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.