An online presence is a must-have for any business or company. With "the window to the world" right at one's fingertips, it is nearly impossible to imagine people don't do online research before engaging with a product or company. In fact, according to a popular statistic by Sirius Decisions, roughly 70% of the buyer's journey is online. And with younger generations taking over decision-making roles, that number is only going to increase.
So, yes, having a website for your organization is important. But it's more important to do it right. That includes usability testing—from the design phase all the way to the launch of your site.
And just like we do with usability testing, this blog post must start at the beginning.
What Is Usability Testing?
In its simplest form, usability testing is the act of testing how easy a website, application, or program is. While traditional testing (bug fixes, etc.) might be done by the developer or internal project team, usability testing is done by the end user.
According to HubSpot, “Usability testing is a method of evaluating a product or website’s user experience. By testing the usability of their product or website with a representative group of their users or customers, UX researchers can determine if their actual users can easily and intuitively use their product or website."
Usability testing can (and should) be used by all companies, large and small. While it may seem like a "nice-to-have" expense, there are many ways to conduct studies that are both beneficial and affordable.
Benefits of Usability Testing
Usability testing helps lay the foundation for the entire website's plan. It will uncover problems in the design process, find opportunities for improvement to the design, and teach your organization about your users, including their behaviors, preferences, and expectations.
Your website creation goes a lot further than the code holding it all together. You want to create a space that those visiting can easily navigate and understand so they can find what they're looking for.
User testing in the UX and design phase is especially important in understanding your clients' needs to best plan your website, saving money in future fixes once the site goes to costly developmental edits.
What Should You Test?
The company, User Testing, found (through Gartner and PWC) that "90% of customer-facing employees said they understood the needs of customers" while only "38% of U.S. consumers say the employees they interact with understand their needs." With such a divide, how can we bridge the gap?
Meeting expectations is important in website development. You want to avoid frustrations from a user getting lost between sections of your website or find themselves unable to complete simple tasks.
Some items you should test include:
- Navigation - Is content found where you think it should be?
- Design - Is it aesthetically pleasing? Do images, icons and other design elements make sense?
- Buttons - Did you know it was a button? Did clicking on the button take you where you expected to go?
- Content – Does the content help guide you to complete a task? Or are instructions lacking?
- Tasks - What prevents you from completing certain tasks?
Testing happens as early as sitemap planning, when all the information for the different pages, videos, and other files are being organized as well as how they'll be linked together. This can be done in low-fi paper testing or through moderated testing.
How to Conduct Usability Testing
Usability testers can help impact every part of a website from the way it looks, how something is worded, and even how pages link together. The Nielson Norman Group explains the process of usability testing, saying, "A researcher (called a 'facilitator' or a 'moderator') asks a participant to perform tasks, usually using one or more specific user interfaces. While the participant completes each task, the researcher observes the participant’s behavior and listens for feedback."
Certain tasks are given to these testers, which can be completed independently or before a team of observers. The advantage of having observers allows notes to be taken as a tester interacts with a website. That way, they can see praises and concerns in real time as well as where a tester might get held up. As a rule of thumb, always ask your tester to think out loud to better understand their thoughts and motivations.
There are several different types of usability testing. Remote tests are becoming increasingly popular due to the pandemic and advances in technology. They also require less time and money than in-person testing. Remote, unmoderated testing lets your testers complete tasks in their natural environment, giving more objective feedback.
Once the raw data is gathered from whichever type of study you use, the organization running the usability test will make recommendations on how to move forward.
For example, Sparkbox worked with a midwestern academic medical center to improve their patient-facing website, conducting research to pin down how the homepage could be improved. Then, they made changes based on that research. Once those changes were implemented, Sparkbox performed a side-by-side usability test to learn how big of an improvement they made.
Through testing, they found their changes significantly improved findability on the homepage with a "94% success rate for the new layout versus a 45% success rate with the initial design."
Sparkbox also learned that the implemented navigation labels weren't helpful to users in finding the right content, so they started once more to think up an alternative, user-friendly navigation for the site.
By performing this usability testing, companies can gather insight on how to improve a user's experience on their website and work with them to create solutions, therefore increasing a website's traffic and making it overall more marketable for the business or individual.
Usability Testing for Good Bones
Usability testing is a great way for businesses looking to improve their digital footprint and create a better relationship with their clients or audience. The earlier you incorporate it in the process of building your website, the more money you can save in future fixes, finding the best way to connect with users to make an easy-to-use site they can feel comfortable returning to again and again.
Not only does usability testing provide a better user experience, but these tests also reveal how your customers or clients interact with your website.
With many ways to test a website, there are just as many problems that can hide unless you know what to look for, which is where an outside group of professionals like Hileman Group can be a benefit to your website and your business. Understanding how people interact with websites, researching how they specifically interact with yours, and then implementing those changes to help build your website is what usability testing hopes to accomplish.