User testing is part of any sound user experience, or UX, strategy. It’s designed to increase the quality of a person’s interaction with your website, system, product or service.
Getting a fresh perspective during user testing helps you identify issues as early as possible after the design phase, ultimately helping you increase your return on investment. As UX experts like to say, test early and test often.
Step 1: Define your goals
What do you want to test? Your detailed goals will form the basis of specific hypotheses. For example, a purchase is probably the most important goal of an ecommerce website. The hypothesis might be: Simple is always better. Reducing the checkout to three steps will increase our e-commerce goal completion rates.
If you’re testing a system or site that’s not yet completed, you may not have benchmarks or historic data to begin guessing which possibility might be better over another. Using the same example as above, the goal would still have a hypothesis, just a less specific one: People are more likely to make a purchase if they like the experience.
Step 2: Create the scenarios/tasks
Scenarios, or task descriptions, will help establish a realistic framework for your test. This step may seem straightforward but it is incredibly important. Remember, scenarios should always be as neutral as possible, meaning they don’t suggest a specific way for completing the task.
A few examples:
- You are looking for a gift for your brother, who is interested in professional golf. Visit ourgolfsite.com, find a product you think he would like and add it to your cart.
- You want to download a browser extension to manage your bookmarks. How would you go about this?
- You just finished reading an article about the refugee crisis in Europe and you want to post a comment. Walk me through the process of how you would do so.
Step 3: Pick the people and location
Make sure you have a quiet room or office to conduct the test – any place where participants won’t be distracted or feel pressured.
You’ll also need a pre-selected list of participants. For an initial usability test, three to five people is generally sufficient.
Participants should loosely fit your target audience and must not be familiar with your website. Why? People familiar with the site are more likely to have preconceived ideas about what works and what doesn’t, and insights from the wrong demographic may end up hurting your efforts instead of helping them.
For smaller tests, you may want to consider friends and family members of coworkers. They’re easy to access and typically don’t want much in return.
Step 4: Create your script
The dialogue you will have with participants should be created beforehand and the individuals conducting the test should be familiar with it.
It’s critical to establish a neutral, non-stressful rapport by outlining the following up front:
- Let participants know they’re not the ones being “tested.” It’s you and your website under scrutiny.
Tip: Having participants speak out loud as they complete tasks will reveal volumes of valuable information (and you can take notes). However, documenting every detail will still omit insights that are only realized during the post-test review. Make sure you have a good screen-capture tool recording everything participants do and say for best results.
- Ask participants to speak freely and openly with no worry about offending the site owners and designers!
- Invite them to speak out loud as they complete the tasks you’ve defined.
- Finally, let them know they will be recorded and get any consent paperwork out of the way.
Step 5: Analyze and improve
Once you’ve done the test and fully analyzed the results, it’s time to identify and prioritize the top three to five issues that were uncovered so you can fix them.
Set up your metrics so you can start collecting data to measure the actual impact on your key performance indicators. Let that information collect and get started on the next set of hypotheses you’d like to test.
Jim Ellis has over 20 years of experience in marketing strategy and implementation throughout a variety of industry sectors. Since 1999 he has been with Signal, a digital agency based in Wilmington and Raleigh, North Carolina. Signal has proven strengths serving as the “local agency” for global companies, generating solid results in web design, brand identity, mobile app development, digital strategy and more. Jim provides counsel to many of the agency’s largest clients with an eye toward integrated communications and a vast knowledge of both traditional and modern practices. As a songwriter and musician with a business degree, he believes his artistic/corporate “dual personality” gives him added perspective to be an effective liaison between clients and Signal’s talented creative team. Originally from Ohio, Jim graduated from the University of Richmond with a B.S. in Business Administration.