All your website usability testing questions answered, from user testing best practices to unorthodox testing methods
As the old saying goes – knowledge is power. With website usability testing, you’ll have the kind of knowledge you need to make a positive impact on UX design and create awesome user experiences for your users.
In this post, we’ll get into what usability testing is, why you need it, how to do it and what impact it can have as you create interactive prototypes in Justinmind. Then you’ll be able to create your own websites that are backed up with evidence. Let’s go.
What is usability testing?
Even though our focus is on website usability testing, let’s break down what usability testing is more generally.
Usability testing is a UX design technique which evaluates how users interact with a product or a service using a series of different methods.
It’s nothing new – usability testing has been around for decades. But back in the 1970s, when IT systems were first starting to show their potential to change how we work and live, usability testing was a very different game.
Those early user tests were carried out face to face in anonymous hotel rooms with a smorgasbord of stopwatches, VHS tapes and hefty paper reports. Just check out this trip down memory lane written by Bob Bailey in Web Usability. Gotta love those 70s photos!
Like almost everything from the 1970s, the core of usability testing remains the same even if the methods and technology have changed – now there’s mobile usability testing and website usability testing to consider.
As the name suggests, usability tests are carried out in order to test the usability of something. There are myriad ways in which this can be achieved.
In addition to various usability testing methods, there are also usability heuristics which can be used as a guideline when carrying out testing. Put simply, heuristics are quick fixes to common problems.
There are 3 main categories of usability testing. These categories apply to website usability testing as well:
- Exploratory: This category is concerned with the early stages of website development to assess how effective and usable a design or interactive prototype is. At this stage, you can also get insight into a user’s thought process and understanding of different aspects, such as navigation flows.
- Assessment: This category deals is an evaluation, carried out midway through production. Think real-time trials which are used to understand satisfaction and overall usability.
- Comparative: This category implies the comparison of two or more web designs and dives into their strengths and weaknesses.
What methods of usability testing are there?
There are a few testing methods which UX designers can use when approaching usability testing.
The testing methods can be broken down into:
- Moderated testing
This is self-explanatory; the test is done under specific conditions, in a specific location with a moderator (usually a UX researcher) who takes notes and guides the user through the usability test.
- Moderated remote testing
This is essentially the same as above but done remotely. The user and the moderator are not in the same location but will rely on screen sharing software.
- Unmoderated remote testing
This is where there is no moderator present but online tools are used to facilitate the sessions – these are particularly beneficial if you have dispersed users or want greater flexibility.
What types of website usability testing are there?
You’ve got the methods down, we’ve covered the categories but what types of website usability testing are there?
There are plenty of them, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It’s not unusual to combine various methods together for a more robust investigation.
Some common website usability testing methods include:
- A/B testing
- Interactive wireframes
- Paper or Sketched prototypes
- Participatory design
- Eye tracking
- Product reaction cards
Eye tracking piqued your interest? Find out how Facebook does it.
Why carry out website usability testing?
Good question! There are many reasons why you would want to carry out website usability testing but the main reason is so that people can use your website. If it turns out that people can’t use your website then they’re going to go elsewhere to find the information they need.
But aside from keeping your users interested in what you have to offer there’s other vital information that can be extracted from a usability test:
- How long do users take to complete a task?
- How satisfied are they with your website?
- Can your users navigate without frustration?
- Are there any functional problems with your website?
- Does the design work overall?
- Is the website aligned with business goals?
What are the benefits to website usability testing?
Usability testing is invaluable when it comes to UX design. Not only can it give you insight into whether or not your users like your website but there are additional benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked:
Reduce development costs. Did you know that it’s 100 times cheaper to make a change to your website before any code has been written compared to after the code has been completed? That’s why prototyping your website and doing usability testing on that is so crucial – done properly, it means you’ll have fewer reworks and save money along the way.
Improve retention rate. Website usability testing allows you to understand why people are leaving your website. When you know why they’re leaving, you can put in place design solutions to alleviate the problem.
Understand user behavior. Imagine you’ve got your website up and running but no-one is clicking your enticing call to action button, or they’re struggling to locate the search function. Carrying out usability testing can help you change elements of your website to align with user behavior. Heat maps are a particularly useful method to understand user behavior.
Fresh eyes identify unseen problems. Users who aren’t involved in your project may identify problems that were previously overlooked or hadn’t been discovered. Your team is most likely going to suffer from bias and can’t be relied upon to be objective in their analysis.
Happier users. When you carry out tests, you’re smoothing out any kinks in the design process. Involving real people and identifying what frustrates them can lead to happier users overall – which can boost retention, improve the UX and hopefully guarantee that people will come back for more.
Website usability testing and prototyping
Prototyping is probably one of the most vital parts of the design process; it allows you to create near real versions of your website before they go into production and iterate upon them for better refinement.
What’s more is that interactive prototyping fits perfectly into the website usability testing process.
Justinmind is integrated with a raft of usability testing tools including CrazyEgg, UserZoom, User Testing and, of course, Google Analytics so you can get immediate feedback to work on.
Now you can get real data from your prototypes so that your design decisions are based on facts and evidence,not feeling and emotion. Don’t just guess – test it. That’s our philosophy, anyway.
If you don’t want to run tests, you can still share your prototype with other team members. They’ll be able to leave comments and suggestions on specific UI elements – this is useful if you’re not quite ready to dive into formal website usability testing but just want feedback from your team or client.
Website usability testing workflow in 6 steps
Having a good usability testing work flow in place can save you time so you can spend your time doing what you do best: designing. The process can be broken down into 6 steps:
Identify what you need to test and why you’re testing it
No test is going to go well if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Make sure to have a firm understanding of the scope. You might want to test the navigation flow of your site, the position of a call to action button or even just the web copy. Whatever you endeavor to test make note of it.
Know your audience
Who is your desired user? You can find this out by creating some user personas. Knowing who your audience is will strengthen the design process and allow you to understand the parameters of your designs. By understanding your audience you can design better for them – why not look into empathy maps so you can really get into your user’s shoes?
Write a task list for users to go through
Guidelines are needed to help your users through the test. Presumably, you’ll have some goals in place that you want the user to achieve on your website. Maybe you want them to sign up to something or learn about the services you have on offer? Whatever the goal, write it down. These goals can then be turned into task scenarios which can encourage action from your users.
Find worthwhile participants to test
There are many usability tools out there which can help you find users to test. But, you really want to find participants who are your target audience, not strangers who are pretending to be your users. Using real life users is going to give you more accurate information that you can use as you iterate through the design process. Don’t forget that you can use the tools already integrated with Justinmind to get instant feedback.
Get stakeholders involved
With Justinmind’s powerful sharing capabilities, you can have all key stakeholders on the right page. When you invite them to your prototypes, you can give them the ability to leave comments on specific UI components. Having stakeholders engaged at this stage can align their wants and needs cohesively as the design process flourishes. For an even smoother website usability testing process, don’t neglect capturing UX requirements.
Put your findings into practice
Now you can put all your learnings into practice by implementing your findings. You’ll have uncovered the errors (both critical and non-critical), understood the likes, dislikes and recommendations as well as how long tasks take on your website. Now all that’s left is to make the appropriate iterations to your interactive prototypes and get them sent off to production.
Website usability testing best practices
Testing your website’s usability can seem like a daunting journey. But it doesn’t have to be. When you break down the process, follow the above work flow and employ some handy best practices, you’ll soon see the fun of collecting interesting data for informed iteration.
Make a plan
A usability test plan can keep you on track and avoid any serious mishaps along the way. In a plan, you can outline the tasks, metrics, roles, goals and problem severity. This is key because without a plan, things can go wrong. And they often do. Usability.gov has a free usability test plan template which you can download and use.
Testing isn’t a luxury in UX design; it’s a necessity. Therefore when you are creating your web design, you should try to test often. The idea behind testing often means you can focus your time and energy on testing a few things at a time. This breaks down the usability testing process into more manageable chunks and allows you time to really analyze the results.
Create a script
What do you plan to do during the test? This isn’t the time for spontaneous improv. Creating a script can keep your mind on the task at hand and give structure your testing sessions. In a script, you want to make any notes for yourself, as well as an explanation for how the test is going to go including information about the tasks at hand and any closing remarks.
Check out this script template to help you plan properly.
Run a pilot test
Go through the test yourself before doing it on any real life guinea pigs. This will help you discover any chinks so that your users can have a smooth testing session. Here you’ll be able to ensure the functionality is a go-go, your script makes sense and discover just how long the test takes. You can make the required adjustments at this stage, too.
Get your team on board
Having team members observe testing sessions can be insightful. If your team is observing how users go through the testing then they’ll be able to empathize with them and understand where they struggle and where they succeed. Essentially, this stage is about letting your team understand the needs of your users. This can be beneficial to them as you continue to make iterations.
Present your website usability findings clearly
After you’ve created your prototypes, done your tests and got the team involved – you’ll be able to present any findings from the testing sessions. This includes what works and what doesn’t work. When debriefing, it’s a good rule of thumb to say why something works or doesn’t work.
Using user flows can help illustrate your user’s journey more accurately. In a user flow you can highlight what your user is supposed to accomplish, the steps they need to take to accomplish any given goal and whether or not your users have enough information to accomplish specific tasks.
The value that website usability testing brings to the UX design process is reason enough to test thoroughly your projects. Using real data will give you the kind of insights you’ll need to make sure your UX design not only goes smoothly but successfully.