Web Usability Testing and Web Content Development

Web usability testing is the most important tool we use in optimising our web content.

We want to fix our websites, but instead of looking at our web content development, we are determined to look elsewhere.

Usually, the first thing to blame is the website design. Consider the following:

  • A designer is brought in, and points to the need for a new HTML5 slideshow banner. Oh, and a jQuery animated menu will really help too.
  • Marketing have their two cents to pitch in, claiming the graphics are useless. Beautifully designed graphics and branding will make the difference.
  • The web developer hates the content management system, and is convinced that moving the whole site over to WordPress or Expression Engine will make it easier for people to update content.
  • The SEO Marketer wants you to completely review your content and to optimise your keywords and target your calls to action.
  • Oh, and your CEO has taken one look and decided the whole site needs to be ditched and completely revamped.

In amongst all these opinions, there are some really good ideas, and some really bad ideas.

Professionals all bring great experience, case studies and best practice to inform their decisions, and (usually) give sound opinions.

I, like them, would love to tell you what you need to do to change and improve your website. We then make the changes, and we all go home safe in the knowledge that we have made a positive difference.

Unfortunately, that is not enough. We need to check to see if we have made a positive change.

Ultimately we really care if people are able to achieve their goals, to complete their tasks on our website. And there is really only one way to see if they are doing this.

We have to do web usability testing on our websites.

All of us should be convinced of how important usability testing is, and yet it is clear that many projects just grind along without any testing. Money and resources are spent, but no-one knows how effective their work is.

Steve Krug has written two excellent books on the subject, and has explained so clearly how to do cheap, simple and regular usability testing, and yet it is amazing how so many projects dedicate resources to anything but usability testing.

We are all addicted to our Google Analytics and Google Adwords, but even with the mountains of data that we have at our fingertips, we miss so much. With usability testing, we can get insights that no analytics package can give.

Is a user struggling to see a key piece of information amongst a sea of page content? Are users confused by menu text on your navigation? Do users fail to respond to your call to action because of the choice of words?

There are also human insights to be gained. Does the user find the cost of your product expensive? Would they click on a competitor web link on Google because the keywords in the link more closely matched their needs than your Google link?

Websites falter when people attempt to achieve their goals, to complete a task. Analytics can give you data to identify issues and infer their causes, but usability testing allows you to see the issues users face, and allows you to hear them thinking out loud.

Call to action: usability testing for everyone.

Many of you reading this already know or have heard about usability testing. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read either of the two books by Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy are both excellent books. Steve Krug describes the Think book as an introduction to usability principles, whereas Rocket Surgery is more of a how-to do your own user testing. I personally read Think first, then Rocket Surgery – I had to, the latter did not exist then.

I have my opinions on how you should go about conducting a usability test, but I had better leave that for another post. You can see for yourself how Steve Krug does it by watching the video on the following link – the video is near the bottom of the link page:

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug: Usability Demo

The important thing is to start well, and that means read one (or both) of Steve Krug’s books. They are non-technical, anyone can learn a lot about their own website, and you can then learn how to go about fixing any issues that arise from the usability test.

That is the reason why we are doing this, after all…

If you want to talk about conducting your own user testing, Contact me and we can arrange a Skype call.

Facebook and Twitter shake Egypt

Events in Egypt and Tunisia have truly taken me by surprise. At it’s heart are the younger generation taking to social media services like Facebook and Twitter to communicate. Many of them will be gambling with being identified over time, but we have surely passed a benchmark. As @jowyang says ‘Remember that Internet=Power’.

Many people I encounter may know about Facebook, but are less sure about why their favourite TV programmes now have a #hashtag during the opening titles. Social Media moves at a furious pace, but we are now seeing it’s effects on our TV screens. People like me can try and explain why social media is important, but equally if you are ignorant about social media, it is your duty to at least start or revisit your abandoned Facebook and Twitter accounts. The world of Social Media may be in flux, but it is definitely not going away. It is only getting stronger.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12306041

Twitter trends helps people connect

See what people really care about, not what you think they should care about.

In the last 48 hours, at least three events have affected millions of people.

Twitter alerted them, not traditional media sources.

Twitter trends alerts people to what is going on in real time.

Learning what people really care about can help developing web content.

With developing web content, we need to connect with people. On the Internet, connecting with people quickly is essential.

People search with words they care about. If we don’t use them, people won’t find our sites.

Usability is also effected. People who see the words they care about will be reassured they are on the correct website.

This can be a usability feature if used correctly.

Websites like Twitscoop and Twist allow you to see and examine trends. Twitter clients like Tweetdeck make managing all this information slightly easier.

People care about the content. Tools like Twitter can unlock the thoughts of people. The same people who are looking for your website.

http://www.twitscoop.com

http://twist.flaptor.com

http://www.tweetdeck.com/beta

Business Websites will be hit by Recession

Recession is here. The web is still here.

Job losses tales abound. Management looks for savings, so it seems natural for traditional targets to go: marketing and anything web related.

Management never seem to look at their own websites, so why should anyone else? Stick a contact button on the site – at least they can call us.  

People are using websites though: they skim, they scan, they want to complete a task. It’s not asking for a lot, but still web content screws up.

Ego gets in the way of good useful content, but still people seem to struggle through and do their tasks. 

We should applaud them.

Writing for them would be better: usable text (“Buy Tickets”), words that lets people move through a task.

People go to the web with a task in mind. Search gives them a list of sites that might help them.

But Search is the first step. Websites must complete the task.

Website Managers should focus on: 

  • Attracting people to their website 
  • Making it easy for them to do their tasks

Management should care because:

  • Google gives a list of your competitors
  • All of them are one click away

Being first on the Google results just isn’t enough. Websites that help people accomplish their tasks easily succeed. Those that don’t, don’t.

Websites often have business goals: business goals accomplished help companies make money. Analytics data helps companies see what business goals their website is achieving

Search gets people to your website. Data tells you what they do on it.

This deeply effects how you develop and manage web content on your website.

Websites are your shop window to the world. Leaving a vase filled with dead flowers there will not inspire confidence.

Content management and content development will soon be ignored by many. This is the worst time to consider doing so.