User testing is one of the best ways to create a successful website. And it doesn’t require a huge budget, designers, focus groups, or in-depth data analysis. In fact, you can conduct an effective website usability test yourself, with just a few people.
What is website usability testing?
Usability testing (or user testing) is a great tool to understand how visitors interact with your website. The process is simple: you observe someone using your website while they describe out loud what they are doing.
Once you see where people have problems or get stuck, you can fix parts of your website that might be confusing or unclear.
How to run a user test on your website
- Find a few friends or volunteers willing to help you out. Don’t worry too much about finding the “perfect” tester. Since you’re testing universal website behavior, almost anyone will do.
- Give the tester a specific task to achieve on your website, then see what they do. Ask them to narrate out loud as they click so that you can understand their thought process.
- Keep your tasks open-ended. No hints! For example, instead of saying “Use the navigation bar to find the ‘Contact Me’ page,” say, “If you wanted to get in touch with me, what would you do?”
- Apply lessons from the test to your website. If the tester encounters a problem, use this information to improve the design of your website.
Why should I bother with a website test?
Usability testing is not about gathering people’s opinions of your website, like if they prefer this color or that color. It’s about observing how they use your site in real life. This is important because what people say they do and what they actually do are often very different.
Also, it’s hard to evaluate your own website because you already know how it’s supposed to work. Testers have fresh eyes, and can spot problems you might not see yourself.
Best practices for collecting user feedback
There are services like Usertesting.com where you can pay to have people test your website. If that’s outside your budget, just go 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.
- You can do user tests with five people, spending no more than 15 minutes with each person. But even a test with only one person is 100% better than no test at all.
- It’s a good idea to test with your customers or target audience, but you can also go ahead and test on your mom, your friends, anyone who you feel comfortable with.
Website usability testing checklist: what should you ask?
For a good result, you don’t want testers meandering around your site randomly clicking.
Some experts recommend presenting the tasks as “scenarios”. 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 simple story helps users relate to the task at hand and react in a natural way, which is exactly what you want.
Here are some ideas for to help you develop tasks:
- What the first thing my visitors want to find? This might be finding your opening hours or contact information. If a visitor can’t find this info quickly, they might “bounce” and leave your site.
- What’s the most important thing I want a visitor to do? For example, you might ask users to complete a purchase in your online store. Or if it’s really important that visitors view your portfolio, design a task that asks them to find examples of your work.
- What does a visitor need to do to convert or “seal the deal”? – e.g. pay for an item or sign up for a newsletter. If a person gets stuck at these key moments, it doesn’t matter how nice your site looks—the website won’t do its job.
- Does your site work well on mobile? Ask people to perform basic tasks from their cell phones to make sure your site follows the best mobile website design practices.
Also, remember not to give away clues in your tasks! If you give hints for the “right” way to do something, you won’t learn how people really use your website.
Conclusion: getting feedback on your website
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.