User testing is one of the most important steps you can take to create a successful website. And, contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t require a huge budget, fancy designers, focus groups, or in-depth data analysis. In fact, you can put together an effective user test with just five people.
Most of the time, you ask them to perform a few tasks—sign up for a newsletter, choose an item in the online store— and you observe what, if any, issues they come across, like dead ends, confusing navigation, or unclear directions.
Enzo tells me that he tries to conduct basic usability testing about every two weeks, with testers either from UserTesting.com or from his own pool of volunteers. “A usability test is a great tool when it comes to understanding how users interact with your site,” he says. “It also helps you avoid user frustration because of something not being self-explanatory and intuitive.”
Why is this so valuable? As the website creator, you’re so close to the material that you might not be able to spot potential problems. You know where the “Contact Us” page is, so why would other people have trouble finding it? But your users aren’t you, and they can get tripped up in unexpected ways.
Even established websites can learn a lot from user testing. Check out the following video from a Spotify user test and you’ll see what I mean.
One low-cost option is to use a service like UserTesting.com. You design a set of tasks and choose your target audience, and they provide the testers. Most tests cost a few hundred dollars, depending on the number of participants you want, and you can remotely look over people’s shoulders and hear their responses as they use your site. You can also request a free trial to see how it works.
If that’s outside your budget, another option is the DIY route. You recruit your own testers and simply sit next to them while they try your site and go through a few simple tasks. If your users are remote, you can set up a GoToMeeting or use Google Hangouts so they can share their screens with you while they talk through what they are doing.
The exception would be if you are testing a feature for a particular operating system like Android or iOS. In this case, you would want to test with people who are already familiar with those platforms.
Also, remember not to give away clues in your tasks. For example, rather than saying “Use the navigation bar to find the ‘Contact Us’ page,” say, “If you wanted to get in touch with us, what would you do?”
Some experts say that they get the best results by presenting the tasks as “scenarios” that give the character, the context, and the goal. For example you could say, “You are planning a last-minute dinner party and you need to find a recipe that is vegetarian and suitable for kids,” rather than “Find a vegetarian recipe.” Creating a story, even a very simple one, helps users relate to the task at hand, and makes them more likely to react in a natural way, which is exactly what you want.
The great thing about usability testing is that it can be as simple or involved as you want it to be. Either way, you will likely gather some surprising insights into how your website works in the real world, with real people. The number of participants, the questions you ask, and the number of tests you run are all up to you and can change depending on your time and budget. The important thing, though, is to actually get started and do it.
Content Editor at Jimdo
Maggie joined the team to craft the voice of Jimdo for all products and marketing channels. In her previous work, she edited for organizations covering the environment, cities, and sustainable business. When she's not adding serial commas, you can find her camping with her husband, cooking, and reading New Scientist.