One of the things I enjoy most about website design is that nearly every aspect of a website can be tested and quantified. If you want to know why something is working – or why it’s not – the answers are always lurking in the data. Usability testing is one of the best tools we have for understanding website performance, because it touches on all of the design features that are most important to your audience.
This week, I’m going to lay out the basics of usability testing, including what it is, how to find the right audience for testing, and how website usability benefits your Calgary business.
What is Usability Testing?
Usability may sound like a made-up word, but at least whoever made it up chose a very apt description. In web design, usability touches on two related priorities: how easy it is for people to learn how to use your website, and how efficiently your website runs once people understand how to use it. There are a ton of smaller factors that influence your success with those priorities, including navigation, memorability, user satisfaction, content, and much more. The term “usability” has come to mean many things, but when getting started the most important items to remember are ease of use (or learnability, as the usability experts at Nielsen-Norman Group put it), and how efficiently your site functions.
How to Choose the Right Audience for Usability Testing
In order to conduct usability testing, first you’re going to need some users. We’d call them test subjects, but that sounds too much like the start of a bad horror movie. So users it is, and it’s important that your users do not come from your staff. Fortunately, finding the right audience isn’t too difficult:
- Shoot for around five users, though you can get by with a bit more or less in a pinch. Nielsen-Norman Group has done a ton of usability testing, and finds that five users give you the best bang for your buck.
- Your test participants should fit into your target demographics, though naturally this means different things for different businesses. Just make sure you know who your site targets, before selecting users for testing.
- If your site targets various distinct demographics, it may make sense to include more users in your testing. In most cases, though, I agree with the assessment that five users is more than enough to do the job right.
Down to Business: How to Conduct Usability Testing for Your Website
So you’ve brushed up on the basics of usability testing, found some test subj… users that fit your target audience, and now you’re ready to run your first tests. The next step is creating tasks for testing, and planning the details.
- During each test users will complete a series of tasks related to your site’s key functions, and provide direct feedback about how your site works. Tasks should reflect the way that you expect real users to move through your website. Common tasks include registration, contacting technical support, or researching a specific product. UsabilityFirst has some excellent tips on how to create specific tasks.
- A normal usability test lasts around 90 minutes, with the number of tasks varying based on how long each task is expected to take. Most tests include between five and 10 tasks.
- For comprehensive feedback, consider purchasing usability testing software like Morae or Silverback. Usability testing software allows you to record the user’s actions, on-screen and off, so you can understand exactly how they moved through each task.
- During analysis, you look at the user’s on-screen actions, facial expressions, mouse-clicks, and other relevant data to determine where the user experienced frustration (or satisfaction). A usability expert can then offer fixes and adjustments, to improve the user experience of your website.
Website Design by Emphasize of Calgary
While you don’t need a ton of background to get started with usability testing, putting what you learn to work will require a trained eye with website design experience. In addition to addressing issues that show up in your usability testing data, an experienced web designer (or usability expert) can help spot common web design issues that negatively impact website usability. The end result is a website that responds to the usability needs of your audience, in Calgary and beyond.
Ready to take your online marketing, web design, and website usability to the next level? Emphasize Design of Calgary has the tools you need to attract, convince, and convert website visitors. Get started with a free website design quote, today!