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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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