can change so that users are able to complete these tasks faster. Also note any feedback you have been given by the testers amd where this is not clear, do contact them to clear our any ambiguities. Make any changes you can to improve the usability of your site as soon as possible. As with any form of website testing, usability testing is an ongoing process so be sure to run usability tests again after you have made changes. This not only ensures that the changes you made were appropriate but will additionally help you discover new usability problems.
Filed Under: TerminologyTagged With: Usability, Usability Testing