Usability test: is it really worth all the effort?

Usability test (UTs) can be exhausting and frustrating, but they can also be highly revealing and ultimately not as difficult or expensive as one might think.

What’s in it for you? 

Out of all the usability research methods, UTs are by far the most rewarding.  They will help you to answer all the basic questions: 

  • What do I know about my users? 
  • How worthwhile is it implementing that great idea? 
  • My friends say it’s looking good. But what about my visitors? 

If you find a better way to answer these questions, feel free to shout me. 

All the nagging questions that you may have about whether your product works (read “product” as website or that great idea of yours) will be answered when your users see it, try it and kill it. 

Yes, “kill it” because they will. Remember I said frustrating? This is what you will feel every time a user misses that big “BUY HERE” button that you thought you’d placed in the “right” place. Or when they suggest dumping that fantastic photo that took hours of your precious time. 

UTs are fascinating, exciting, intriguing exercises that really unveil a true picture of your users, their needs and their wants.

 

Is it that difficult? Do I need professional help? 

I have run multiple UTs with participants all around the globe.  While I don’t mean to give the impression that I’ve come up with the magic formula for the perfect test, I have amassed enough experience over the years to be reasonably confident in my ability to run a set of tests without losing my mind in the process. 

I may not have the magic potion for a successful test but I have collected enough knowledge to run a set of usability tests without losing my mind. 

usability test

What do I need to do?

Easy!! Is it really? If you prefer the unsugar-coated version embrace yourself for a bit of a longer story.

1. Recruiting: By far the most difficult step and at the same time the one that has most impact. I have always done it myself just armed with my inbox.  
Who to recruit: As you can imagine it depends on your audience and what exactly you want to test. 

Let’s say you want to try a new app for smart watches or an activity tracker. Sure, dear old grandpa has the time and wants to help you. There are 2 things, however that make grandpa a bad candidate: 

  • Not your typical audience and hardly very objective  
  • You will need to find volunteers that match your Personas 

Objective judgement is critical; it’s not only family and friends who do not measure up. In my last recruiting I found 2 very eager volunteers, after a while I found their ulterior motive was getting a job in the company behind the website being tested. These two individuals were not very sincere in their feedback and tried their best to be positive about the website. 

How to find the right people: surveys, online recruiting services, newsletter subscribers, social media followers. Basically, people that know your website or belong to a niche that will be interested in the content/product that your offer. 

 

2. Schedule sessions: This may be as simple as agreeing on a time and place. In my experience I have always gone for remote sessions usually with users from different countries. This is where the challenge begins, matching time zones, avoiding language barriers etc.  

Make sure your volunteers dedicate the time slot entirely to your test. 

 

3. Prepare the test: Imagine you have 30 minutes with your favorite music star or your childhood sweetheart. Wouldn’t you have a fair idea what would you want to say or ask? 

Same here, preparation is key and this is where all your efforts should be concentrated. 

Make sure the questions are not suggestive but task oriented.  

A reasonable time for a usability test is between 30 and 45 min; this will allow you to go through a maximum of 6 to 10 questions. Out of those the first 3-4 are oriented to the profile of your user, knowing who they are and what motivates them. The other questions should be more task-focused allowing you to see them in action interacting with your site/app. 

Here are a few questions I always include: 

  • How often do you visit this site? 
  • What would be the reason for you to visit this site? 
  • Can you show me how you would search for …? 
  • Can you show me how you would go to …? 
  • What would you expect to happen if you did….? 

 

4. Meet and shoot: At the time of the usability test make sure of two things: 

  • Always remember that you are there to observe not to guide 
  • Accept that you may have to be a little rude and drive the conversation back to the goals you’ve set 

Sound too much like hard work? Not really. Keep it simple but focused.  

After the first couple of sessions it will start to feel natural to sit back and observe quietly. It will help you to slowly adapt to your users and their behaviors and ultimately be able to translate all that into your product to ultimately offer a better experience. 

Usability test in a nutshell 

  1. Recruit volunteers: family and friends are out. 
  2. Prepare the test: have your questions lined up  
  3. Schedule sessions: dedicated time and place 
  4. Meet and shoot: sit back and observe 
  5. Repeat: As often as you can – practice makes perfect! 

 

What tools have you used to test your website?

5 Comments

  1. Jan Zac

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweets and thought I will check your website. Have to say it looks very good!
    I’m also interested in this topic and have recently started my journey as young entrepreneur.

    I’m also looking for the ways on how to promote my website. I have tried AdSense and Facebok Ads, however it is getting very expensive. Was thinking about starting using analytics. Do you recommend it?
    Can you recommend something what works best for you?

    I also want to improve SEO of my website. Would appreciate, if you can have a quick look at my website and give me an advice what I should improve: http://janzac.com/
    (Recently I have added a new page about FutureNet and the way how users can make money on this social networking portal.)

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    P.S.
    Maybe I will add link to your website on my website and you will add link to my website on your website? It will improve SEO of our websites, right? What do you think?

    Regards
    Jan Zac

    1. Hi Jan,

      Nice to have you here!
      In regards to using web analytics, the answer is YES! This will not only allow you to review your marketing strategy but also will give you information about your audience and their interests.
      Another interesting aspects of analytics is technology, you can see how your customers access your website and help you decide how to prioritize devices and browsers to support.
      In regards to promotion, obviously social media is a good way to go but connecting with other writers, designer, researchers is what is working for me. So thank you for reaching out.

      I had a look at your website and it looks great. I have some feedback that I would be very happy to share with you. Wait for my email 🙂

      Regards,

      Sandra

  2. Good information! Gave me some thinhs to think about. May touch base with you about this information when I have had a chance to apply some of this to my site. Do you take a look at sites and give feedback?

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