Jun 17, 2021
Website Usability Testing: All You Need to Know
An attractive website design and a pleasant user experience are vital elements of a website’s success. They are some of the most important aspects to boost your website’s credibility and conversion rate.
Most people come to your website for specific needs, like booking a ticket or finding a piece of information. If your website fails to fulfill those needs easily and quickly, potential customers will move to another website.
To ensure an effective and satisfying experience for the users, website owners have to conduct tests to evaluate the site’s usability.
Website testing will help check its user-friendliness, efficiency, user satisfaction and detect if any errors might have been missed.
This article will further explain what is website usability testing, common testing methods, and a step-by-step guide on how to conduct it.
What Is Usability Testing?
Usability testing is the process that evaluates how easy it is for end-users to use your software or website. It involves a group of test subjects performing specific tasks and giving feedback through interviews or questionnaires about your website’s performance.
Website usability testing should cover all the processes of website creation, including the brainstorming, prototyping, and evaluation stages. A usability specialist or a UX researcher may moderate and observe the testing process within each stage if required.
It is estimated that fixing an error after development costs 100 times more than fixing it before development. In addition to saving money, the tests will help identify and fix usability problems on the site before they become more serious.
There are basic metrics that can be used for usability testing to plan necessary improvements on the website, such as user-friendliness and satisfaction, efficiency, and errors.
User-friendliness measures if people can understand the user interface and easily complete the tasks.
For example, you ask a participant to book the cheapest one-way flight from JFK International Airport in New York to Heathrow International Airport in London on a specific date on your website.
The goal is to check if the participants can purchase the correct ticket without encountering any difficulties.
If user-friendliness focuses on how users navigate the interface and complete the tasks, efficiency measures how quickly they can do it. The less amount of time they need to finish the tasks, the better your design is.
Using the same example on testing a flight booking system, you measure the time from when the participants open the booking system until they pay the ticket.
This also shows which part of the tasks takes the most time. If participants spend too much time on one task, there may be a part of the interface that confuses them and needs improvement.
User testers also help find small mistakes like spelling or punctuation issues that might have gone unnoticed. Additionally, they may also find broken links or elements that are not working as they should.
You may think that issues like typos won’t create a negative impact. However, multiple errors make a terrible first impression and reduce your website’s credibility.
During the usability testing, it’s also essential to keep track of how many mistakes the participants made. For example, a user might accidentally click on the wrong menu in the flight ticket booking test.
You need to evaluate why such errors can happen and how quickly users can recover from them.
Even if the participants can complete the task without errors, they may still provide insights to help improve user satisfaction.
For example, they may find the visual design, color scheme, or text fonts could be better placed or are difficult to understand.
Another example is that the website may function just well, but it might be slow to load, making the experience unpleasant.
Why Is Website Usability Testing Important?
Visitors come to your site for specific reasons, such as buying a product or finding a piece of information. They often dedicate a minimum amount of time to do such tasks.
If your website fails to fulfill those needs easily and quickly, people will move on to another website, and you’ll lose website traffic. Moreover, if you sell products or services through your website, you’ll also lose potential customers and revenue.
When we develop a website, we often think only from our own perspective. If the interface works for us, we assume that it will work for the visitor as well.
However, that’s not always the case. This is why it’s necessary to conduct usability testing to ensure that the interface provides a satisfactory, easy-to-use, and effective experience for all users.
Another important aspect is your brand reputation. Visitors will assess the organization’s credibility based on its website, both in terms of web design and usability.
Even if the website has a great design, poor functionality will lead to user frustration and negatively affect your website and organizational image.
What Are the Common Methods of Usability Testing?
There are several usability testing methods to choose from, depending on your focus and metrics. Let’s take a look at seven common methods, their benefits, and when to use them.
In-Person or In-House Usability Testing
This type of usability test is conducted on-site. The test can be moderated and observed by researchers, who give instructions to each participant and evaluate the test.
It requires hiring qualified researchers to conduct the test. If you’re testing a website for flight ticket booking, you may need people who frequently travel as your participants.
You can also hire your employees as test subjects. However, it may lead to biased results as they are probably already familiar with your website interface. Therefore, we recommend that you also hire external users to get better results.
For in-house testing, it is recommended to use a usability testing lab. This ensures that all testing sessions use the same equipment and environment, minimizing the result variations caused by external factors.
However, this method needs more resources and can only involve a smaller group of people per session. Thus, it’s ideal for gathering in-depth information, investigating how users interact with the website, and analyzing usability issues that may arise.
Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing
Unmoderated remote usability testing doesn’t involve a moderator or controlled environment. Instead, participants can do the test anywhere using their own device.
Although this test doesn’t yield a detailed result like a moderated in-house test, it costs significantly less.
This method uses online tools to reach the participants. For example, Gazepoint or RealEye allows you to conduct eye-tracking tests remotely, while Maze is an excellent remote usability testing app for task-based tests.
The advantage of this method is that participants are most likely to do the test in their environment, representing real-world usage.
You should use this method after conducting a moderated website testing. That’s because the moderated testing may result in critical findings or hypotheses, and now you have to prove them by testing larger sample size.
Moderated Remote Usability Testing
This method is a combination of in-person and unmoderated remote testing. In this test, the participants can be in their own environment, but with a moderator instructing and observing them.
You may want to use this method when you worry that unmoderated usability tests will yield unclear results.
Since this type of user testing requires you to moderate and observe participants remotely, you need to have trained moderators to communicate with the participants. Also, you’ll need a suitable tool to connect with the users.
One of the best online tools for moderated remote user testing is Lookback. It allows you to send links to the usability tests and have live conversations to moderate the participants and take notes. You can also invite team members as observers on any test session.
Guerilla testing is the simplest form of user testing. It gathers feedback by presenting your prototype to random people in a public place, such as a cafe. It is a low-cost and quick solution to test new ideas.
This method may also involve paper prototyping – a process of drawing your digital product on paper. It costs less and is faster to create than a functional prototype site.
Guerilla testing is also time-efficient since you don’t have to recruit qualified participants and wait for their responses.
Additionally, since guerilla testing involves random people, they may not be actual users of your website niche. For example, if you want to test a site for ticket booking, the participants might not necessarily be travelers.
Therefore, this method is more suitable for the early stage of development to know whether your product is moving in the right direction.
Phone Interview Testing
A phone interview is a usability testing method that involves a researcher asking questions to participants or instructing them on how to do a task over the phone. The participants then give feedback regarding the test object.
This method is helpful to reach participants and gather data from wider geographic areas, allowing you to obtain a broader perspective of the site’s potential issues.
It’s also a good idea to do a phone interview as a follow-up to unmoderated remote testing. This way, you get the reasoning behind the participants’ decisions during the test.
However, it’s crucial to employ well-trained moderators, especially if the test involves a group of participants with different languages.
Card Sorting Testing
This website testing method involves presenting virtual cards that represent different types of website content. You then ask the participants to reorder and organize these cards. After that, you ask the logical reasoning behind their decisions.
The test shows how users see the website structure and thus how they will navigate through the site. It helps developers organize their websites, making decisions based on the results of the usability tests.
Therefore, this method is perfect if you want to optimize your website architecture. OptimalSort is a great online user research platform to perform this test online.
Recording Session Testing
This method involves screen recording to evaluate the users’ actions when using the website. The videos help researchers understand how user testers interact with the site, which aspects draw their attention, and if there are any difficulties or confusion when they navigate the site.
Recording session testing requires specific tools such as Hotjar. It can record actions such as mouse movements and clicks on the website.
To obtain better results from recording session testing, we recommend accompanying this method with phone or video interviews. It will provide a better understanding of the users’ actions during the test and gather more information about the issues found.
6 Steps to Conduct Website Usability Testing
Now that you know the usability testing methods available, there are steps that you need to follow to make the tests relevant to your website’s improvement.
Determine What to Measure
As a starting point, you need to clearly state what you want to achieve with the usability testing and what information you want to gather.
For example, if you want to know if users can book a ticket successfully, then you need to test the whole process from visiting the front page to completing the order.
We also recommend doing only one test at a time. It helps you define a clear goal and focus on testing a specific aspect of the website.
Identify the Best Method
After you set the test’s goal, decide which usability testing method is the most suitable. Also, consider the resources you have to do a website usability test.
If you need to conduct a very controlled test, then in-house testing is the way to go. However, you have to remember that it will take up more resources.
Conversely, if you aim to obtain more results in a shorter time, unmoderated or moderated remote testing will do the job.
Create a Task Scenario and Set Your Success Rate
The next step is to create a task scenario – the objective that participants need to accomplish. This can be a series of tasks like the ticket booking example we’ve used before.
For instance, participants start by creating an account. After that, they need to select the airports, dates, and class. Then they need to choose the cheapest flight and proceed to the payment.
Once you set the scenario, you need to determine your success rate.
Let’s say you want to include the ease of finding the right booking page as an indicator. You should determine whether the information in every field ought to be correct no matter what, or should you allow one or two mistakes in one of the fields.
Also, you may include time limits for the booking process as a success indicator if you measure the interface’s efficiency.
Generally, five to seven participants are ideal for each usability testing session. It is more manageable and doesn’t cost much if you use third-party services. However, the development stages and the method of testing will determine how many participants are actually required.
You can use the Guerilla method for the early stage, where you can select individuals at random to test your website.
With this method, you don’t need to study the ideal user first as you’re trying to validate the prototype and gain insights into the participants’ expectations. This test also can involve up to 12 people in a single session.
Conversely, you need to get more relevant results at the later development stage. This requires recruiting participants close to your user persona – traits that reflect the real users, including characteristics, needs, and goals.
Conduct the Test
When conducting a website usability test, you have to make it consistent in terms of the task and the order – even for unmoderated remote users. In other words, passing clear and concise instructions to the participants is essential.
You can inform them how long the test will take, how they should comment about their findings and the test’s goal.
Analyze and Report Your Findings
Depending on the type of testing and your goals, you need to summarise the findings and organize the reports. You may analyze the results using thematic analysis for qualitative data such as verbal or written feedback and interview answers.
As for quantitative data such as questionnaire responses, analyze the data using correlation analysis.
For a simple analysis, spreadsheets are useful to categorize findings such as pros and cons, major and minor usability issues, or typical and critical problems. This makes it easier to plan any improvements to the website.
If you use a third-party website usability test service, they may analyze the tests and provide you with the reports. All you need to do is interpret the report and make improvements to your website.
Website usability testing is a great way to discover how easy it is to use your website from the user’s perspective. It’s also a great way of collecting user feedback for improving the site’s design and functionality.
There are several website usability testing methods to choose from depending on the development stage, needs, and testing goals. They are in-person or in-house, unmoderated remote, moderated remote, guerrilla, phone interview, card sorting, and recording session testing.
To conduct effective usability testing, it’s necessary to follow these six steps:
- Determine what to measure
- Identify the best usability testing method
- Create the task scenario and set the success rate
- Find the participants
- Conduct the test
- Analyze and report your findings
Now that you know all about website usability testing, it’s time to test your new app, product, or site and enhance its user experience. Good luck!