I've heard several instances where someone will say they've gotten compliments on their website. I'm not surprised. After all when someone asks you "what do you think about my website?", it's rare the person will say, "actually, I think it sucks". What people are often making positive comments about are the aesthetics, the colors, the design - but seldom are they making a comment about how effective the website is at achieving the firm's objectives and/or online conversions. Websites are developed every day - some are great, some are pretty and others are awful. The most important question to ask about your website is, "how effective is it for the user?" That's where user testing comes in, and this post provides some guidance on making sure your website really works for you.
We provide website user testing for many clients, whether we have provided the website development service or the site was developed by someone else; and in every case, the client is both surprised from what was learned and thrilled that there are meaningful ways to improve their websites for their customers. There are three primary methods for website user experience testing as follows:
Manual User Testing
This is a method in which we find (and pay) individuals who are aligned with the demographic and psychographic profiles of the firm's target customers. Objectives of the testing are determined, and goals are developed for what we want our test subjects to do during the user testing process. We give the test subjects an exercise to perform on the website, visually observe their activities and ask them questions along the way about what they did and why. This method requires some strategy and organization to set up, and is a cost-effective method for getting reliable, objective feedback about your website.
Online User Testing
This is a method in which we use one of the online services that provides website user testing. You can select the profile of your test subjects, specify what you want them to do during the test and do as many user tests as you wish. Often times these tests are video recorded that you can playback at your leisure. Watching the playback is arduous at times but the good thing is it's like being in the room with the person doing the website user test. Online user testing is a cost effective way to obtain thorough, objective feedback. The downside is there are elements of the user testing experience that are difficult to control at times.
Electronic Tracking Testing
This method has a test subject set up in front of a computer with all kinds of electronic equipment to track eye movement, emotion tracking and mouse tracking - essentially recording hand, eye and emotional elements while the test subject works to complete the assigned website testing exercise. One colleague of mine who had invested quite a bit of money in all this electronic equipment once commented, "investing in user testing of this nature is the fastest way to lose money". No doubt, this is an expensive endeavor for the firm providing the testing services and for the company paying for it. However, this method provides an incredible amount of reliable data.
When we provide user testing for our clients we want to get the most reliable, meaningful and actionable information possible to improve the effectiveness of their website and provide their website users a great experience. As such we use a combination of Manual User Testing and Online User Testing methods. We've found that using both methods provides a very high level of reliability and can be done in a cost effective way. In virtually all cases in which we've provided user experience testing services, the client has been shocked by what was learned; and thrilled by how we can use the information to improve website effectiveness.
Whenever you develop and launch a new website, we recommend you wait about 30 days and then conduct some user experience testing as a means to determine what changes should be made to the website to achieve the firm's objectives.