Testing the User Experience

The basics of usability.


Seek and Ye Shall Find

It is conceivable you could look at your own website and discover some of the problems you might have or catch a mistake made in development. Obviously you should do this for your entire site to avoid many common problems, if you have the time, however, that is not the case however with most entrepreneurs and/or marketing managers who struggle with the many responsibilities of running a website or business on their own.

usertestingTesting throughout the design and development process while ideal, is often delayed or ignored all together because timelines are short, schedules are stretched thin, and money is just not available to ensure a perfect result. We at Havre de Grace Design want to change your mind on that point, because usability testing possible on a tight budget can be quite effective at saving you time in the long run. While testing may seem like a practice best suited for more technical minded people, it’s uniquely valuable for marketers and business owners. Especially those that are truly interested in building their brand and the public trust.

Testing a site does not mean evaluating its design, it means determining if the users on your site can accomplish the goals they have in mind when they arrive.

  1. What is their intent?
  2. What would satisfy them?
  3. How can you help them achieve success and
  4. How can your business achieve your goals at the same time?

Testing with these questions in mind can reveal fixes that go far beyond code changes. It can lead to fundamental improvements in the way you do business and make money. Hopefully a lot more money, in fact, I have paid people $50 in store credit on another website for a simple suggestion. Most of those suggestions were implemented as well. What I discovered is a redesign was needed to please the color choices of most shoppers. This sent me searching for a perfect neutral color palette that pleased women over 40 but still appealed to women (and men) who were affluent under 40. There are number of different ways you could test but let’s focus on a method that’s quick, inexpensive, and ideal for small businesses and individuals.

We'll cover what to test and How to prepare and conduct tests?

user-acceptance-testingHow to generate recommendations for websites improvements that are not only easy to implement but make a real difference.  They can be as simple as getting as many people as you know to review your site and make suggestions base on what they believe is good or bad. This will form a general theme but is a long way from perfecting your site for the people you want to use it. We often think we know everything about our own sites but when it comes to running a successful business, you will be surprised to learn just how insightful other perspectives can be because you have not thought of them or implemented those ideas.  If you had it would have been included in the first design.

The next step is to either look at data available showing user statistics or formulating a general audience that meets your target demographic. What you need to know is when people visit your site, what are they trying to accomplish? Knowing the answer to this question is vital because identifying primary user goals is the key to the success of your tests as well as your website.
The primary goals for users are integrated into your main features, navigation, content, etc. Accomplishing these goals is the reason most users come to your site. So the steps to complete these goals should be easy to understand.

For example, when users come to an e-commerce website, our research shows most of them are trying to figure out what new products are available, how much is the charge, what shipping will cost, is it as good as the one down the street, if you are a crook, and of course some of them want to sign up for our newsletter and special offers for future shopping.  As the business owners we most importantly want them to be able to make a purchase.  Answering all the questions up front facilitates this without involving extra staff.

Since the purchase is most important to our bottom line, it is especially important users be able to locate a product on our homepage, either through a search box or menu. The users on your website are probably trying to do something similar that will grant them instant gratification. In a general sense, they want to find specific content, look up specifications such as the cotton content on a specific article of clothing, and decide whether to get it from you or buy it somewhere else.  Many of these people have multiple windows opened in their browsers and are clicking tabs.  Going back and forth as they make comparisons.  So the idea of getting them to your site is only phase one. They want to make a purchase and they need information to help complete an action and you must give it to them or they are going somewhere else.

For other users they will want to make contact. Others may only need to know your address so they can set their navigation device. Testing all of these goals against your site will tell you how successful your users generally are in achieving their goals, but your business needs to be a bit more specific while testing so you may want to create different test scenarios based on the primary goals.

checkmarkYou can enable testing to meet important specific criteria that better reflects a real life scenarios. For example, let’s take an example of a website that sells to only the local market like a health food store or small downtown enterprise. For this site’s customer contact is extremely important. So it will be interesting to see how the users choose to communicate through the site. I can assume most sites all go about at the same way so asking them to find the contact page isn’t all that difficult for them or insightful for us. However, you just might learn something else such as “I am in a hurry, can I order online and pick it up at the store.” Now that is information some small businesses don’t offer, but offering such a service may keep your customers out of larger retailers and money in your coffers.

Note:  One reason I shop at Home Depot is I can order online and pick it up at the store.

If we present a realistic scenario, we might get relevant results by rotating the variety of products on our sites homepage.  If we notice the sale of a certain product going up then we know what type of product people are interested in finding.  Now let’s us say a site visitor is interested in purchasing several items for a party coming up in a week. How would you gather more information? This is important to know because that may be something we want up front on our homepage or in the sidebar menu.  One way to do this is poll people that visit your store in polite conversation.  I learned this method when I was a younger man, if you politely ask for help most people are willing to go out of their way to help you.  If you can figure out how users look for the information that benefits them it will grow your business. Perhaps even help us find ways to improve the content or add features that will increase convergence.  May I suggest you offer a discount to people that give you one idea that improves your site…

web_designTesting the Site

So now that you know how to test for the primary goals users have you on your site the next step is to identify who these users are, their age group, and how much money they make? Testing your site can be done with almost anyone but to get the most relevant results selecting test users that resemble your usual customer is recommended. I never put up a website without getting the family to look it over. That is just free advice, but afterwards I ask friends, distant relatives, Facebook friends, and the general public to do so as well and I do this before getting my target audience involved. Once done creating a user persona from existing customers is another way to test your website’s usability.

Note:  Do ask your existing customers to test your site

Website stats can give you insight into the demographics such as gender, age, income, and more. Users may also arrive at your site who have lots of experience about the type of content or products you sell and some will arrive with no experience at all. Collecting all these variables can help you envision your ideal user persona or the type of person the majority of your customers represent. If you could find test users that match your persona that’s great but if not don’t worry. Asking men to test a site that sells women shoes or grandparents to test a site for kids may seem like an odd match. But given the right scenarios, they can work out just fine as long as you understand the scenario that makes them want to shop for women’s shoes.

So to conclude, know who is using your site, have data to help you form a user persona and what are they trying to do on your site most of the time.  Then you turn these goals into scenarios that allow any test user to properly test your site regardless of the testers qualifications.

By using demographics you can prepare a great set of test questions that are relevant to the most important features and content you have to offer. Testing works best when you have as much control as possible over all the variables. So conducting the test in a familiar location like your office or home is preferable to something like a coffee shop or other public place and using your own equipment is one way to maintain control. For one thing, it allows you to install any programs you need especially the test recording software.

Recording a test allows facilitators to concentrate on running the test without having to simultaneously take notes. After the fact, you can review the screencast and any other recordings as many times as you need to finalize your findings. Recording can also allow you to put together a highlight reel of important sequences such as common problems users stumbled upon and positive and negative feedback. These recordings are especially helpful to show to designers and developers so they can fully understand how certain parts of a site might breakdown. Depending on your budget and set up, it might be possible to allow your team to watch the test live.

Always ask for permission from the test user to do the recording and get it in writing and remember test users should be compensated for their time so make sure this is agreed upon before the testing begins.

Researchers shown that testing with just three to five people often provides enough feedback to work with. So don’t worry about finding dozens of test users and think back to our primary user personas and goals. If you know people that fit this profile, reach out to them and see if they can help you out. If you have to reach out to new people, surveying potential users
can help you identify preferable test subjects by matching elements of your user persona like demographics or the user’s level of experience with the type of content your website offers. Once you have the test user selected, confirm they can come at the given date and time to your location and make sure they’re prepared with directions and your contact info.

Preparing your materials ahead of time allows for the greatest control over test conditions. Ensuring the responses you get will be right on point. If you done your research, you should have identified the primary user goals on your site and you’ll have some scenarios already prepared. Be sure to take a look at your test users and see if those scenarios still make sense and make any adjustments if necessary. Preparing some extra backup questions is also a good idea in case certain parts of the site aren’t working or if the test user is eager to help some more.

Let users know you must have total honest feedback and that if possible, they should speak out loud about what they’re thinking at each step. These tests are a golden opportunity to get inside the mind of your potential users. So hearing their thoughts is another way to understand how users interpret your site. Encourage them not to sugarcoat any responses even if you’re the one that built the site. Honest constructive feedback is the only way to discover ways to improve it. So at the least try to complete at least three tests with each person that relate to the most important user goals.
Make sure you observe and ask questions that allow the user to lead the way and when you’re done, thank them for their time because regardless of the feedback positive or negative, you’ve gained valuable feedback into how people use your website.

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