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Iron Out the Wrinkles with Usability Testing

Written on May 9th, 2014 by

Many marketers, web designers and other online professionals take usability for granted. But do so at your own risk!

We’ve all experienced poor usability before even if we have never heard the term.

You search for something on Google, click on an interesting-looking result and land on a website that is a hot mess. You can’t find the information you came for, you can’t navigate easily through the pages and you eventually click back and continue your search elsewhere.

That business might have been offering the greatest, lowest-priced, answer-to-all-your prayers product or service. But you’ll never know because the poor setup made it difficult for you to see all of those great benefits.

The online world is impatient and has grown  intolerant of anything that takes even microseconds longer than it should. You might be shaking your head no and thinking, “I’m not like that. I’m a calm, Zen center of a peaceful universe.” Well, just think about the last time a website took longer to load than normal or your phone wouldn’t load your Facebook news feed fast enough. If you’re like most people, your head almost exploded and there was furious tapping of screens and mice.

By understanding the principles of usability and how we as marketers can harness that power, you will greatly increase your chances for online success.

Understanding Usability

Usability is simply just how easy something is to use.

That something could be anything from a physical tool to a website. It can be software, a gadget, a toy, a washing machine… and so on. It can also be something intangible, like a process or system.

Since we’re concerning ourselves with online usability, we’re examining the ease with which an average person can use and interact with our website or maybe even an app.

There are several factors that decide the usability of a product, say a website:
  • Learnability: How easy it is for a brand-new user to complete tasks on their first visit to the site.
  • Memorability: How easy it is for someone to use the website again after they haven’t done so for a set period of  time.
  • Efficiency: How quickly a user can complete tasks once they are familiar with the site.
  • Satisfaction: Do users actually enjoy the website and experience?
  • Errors: The amount and severity of mistakes the users make and how easy it is to recover from them.

Testing Time

In order to figure out the usability of our websites and correct any errors that may be occurring, we need to test. Usability testing involves users going through the website and evaluating it so that we can improve it for the general public.

It’s typical for people closest to a project to not see the glaring mistakes that might be lurking right below the surface. When you’re working on something consistently for a long time, your mind can easily gloss over issues that might be major roadblocks to others.

Usability testing helps you avoid these land mines and make a better product. However, usability testing isn’t as easy as gathering opinions from others not involved in the production process.

In order to get usable results, your usability testing must be systematically observed and performed under controlled conditions. Otherwise, outside factors or variations in the process will lead to inconclusive results and a whole bunch of wasted time and resources.

Usability Testing Methods

Before you start getting images of complex equipment, laboratories with bubbling beakers and lab coats, take a step back. Even though usability testing needs to be methodical, it can still be a very easy process to manage.

Here are some of the most common methods to implement these tests:

  • Hallways Testing: This process does not use trained, in house testers but instead relies on a handful of testers chosen at random. It got its name because people running tests would literally recruit testers who were walking down the hallway outside of the test room.
  • Remote Testing: Not all testing needs to be done physically in front of the testers. If the process is planned out correctly then remote testing allows for a wider population of people to choose from.
  • Expert Testing: This method of testing involves using testers who have some knowledge of the industry, niche or even testing methods. Those who are knowledgeable about usability testing will often be called in to perform a usability audit.
  • Automated Testing: Using the input from outside experts, programs can be created to run through the website or product. Using certain preset rules, the programs can complete testing much quicker. However, this type of testing is not as insightful as using real people.

Usability Testing Services

If you don’t have the time, patience or resources to run usability testing on your own, there are companies that can do it for you.

Firms like User Testing or Applause will set up tests, recruit testers and provide you with detailed results pretty quickly.

If you have some traffic coming to your site already, you can use your own visitors as testers without them knowing. While this is a little different than traditional usability testing, running your own optimization tests can yield a lot of the same information.

You can use the following to find usability issues without formally testing:

Optimizely: This service lets you set up simple A/B tests with elements on your site, run them against each other and see which version performed better.

Crazy Egg: This service provides click tracking and heat map activity reports that show where people are and aren’t clicking. If there is a major usability problem, you’ll find it here.

Google Analytics: By examining your GA  stats you can see which pages on your site may be experiencing problems. If one page in your sales funnel has a high abandon rate, it’s time to audit that page with further testing.

Always Be Improving

Usability testing shouldn’t necessarily be a one-time thing. Yes, it provides a lot of value in the developmental stages of a project, but by continually testing new elements you will see much more improvement.

Nothing you come up with is going to be the best possible version of itself from the get-go. You need to test, incorporate the results into improvements, rinse and repeat.

By constantly trying to improve your website, copy, images, sales funnels, ads and other factors that fuel your marketing success you will see exponentially more success.