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User testing

Let the people who use your website say what they think

Quote�Many companies now know that user testing is the fastest and easiest method in the usability engineering toolbox.�End Quote
Jakob Nielsen

Having a usable business website is essential if you want to hang onto its visitors and turn them into customers. The users of your website are the people whose opinions really matter, so involving them in some testing will help you perfect your services. Failing to test your website will result in lost time, money and credibility.

Jakob Nielsen is Principal of Nielsen Norman Group and the world's most renowned usability expert. He says, "Many companies now know that user testing is the fastest and easiest method in the usability engineering toolbox."

Improved website usability equals better navigation and more clarity. That will lead your business directly to more sales, higher conversion rates and more profits. Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can please most people most of the time. User testing is a crucial tool to this end.

What and how

Kevin Davies"It is a hundred times cheaper to fix usability problems discovered early in the project rather than at its end," says Jakob Nielsen.

Decide how much time and resource you can spare for any user testing. "The user testing needs to be carefully defined otherwise how will you know when you've finished?," says Kevin Davies, Bonhurst Consulting test consultant "The end-point can be one of several, based on a fixed timescale, testing every single path through a website, through to testing all the functionality."

Prioritise by deciding which areas are most important to you. If you are going to run an e-commerce site, for example, you will want to test every aspect of your shopping cart and checkout system. Make sure it can cope when users do something odd or something wrong, like entering an incorrect credit card number.

Furthermore, you need to specify exactly what it is you need to find out, so you can ask the right questions and set the right tasks for your users.

Ask the right questions

Cheryl Rickman, author of The small Business Start-Up Workbook, suggests some things you might want to ask:

“How many clicks does it take to perform certain tasks? Is the site navigation intuitive to users? If not, why not? How could it be made more intuitive? Where do visitors click first/last and why so? Were testers able to perform certain tasks? What areas of frustration did they face? And which headlines encouraged click throughs? Look at each variable, from content, copy and navigation to usability, design and functionality. By getting user feedback on each variable you can fine tune each area to generate optimum response.”

You should of course test your site before it goes live. But additionally, physical user testing should be an ongoing process. Use it in conjunction with some kind of website traffic analysis to find out exactly how people behave on your site. But don't let yourself get bogged down in feedback and statistics. The trick is to keep the process simple.

Test groups

Quote�Don't forget that the test process has to be managed, and too many cooks spoil the broth.�End Quote
Kevin Davies, Bonhurst Consulting

According to Jakob Nielsen, the three main rules for simplified user testing are:

Get representative users

Ask them to perform representative tasks with the design

Shut up and let the users do the talking.

For smaller businesses, finding users might mean friends and colleagues, but as Nielsen says: "If you get the wrong users, or if you don't get enough users, your usability studies will not generate the results you deserve. The quality of your recruiting will immediately increase the quality of your test results."

You need to plan:

How you will recruit users, and who will they be. You'll probably need to offer them an incentive to take part.

How you will carry out the testing procedure; with how many users; with what objectives/priority; with what resources available.

The main areas to be tested by the users. Decide how you will measure results, fix issues and re-test.

So how many people should you recruit as user testers ideally? Is just a few people enough?

"It depends on how much time you have and the complexity of the system to be tested," says Kevin. "Also, don't forget that the test process has to be managed, and too many cooks spoil the broth." Jakob Nielsen agrees and has found that "The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford."

The bottom line is that most smaller businesses do not user test their websites. But for the expense (which you can plan for) there is a clear return in almost all cases.

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What next?

If user testing reveals that there's room for improvement, read about how to grow your website.

Jakob Nielsen's website has loads of information on best practice in website design and usability.

See how to get usage data on your website - see how many people use it and what they use it for.

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