User Testing for Your Website: How to Understand Your Users and Make Your Product Better
It doesn’t matter how attractive your website design is, or how well-written the content is, if your site makes it difficult for users to achieve what they want to do. As a result, if you don’t understand your audience, their time spent on your site will decrease and your user base will shrink along with it.
To avoid this fate, you need to make good usability one of the foremost concerns for your website. In these situations, user testing can help you build a better site for the people who need it the most: your end users.
What is User Testing?
When building a website, there are many different testing techniques, each with its own purpose: functionality, security, performance, and so on. These tests are usually carried out by testers, developers, and QA staff who have already been working on the website since the project began.
User testing (also known as usability testing) is something different: putting your website in front of real, representative users and getting their feedback. During user testing, your team collects information about how users navigate throughout the website, how well they follow any instructions, and how easily they can complete typical activities on your site. Thorough testers can also discover common website problems such as broken links, errors, and typos.
Why is User Testing Important?
In the end, what it really comes down to is this: you need to provide a website that people want to use, and prefer to use over your competitors. The only way to do that is by gathering as much data as you can about how people use your product and what they really think about it. User testing provides the following benefits:
- Authentic feedback: If you want to provide an excellent user experience, you can only do so by understanding how real people interact with your website. When it comes to user testing, the old saying that “actions speak louder than words” is very true. Rather than having them fill out endless surveys and questionnaires, user testing measures users’ actual behavior: what actions they take to accomplish their goals and objectives.
- New perspectives: The features that your development team find important might be completely different from what your users want. By bringing in a fresh pair of eyes from outside the development team to look at your website, you can often expose hidden assumptions and misconceptions.
- Higher revenue: Determining what your audience really wants helps you convert more people into customers. In addition, spending time on good design means that your users will feel valued and important, improving retention and boosting your revenues. A 2014 study of design-centric companies found that in the previous 10 years, they outperformed the S&P 500 index by 228 percent.
- Lower costs: User testing helps to identify issues with your website before it goes live, which can save you money in support and maintenance. It’s estimated that programmers spend 50 percent of their time on avoidable “rework.” By fixing flaws and complaints earlier in the development process, you won’t have to spend more money six months or a year later making revisions to your website or even doing a complete overhaul.
How Should You Conduct User Testing?
The first question regarding user testing is: where are you going to find your users? You can use friends and family if necessary, or you can recruit people on websites such as Craigslist, UserTesting.com, and Mechanical Turk.
Whomever you choose, make sure that their profile fits fairly well with one of the personas that you’ve created. Each persona is a representation of one of the types of users who you expect to visit your website, including information such as age, occupation, and technical proficiency.
During each testing session, you should clearly explain to the user what their objectives are or what activities to perform during this session, and then set them free to interact with the website without providing any guidance. Encourage users to think out loud, vocalizing their thought processes so that you have a better idea of what they’re thinking and expecting. There are no “wrong” thoughts or ideas from the user during these sessions. Any mistakes or failures along the way are a result of the disconnect between the website’s assumptions and users’ objectives.
If you’re developing a website in conjunction with a particular product or service, such as a mobile app, it’s often helpful to have the same users test both the product and the website. They can provide feedback on a number of issues, including:
- How well the website supports the product
- Whether the website and product have the same functionalities
- Whether there are any “missing links” between the website and product
What Tools Can You Use for User Testing?
Qualitative information such as users’ written and spoken thoughts is incredibly important, but so too is quantitative information about how people use your website. This data can take a number of forms, such as most frequently visited pages, time spent on each page, mouse movements, click heatmaps, and more.
To record this information, a number of useful tools and technologies are available. The list below goes over just a few of the most popular.
- Inspectlet: This software application records videos of your website’s visitors as they interact with your site. Inspectlet tracks every mouse movement, scroll, and key pressed so that you understand exactly how users behave, what they pay attention to, and what obstacles they face.
- Optimizely: A/B testing is one of the most useful techniques in user testing: presenting each person with one of two design options, and seeing which one users prefer as a collective. Optimizely makes running A/B tests a snap, letting you test multiple variables on a single page and deliver personalized customer experiences.
- UserTesting: The UserTesting website lets you search for testers who match specific criteria and demographic information. Once you find them, use the platform to run tests and get responses to your questions and surveys. Within an hour, you’ll receive the complete video of users narrating their experience using your site.
- Morae: If you’re doing testing in your offices, TechSmith’s Morae platform is an excellent tool. Morae provides hard data after every user test, and can also capture focus group sessions and testing of mobile devices and hardware.