Improving Your Small Business Website: Usability Testing

Usability Testing for Your Website

I’ve always been fond of the expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth.” It means, briefly, getting info from the highest authority. And if Mr. Ed taught us anything, nothing beats a horse’s mouth when it comes to munching hay and speaking the truth. This week we’ll see how to get usability data straight from your horse’s mouth: live humans tasked with evaluating your website.

Bring carrots.

In last week’s installment of this segment on using heatmaps, I mentioned that live user technology was expensive. In general, this is true – any time you’re involving live people in your testing, you have to willing to pay them for their time. And, well, people can be expensive. But there are affordable solutions out there that have flipped this idea on its head by making it simple for businesses and website testers to come together. Today I’m going to shamelessly talk up my personal favorite of these services, with which I’ve been continually impressed: is exactly what it professes to be, “low cost usability testing.” For $29 a tester (lower if you prepay), you get matched up with well-screened users that, from the comfort of their own computer, will visit your site and record their audio and visual experience.

Getting started is very easy – you provide your website URL, a “scenario” that describes the typical mindset of your visitors, what “tasks” the users should try to accomplish in about 15 minutes of using your website, and how many users you want. If it helps you, you can specify demographics for your users such as gender, age, country, household income, and level of computer savvy. You can even specify a particular user if they’ve performed well for you on past tests.

What You Get Back

Within a couple hours, you can log in and start watching your videos of users navigating your website and articulating their thoughts. They’ll narrate exactly what they’re reading and why, why they’re clicking on certain things, what catches their attention, and what, if anything, raises red flags or confuses them. There are also text summaries available, breaking down into concise points what users like and don’t like about their experience with your website.

The idea is that you get actionable data – thoughts, feelings, and experiences of real live humans that tried to do something on your website. With this information, you can start to identify trends and make changes like fixing places where multiple users get lost or confused, reworking buttons that to you seem obvious but everyone seems to miss, or making your hidden toll free number more visible.

5 Tips on Successful Usability Testing

1. Invest in a good number of users. Less than three users is probably not going to do you much good. A single person might respond negatively to a certain aspect of your website that to everyone else likes. The name of the game with website usability testing is trends, and trends require several unique experiences. Dig a little bit deeper into your wallet and you’ll get a lot more return on your investment.

2. Don’t take it personally. I’ve met a handful of web designers that despise usability testing, reacting to users’ negative feedback with quips like, “they’re not web designers, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” That’s neither constructive nor remotely relevant. The people that use your website day-to-day aren’t web designers either (unless that’s your audience).

3. Don’t overreact. Too often with any kind of testing, first-time users respond to the results by making sweeping changes to every little thing they can. Move slow, start with things that are most obvious from the results, areas of concern or dislike that are shared by several users. You can become more picky with future tests, once you have a feel for it.

4. Give your own feedback. On, you can rate the quality of your users on a 5-star scale and leave a description if you want. Don’t underestimate the value of this feature. By rating users, you’re helping the service keep its pool of users strong. If there are some users that are more helpful than others (and that doesn’t just mean nicer), remember them for your next test.

5. Shop multiple usability services. I’ve made no secret about it – I’m a fan of for being quick, affordable, and thorough – but there are countless other solutions out there for website usability testing. I’d wager others are probably going to cost you more in both dollars and hours, but you may find what you get back is worth the extra investment.

Next Week’s Website Improvement Topic: Google’s Website Optimizer!

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