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Maximising usability testing

Usability testing is a technique used to measure how well a product meets its intended purpose. In the website world, this means how easily a website or app can be used by an average person and that can lead to higher conversion rates. Like any testing of this sort, various factors come into play.

  • Learnability – How easy is the site is to use on someone’s first visit?
  • Memorability – How easy it is to use the site when revisiting?
  • Enjoyment – How satisfying and rewarding is the site?
  • Efficiency – How much time and how many steps are required for particular tasks?
  • Errors – How many errors does a user typically make and what do they do to overcome these?

Before the test

When designing and setting up the test, it is essential to focus on your intended outcomes. Why are you carrying out the research and which questions do your results need to answer? Clear success criteria at the outset will yield specific and more useful results. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many website usability tests are carried out on the wrong users. Choose participants based on those people your website is targeted at. If you can do this successfully, your test will be tailored to the user and encourage them to demonstrate more natural responses.

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During the test

To gain participants’ honest opinions on a user interface design, it makes sense to test using a variety of sites, so that users are unaware of which particular site you are, in fact, focused on. By using some sites they already know and use regularly, you can also gain valuable insight into their typical website use and expectations.

Start off with broader tasks so that your participants gain confidence and can explore in their own way. Using real-life problems, e.g. using the site to find and order a particular item of clothing, will not only demonstrate how they use the site, but also make the test itself seem more worthwhile.

Don’t be too controlling! Sometimes the way in which a participant uses the site might not be quite what you expected, but rather than pointing them towards what you meant, their behaviour may very well teach you something about the site’s usability which you hadn’t previously considered.

Sometimes it’s useful to ask users how or why they navigated to a particular part of the site or carried out a certain task. Yet if you ask your participant what they are thinking too often, you run the risk of them adapting their behaviour and affecting the credibility of your test. Letting them simply get on with it is probably more beneficial – you can always ask them questions once the test is complete.

After the test

Once the test is over, it can be a useful time to discuss with the participant some of the behaviours you observed. This qualitative type of information can prove extremely valuable and you might find that your users even make recommendations for conversion rate improvement or suggest new concepts. It is worth noting, however, that a user’s verbal responses and their actual test behaviour may differ – you will need to bear this in mind when analysing your data.

Website usability testing – when done well – provides a vital source of information to any web developer or business owner. The more you know about how your users interact with your website or app, the more easily you can deal with any errors and frustrations they may have, and the more you can tailor your site to their specific needs. And if your website delivers what your customers need, it’s done its job.