Testing a website for usability has become an essential component of any major project. Be it a desktop version or a mobile website, user testing is critical to both design and functionality. Usability testing is carried out in a way similar to that for focus groups used for product testing, brand development, and customer feedback. It gives web developers the opportunity to receive true feedback from their target audience, or intended users, to fix bugs and make improvements before the website goes live.
Whether you are building a new website for your company or brand, or are revamping the site, there is a long checklist of points you need to consider. Your site needs to be inviting and attractive enough to hold a visitor beyond the initial few seconds, and should offer good information that is easy to find. Website visitors might turn away if they need to spend more than two to three seconds to access the information they need.
This is where usability testing becomes important. It will allow you to use various tools and methods to understand how users browse a site, improve navigation, optimize loading time, and select color schemes and fonts. Do not forget that most Internet users want websites that load quickly and offer them information at the speed of thought. This means that your website – design, navigation, content – has to be almost intuitive. With more and more Internet users switching to smartphones for web browsing, they might not want to spend time on a site that is not user-friendly. They would rather switch to a website that offers them a better experience.
A bad user experience could turn away many potential customers. Here is how. Imagine your website to be a virtual “shop window”. How the storefront looks, plays a vital role in inviting potential customers to step in and explore more. If your shop window is shabby and unattractive, it affects how users perceive your brand and the quality of your products or services. If your competitors have better websites, you may lose a customer forever. Therefore, investing in usability testing tools will help you create a website that will convert a prospect from interest to closure. You will also benefit from a website that is interesting and ‘sticky’ enough to keep visitors coming back.
Testing a website for usability is essentially a technique that uses a variety of tools and methods to filter out bugs, errors, and design flaws, and gauge user response. The ultimate aim is to create a website that best serves user needs and acts as an important branding platform for the company. User testing is broadly classified into three groups, i.e. explorative, assessment, and comparative.
Explorative user testing is typically implemented early in the development cycle and tests the usability and efficiency of the preliminary design and the concept. Midway through the development, assessment user testing evaluates the design and features of a product using real-time trials. At this stage, you can test overall usability and effectiveness. Comparative testing will compare best practices and market-leading samples with your website and do a SWOT analysis.
You can randomly select a group of people to test your website, instead of engaging trained professionals who are skilled in website user testing. This method is ideal for testing a completely new website. A more advanced version of hallway testing can be used later in the development stage where questionnaires and interviews are used to gauge user response. The evaluator can ask the user for feedback directly and collect data in a more structured manner. Since the questionnaire and interview method can be rigid, you might need to set some guidelines in place that allow for adjustments in real-time.
Your website can be accessed by anyone connected to the Internet. Your users are scattered across the globe, and since most businesses today strive for a global presence, your website should have global appeal too. Remote user testing involves users located in different countries testing your website on different browsers, different Internet speeds, and systems. Remote user testing can be conducted over a video conference, or in a controlled environment where the user works independently and then submits a report to the evaluator.
Today you can find several tools online, both open source and proprietary, that allow you to engage user testing experts as well as random users remotely. These tools take away the possibility of an error occurring in manual reports as they actively capture stats and data points such as click locations and user streams. Any critical incidents and errors are also automatically recorded along with user feedback. Some of the more widely used tools are Userlytics, Crowdsourced Testing, Crazy Egg, TryMyUI, KISSmetrics, GTMetrix, User Punk, and Poster. What makes these online tools more effective is that the testing is conducted in a normal environment instead of, in a controlled lab. In fact, automated user testing is considered the Holy Grail of website user testing and analysis, and is rapidly gaining traction.
As the name suggests, this involves asking an expert in the area of website usability testing, to evaluate your website. You could choose to conduct these tests remotely or bring the expert to your office. Several experts bring their own checklists and frameworks to evaluate your website. These frameworks are time-tested and have been refined over time, and you can get them to be customized for your needs. Automated tools may not be a good choice for such testing because they are usually not as comprehensive, and though they do not take much time to complete, they can influence the expert’s own analysis.
You can create a rough hand-sketch or a high-level drawing or prototype of your website and share it with experts and/or random users to get their feedback. Though this method is low-cost and quick, it may not be the most recommended usability testing method. The results can be unreliable and erroneous.
If you are the evaluator then you can create your own user-testing environment with realistic scenarios, and then walk through the website just like another user. You can also create a group in your company; have this group walk through the site, and share feedback.
The final word is that the quality of the user experience offered by your website can be a deal maker or breaker. You can gain or lose a customer forever. Users are picky and want the best experience at all points. Your website is often the first impression a user gets, and all elements from visual design and appeal, loading time, navigation, and the quality of information contribute to an exceptional user experience. The challenge is that user experience is mostly subjective considering each user’s personal preferences. But you cannot afford to ignore the user.