Testing the usability of your website
A well organised usability test not only provides feedback from a user’s perspective on the site’s ease of use, but it also points to where improvements can be made. This blog contains details on how best to organise a usability test.
Using an independent set of testers will provide an independent perspective and assessment of the site’s usability and provide important feedback to the website’s designers and developers.
The timing of the test
A usability test is best organised when a new site is close to completion or a new set of enhancements are near to completion for an existing site.
This ensures that a usability review can provide an accurate evaluation before go-live and allows time for any necessary rework. Thus avoiding any ‘disasters’ after the website has gone live.
Who should do the testing?
Ideally, you should seek to get actual users of the website – whether they be company staff or customers of the company. This is the essence of user centered design.
In terms of numbers, a user test team can range from a minimum of five to as many as can be accommodated. The selected users should fit the persona profile of the target audience to ensure that the website is tested from the target audience’s perspective. The reasoning behind having a minimum of five testers is to provide a range of user backgrounds. For example, when testing an online share trading facility; a good cross-section of testers will include;
- Experienced trading professionals
- People who trade on an ad-hoc basis
- Those who are new to online trading
In order to ensure that any potential problems are uncovered, testers should perform actual task scenarios. These tasks can be listed, allowing each tester to note any positive and negative comments for each of the scenarios.
This task list should provide no instruction as regards how to approach or complete the various tasks. The website and its content should provide sufficient explanation in terms of navigation and task completion.
It can be frustrating for project team members to see testers ‘stumbling’ through completing each of the task scenarios. For this reason, team members should not be physically present at the test sessions.
To complete the test sessions, each of the testers should be debriefed to help capture any remaining observations that they have forgotten to note down. The debrief can help to gather feedback on some generic questions such as;
- How well the tester understands the structure of the website
- Their thoughts on the type of company image projected by the website
Analysis and application of the feedback
In addition to reviewing the individual comments from testers, the analysis should look for any trends;
- Were any problems consistently noted ?
- How many users had the same experience?
- What were the first impressions on viewing the site?
It is important that the project team consider the feedback constructively and use it to address any weaknesses and to leverage all of the positive features. The website project benefits hugely from this type of structured test approach. The feedback – both positive and negative helps to increase the probability of a successful website launch.
For further information on the various factors that influence a website’s usability, please consult my own blog post on website usability factors.