Why is User Testing Important?

By: Thomas Young, MBA

If you expect your Website to be a critical part of your market efforts then read on. If you see your site as a nice addition to your marketing efforts, but not important to your business, than ignore this advice.

Companies that expect results from their website must test assumptions with live users or live with the consequences.

The most important component of any software tool is user involvement. The success of your site is no different. You can only expect results if your site is understood and easily navigated by site visitors. Here are a few reasons why user testing is important:

What is the ROI on User Testing?

The best way of asking the question is what is the downside risk if we do not conduct user testing? Obviously, we are biased, but there is substantial evidence to support the fact that websites that are easy to use get better results. We will work with you to determine your return on investment. Generally, over the course of the website’s life improved usability can lead to more visitors, better word-of-mouth and increased sales revenues. This will cover the cost of user testing many times over.

Get Outside Your Box

Most of the clients we work with are too close to their own companies to be able to see their business from the outside looking in. This is especially true on the web. Assumptions are made by a small group of people in the company on how a site should look. This is a very biased group and assumptions should be tested with live users of the site to improve results. The feedback for users is often surprising.

How is Written Content Perceived by Users?

Visitors to websites must read the words on the site to accomplish tasks. It is important to check terminology to make sure you are saying what you hope to say on your site. Link titles and instructions can be misleading. For example, you can say “Continue Shopping” in many different ways, including Return to Products, Return to Catalog, Continue Searching, Continue Browsing, or Resume Shopping. What makes most sense to your target market and what terms make them confused? If a user wants to shop on your site make it easy for them to buy.

Keep the Human Factor in Testing

It is easy to get caught up in the technical components of user testing such as time to completion, user requirements, errors, and calls for help. The key to successful user testing is to get inside the head of the user and determine why they did what they did and what would make things more simple for them. This is a strong point of our company, as we work hard to understand the “human” thought process of the user and how to best meet his or her needs. Technical data is important, however this human factor is usually the key to a successful user test.

According to Nielson, there are five key areas of usability:

  1. Ease of learning the site and how to use it.
  2. Efficiency of use once they have learned the site.
  3. Memorization or how easy it is to remember tasks on the site
  4. Error avoidance and handling as they happen.
  5. Overall satisfaction with the use of the site.

These are important categories that define solid user experiences.

Genius is Simplicity

Users do not want to think too much. They come to your website to somehow improve their lives, not make it more complicated. Help the user with easy to understand common sense commands and content. The best method for verifying these is user testing.

Encourage Users to Think Out Loud

It is important to be aware of silent moments and pauses during user testing. This is a good time to ask the user to think out loud and explain their thought process. Excellent feedback can be gathered at this critical time during the test. Once again, we go beyond capturing the raw data to getting inside the head of the user.

Probing Questions

We work with our clients to determine specific tasks and probing questions that will be asked during the sessions. Key questions to ask include, “What do you think that button is for?” or “How would you instruct others to use that feature?” or “Why did you follow that path?” Probing questions are a great tool for getting a better understanding of the users’ thought process.

Don’t Guide the User

Our facilitators do not teach, they ask questions and listen. It is not our job to help the user, but rather understand what they are thinking and why they do what they do on the site. We answer questions with questions and soon the user understands they will not get an easy answer, but rather have to work out the problem. This leads to great insights for our clients.

How Many Users is Enough?

The answer to this question depends on the goals of the testing and your budget. For the most part, we recommend a minimum of six users for each website. Most user issues can be identified with 8-10 users; however, up to 15 users can validate results and uncover additional areas for improvement.

Tips to Recruiting Quality Users

Recruiting can be one of the most challenging parts of user testing because the most desirable users are often busy people. Users must be compensated properly and the initial phone call to recruit the user must be professional and appealing. The user needs to see the benefit they receive from the testing. High-level users will take the opportunity to learn about the process of user testing and get a better understanding of their own company’s Website. This should be stressed during the recruitment process because users want to know what is in it for them.

It is also important to be organized and persistent in working the phones to recruit. Busy candidates will need multiple call-backs and the best will be hard to reach. Our facilitators are involved in the recruitment process because they are the best sales people when it comes to usability testing. Clients can provide user lists or we can create one for our clients.

Mobile Testing

Traditional user testing is usually held in a high-tech usability lab and can be very expensive. Our approach uses mobile testing held in a hotel or meeting facility. Not only is this approach much more cost-effective, it is a comfortable and relaxed setting for the user. As such, they are better able to focus on the Website and not on the environment around him or her. Many people believe the big advantage of lab-based testing is the computer recording of mouse movements. With mobile user testing, this advantage is not lost! With simple and efficient set-up, all user navigation can be captured on video, providing the ability to easily go back and view user sessions and capture critical issues caught on tape.

Comprehensive Evaluations

User testing should be comprehensive and designed to test not only the key areas you identify to test, but uncover areas you didn’t even consider! We cover a very thorough set of factors when running Websites through usability testing sessions. They include:

  • Site Focus
  • Graphics
  • Home Page Design
  • Links
  • Navigation
  • Photos
  • Content
  • Colors
  • Speed
  • Ease of Understanding
  • Font Types

Follow these principles of user testing and develop a Website that will leave your competitors wondering how you pulled it off. The key is not rocket science, but rather connecting with your site visitor and giving them what they want.

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