Beginner’s Guide to Preparing for Usability Testing

Written by Intern - 13 Apr 2016

User testing.

Is this you?

Day in and day out, you look over your business website and its web analytics and ask the question:

"Why are people leaving from a particular page of your website?"

Perhaps you have started to strategise and brainstorm ideas within the team on how to fix this issue by raising discussions which results in suggestions like these:

  • "Maybe it's the button, it's not prominent enough"
  • "Let's try adding some text here regarding free shipping that will make them want to buy"
  • "We should try to reduce the number of steps, it's too complex?"

And using these suggestions, changes are made on the website, but something just doesn't seem right and no results can be seen. And so the process turns into a loop of endless suggestions, headaches and no results.

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Most businesses are also in the same boat and do not know about usability testing. Owners and designers often get too caught up in the idea of "What do I think my customers want?" but have never thought of asking current or potential customers about their thoughts. This is what usability testing is all about.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing, is a method in user centric design to evaluate the effectiveness of a product by observing the interactions of selected user-groups and using observations to make strategic decisions for aspects of change.

When usability testing is applied to a business website, insight can be gained into:

  • How people use your site
  • Where people are clicking
  • Where people shouldn't be clicking
  • What people think about your site
  • How competitor sites are better/worse

What are the benefits?

The main benefit of usability testing is to take the guess work out of what you think your users think and instead see it for yourself. This is especially beneficial because as owners or designers of a website, it is difficult to experience a website like a first-time user would. Results of a successful, well planned usability test, you will have many 'ah ha' moments when you watch your user stumble and be confused with an aspect that is assumed to be very obvious.

The secondary benefit is that usability testing can also be run on prototypes – to gain insight into an idea before it is launched – this enables a more efficient means to making changes to ensure that the product is better optimised upon launch.

A well planned and prepared usability test, is key to optimising the key benefits.

Basics of setting up a well-grounded usability test

STEP 1: Define target user groups

Defining target user groups determines the types of users who will and will not participate in the study. For every website, there are different types of users who may become potential customers – these people will have different occupations, cultures, age, employment status and needs. Defining and giving priority levels to each of these groups provides more clarity, direction and a more controlled setting of which to collect data from.

A basic documentation of any user group may be split up into the following segments:

  • Age range: Are your users young, older, in-between or a mixture of all?
  • Location: Can a test be more targeted by selection of targeted geo-locations?
  • Income range: The income level of your user group may determine their reactions to elements like sales, product types and spending ability.
  • Relevant products: Certain user groups will be drawn to different products and services and therefore defining them is important.
  • Expectations: These are the basic requirements that would make an everyday user remain on your site and continue browsing.
  • Desires: List factors that a user really wants and if satisfied will drive them to be a customer
  • Fears: List any factors that may drive a user away from a site.
  • Other: Your users may have a specific requirement that is unique to them, such as a certain desire. For example, they may be cost orientated and are looking for best-value for money offers only.
  • Screeners: Consider if there are any factors which may deem a user irrelevant from your study. For example, you may want to screen all male users if you are running a study on a feminine fashion store.

There is an infinite number of segmenting that can be used, the key is to determine which groups are most important to the business. Information for each of the segments should be obtained from real user surveys instead of assumptions. Be aware of cultural differences if one’s website is focused on the mass market, which will impact question wording due to possible misunderstandings – may be worthwhile to do several different tests tailored to each cultural group.

It is important to create strong filter rules to determine the type of user to participate in your usability test. Reason being, the test may not be genuine and reflective of a real customer, therefore, considerations need to be made for the types of questions asked.

STEP 2: Determine the user journey path to analyse

Document common paths that each user group will take. This will determine the type of questions or tasks that you ask a user to undertake in your bid to optimise the process. For example, a user journey for an e-commerce site may look like the below:

User journey on an e-commerce site.

Review the user paths based on data collected from web analytics by documenting the common pages a user will follow from the entry page to the exit page. Highlight the pages where your web analytics data show a drop-out – doing so will allow you to focus your analysis to these specific problem areas.

Now that you have determined who and where the user-tests are to be studied, the next stage is to set the stage to find out 'why' people are not following the ideal path.

STEP 3: Create tasks for users

Assigning 'tasks' or 'actions' to user journey will provide a more controlled environment from which you can make observations. Tasks should be kept open-ended to encourage exploration and freedom for a user to explore.

Examples of tasks may include:

  • First impressions: Asking a user to look around on a specific page and asking them what they think of the site will help you determine if the page is relevant to their needs. Example task "Browse around on the homepage, what do you think this site is for?"
  • Ease of navigation : Setting a task to ask users to navigate the website to find a specific product will give insight into how easy the site is to use and if there are areas of improvement. Example task "Find a product that matches your needs, add it to cart and checkout"
  • Competitor comparisons : Asking a user to compare your website with a close competitor will allow you to see areas which are lacking or stronger than others. Example task "How do you feel compares to in terms of offerings'
  • Asking what they think : Including questions in regards to what they think of the general process will help provide more answers into what is working and what is not. Example task "If this was not a test, would you purchase a product on this site? Why?"

Last words

Be aware of own bias – often we set up a test to look for a specific problem (such as focusing on how easy it is to make a purchase on a website) and therefore by doing so, may miss out on other factors such as the credibility of the website that is created, the general “personality” that a website creates – therefore it is important to keep an open mind and think critically of an usability test that is studied.

Our experience

The CRO Team at Fresh Egg has over 15 years of combined experience in the area of user experience. We have helped many companies create a solid usability testing plan, analysed their results and turned observations into actionable items to help business improve the customer experience online and hence resulting in higher conversions.

If you would like to improve your website, then get in touch with our CRO team and check out our proven work.

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