This blog's aim is to read and write about usability of userinterfaces.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Website Usability testing made easy

Website Usability Testing – An Iterative Process

Website usability testing is not a one time event. In the ideal world testing would begin early in the design process with some web page screen mock-ups shown to potential users to determine if users are able to understand what the purpose of the page is and what they should be able to accomplish.

As the design process progresses, live web pages can be presented to potential users who are ideally “typical” of the web site’s target audience. The users are asked to accomplish tasks while being monitored, the troubles incurred are analyzed and fixed and then tested again. This iterative Website Usability Testing process will be completed numerous times until the issues causing problems have been identified and rectified.

Website Usability Testing – The Options

As with anything there is always options and as usual options vary in cost.

Professional Website Usability Testing

Obviously if it can be afforded the best approach to completing comprehensive website usability testing is to contract the services of a specialized Web Usability Professional with access to a Usability Laboratory. A great way to test with great results however, the high cost is often the reason usability testing gets put on hold and does not proceed.

Some Website Usability Testing is Better Than None

Low Tech Website Usability Testing

I for one would like to see more usable websites on the Internet and I am sure you and your web site visitors would as well. So with a few basic steps you can begin to gain insight into where problems are encountered by your website visitors, which of course is the purpose of website usability testing.

Website Usability Testing - What you need:

Your not going to need a lot to start your website usability testing and the following will suffice:

  • Test users: You will want 3 or 4 people who are competent Internet users, willing and available to complete numerous tests on your behalf.
  • Tester: A person who is renowned for their people skills is the ideal candidate for leading the Test Users through the scenarios and tasks you require your web site to accomplish
  • Location: A quiet room where the Tester and the User can complete the website usability testing with out undue disturbances.
  • Camcorder / TV Monitor: Various website stakeholders will have an interest in how users navigate and accomplish tasks on the website. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to record your various website usability testing sessions to review with team members, and to further discuss usability solutions
  • Script or scenario: Due to this being a test some guidelines on what is to be accomplished is required. Prior to any testing being initiated prepare a script/scenario which outlines the tasks which require completion.
  • Review procedure: Ideally reviewing the results of the test should be completed as soon as possible following your website usability testing. Set up times and schedules for testing and reviews in advance to ensure testing and review times are compatible.

Two Primary Website Usability Testing Types

The whole idea of this usability testing method is to keep website usability testing fast and simple to encourage more not less website usability testing.

Website Usability Testing - Interpretation Testing

Fast and intuitive interpretation of a website is imperative. Once a user clicks through to your web site from a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) or other link the cognitive process humans use to determine if this is where they want to be takes mere seconds. Get this aspect wrong and as sure as your reading this blog those visitors are gone and unlikely to return.

Introduce users to the web site to gain their impressions of the following:

  • What is the purpose of the site
  • What benefits does the user expect to obtain from visiting
  • Does the site appear to be well organized
  • Are links clearly labeled and intuitive
  • Is the content clearly written
  • Are the business name and contact details easily discovered

Website Usability Testing - Task and Goal Testing

Accomplishing tasks is crucial to the successful visit by your customers and to succeed as a business online. If completing of tasks proves to be difficult for whatever reason it is highly likely the web site will fail for both the user’s application and the business’s.

I could list some generic tasks which are completed online here such as newsletter sign ups, online purchase transaction and so on. However, when it comes to knowing what tasks need to be completed on your web site you are the expert on the topic.

Task and Goal testing is quite simple, set up the camera and provide the scenario or script to the users and simply watch how they proceed through the system to task completion. Make a note of where difficulties arise and also what went smoothly.

Fix the problems and do it again. Website usability testing can be that simple, you may not get the results of a professional usability testing service but I am sure that your repetition of the testing procedures included here will alleviate the majority of your web site problems at a fraction of the cost.

Best of luck with your website usability testing, try the above and please let me know how it works out for you, I would be very interested in your experiences.

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