Can you imagine how happy your website users would be if they were always able to complete the tasks they came for easily and efficiently? Can you imagine how your bottom line would be affected?
A major problem with the way a website is planned and built is that it typically starts with decision makers and web developers/designers looking around at industry & competitor's websites - reacting favorably or unfavorably, creating their own version, suggesting changes and repeating until all decision makers are happy. Then comes site launch. This seems reasonable and normal.
So where lies the problem? No one ever finds out if what is built actually works for the users, which is kind of important, don't you think?! I mean, what if the competitors' websites you took some of your favorite ideas from don't actually work that well? You have no idea that's the case because you don't have their data. After all, just because you like how something looks doesn't mean it works.
As humans, we tend to find it hard to accept that people don't see the world (and our website) the way we see it. We use certain language because that's what we know. We label things a certain way because that's how we identify them. Let's face it, we have trouble listening and adjusting to serve others based upon how THEY see the world.
Just the other day I was reviewing a client's new site concepts and noticed they used two call-to-action labels that illustrate this perfectly. The two labels were "Place a PO" and "Submit RFQ." Now, I'm not sure what percentage of their users would know exactly what these labels mean, but I'm quite sure it's not as close to 100% as they think it is (or as it could be).The meaning of both of these labels are common knowledge to those involved in the design of the site because they've been working with POs and RFQs for years. But, I can guarantee you that many of their users will experience a level of mental frustration if these were present on their site. Even if they're able to figure it out eventually by using the context of the labels, every bit of frustration you add to the user experience increases the chances of a user not converting and not coming back.
So, how do we get around this obstacle and find out what works and doesn't work for users on your website before you launch it? To use a technical term - usability testing. Usability testing in simplified, non-technical terms is the cyclical process of observing users using your site, identifying a problem and fixing it! Then, you repeat as necessary until it's all fixed (you have to watch the video to get the reference and have a good laugh).
One of the misconceptions that people can have when they first come across the concept of usability testing for their website is that it's a long, drawn out process that requires tons of resources to accomplish. The truth is...it doesn't need to be. If you have the resources, by all means do the best usability testing you can afford. But if your resources are limited, you can do it with just these few things...
A desk, computer and two chairs
Screen recording software
3 or 4 participants
And, a few hundred bucks to pay the participants for their time
But no matter what, just do it. It will help your bottom line.
Anytime you get started with something new, it helps to have some tips that will save you from learning lessons the hard way and help you get the most out of your efforts.Here are 8 things to keep in mind as you start with testing...
Use just a few per round. Especially at the beginning, you're looking for major problems. The chances are, you'll find enough of them within just a few participants to have plenty of notes and changes to implement. The thought here is to do many of rounds with a few participants per round. This way, you find big things quickly and have momentum on your side.
Don't worry about how perfectly participants match your target audience. Although the closer you can get the better. This shouldn't limit the timing or ability to test quickly. So, if you find it difficult to get participants that have the characteristics of your target audience, just get people that have used the web a decent amount (unless you have special exceptions). After all, your target audience would never be upset about things being too clear and easy. Heck, you could even recruit your friends and neighbors.
Use a "people person" to facilitate.These types of people are typically good listeners that are naturally inquisitive. They tend to be better with asking questions that will help draw out good feedback from participants and are better listeners for taking good notes. Select observers who are most likely to be "left-brain" thinkers to ensure insightful and analytical questions will be asked.
Attract as many spectators as possible.There's a very good chance that minds will be blown, and you want as many blown minds (especially among decision makers!) as you can get. The more you get key people around you to be exposed to the wonderful world of insights that come from usability testing, the more buy-in you'll get.This leads to more resources, better performance and (best of all) bigger paychecks!
What to Test
Big picture stuff. These are things that should be known by a user just by looking (and not doing anything). They should be able to tell you whose site it is, what is being offered, what sets the site apart from other competitive sites, what the site wants them to do, etc.
Tasks. Every time a user comes to a website, they are coming to complete a task. It may be to research, get support, download something, purchase, consume content or many other things. The holy grail of website performance metrics is "Task Completion Rate by Primary Purpose." This tells you if a user was able to complete their task and why or why not. Back to my opening question again - can you imagine how your bottom line would be affected if every user that came to your website was able to complete their task easily and efficiently? Like I said, the holy grail.
Competitors' sites. Yes, those sites that you're pulling your ideas from. Why not do some usability testing on them before you start building your new site so you know what types of things work and don't work? Use the things that work and neglect the things that don't work. Brilliance!
Your concepts. Before rolling a site out, test it at every stage and make adjustments until all of the big picture stuff is clear and people are easily able to complete major tasks that would be performed on the site.
Of course, usability testing can get more involved than this, but this will give you a start. Doing simple usability testing like this is waaaay better than doing none at all.
After testing these four things, I'll bet you the minds of those involved will be popping with insights about the site and ideas for avoiding problems. Now, instead of arguing around a table about what works and doesn't work, you can actually test and adjust until you know what works. Then, all that hard-earned money you're spending on marketing won't be pouring water into a leaky bucket!
Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.
Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
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