Basic Guidelines and Benefits of User Testing
Sometimes as small business owners you may not see the forest for the trees. The same goes with web professionals. Often the intimacy with your work or website obstructs a subjective critique of its performance.
This is where user testing comes in. What is wonderful about user testing is that it does not need to be a high-level endeavor that requires extensive cost, focus groups, or larger internal teams to accomplish. An enormous amount of insight can be gained from a simple process. Here are some things you will need:
- A computer
- 3-5 subjects
- A targeted set of questions
- A single person to conduct the tests
- A screen capture software such as Camtasia or Screenium
That’s it! That’s all it will take to understand the public’s perception of your web presence.
You will need a computer set up for people to use or, better yet, a laptop you can take out to a public place where you might find a random sample willing to sit down for 10-20 minutes.
For most studies, generating accurate statistics would require a large sample. But the great thing about usability testing for websites is that truly eye-opening revelations about user experience can be revealed with as few as three subjects.
Develop questions to ask users. When on the homepage ask, “What do you think this company does?” or “What do you think this website is for?” If you are an informational website, ask users where to find certain information and see if they can do it, measuring how long it takes them. Ask them to find a phone number or a contact email. If you have an e-commerce site, ask the participants to find certain products, buy multiple products, review their cart, remove items, write a review, etc. Basically ask them to do all the things you think your website is supposed to do.
All you will need to host the user testing is one gregarious individual to do the meet-and-greet and administer the testing.
The best way to record and review the user test is with screen capture software. You can record the person’s actions on the screen: where they move the mouse and where they click, as well as record the audio. Encourage the test subjects to think out loud as they move through the site. This way you can also capture user frustration or glee and the thought process average web surfers use as they encounter your web pages.
Try to get a range of people from novice to expert users or, if you can, people that fit your target audience. It is amazing what you will find when you see users interact with a site that’s not as familiar to them as it is to you. A little incentive for 10–20 minutes of their time always helps. A $20 gift card is a great way to get participation from strangers.
The following video is a quick sample of how easy a user test can be. It also demonstrates how revealing a recording can be, as information architects and designers see how a user actually moves through their pages.
Video Test Subject Profile:
Are they web savvy (1-5, 5 being very savvy): 5
Have they visited the site before: No
The results can completely change the way you feel about your design or information architecture. The tests can calm your fears about your site’s perception or prompt an immediate redesign project, depending on the positivity or severity of the feedback.
User tests are best done when thinking of adding new functionality to your site or as part of the due diligence necessary prior to redesigning a website. These tests can easily give you the tools needed to understand how people are using your website as well as underscore the trouble spots that need to be fixed.
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