Imagine leaning over the shoulder of someone as he or she navigates your brand new website and completes a set of strategically appointed tasks. Throughout the entire experience, he or she is talking out loud, providing constructive, useful insight into every facet of the experience, including his or her likes, recommendations, and complaints. Now imagine that this user also happens to be the living embodiment of your target customer, a single individual who represents everyone you strive to market your brand to. It might sound a bit idealistic, but the utilization of user testing has been an established and effective technique used by savvy business-folk, web developers, and designers for years now.
Digital agencies are continually reaping the benefits of this intuitive practice, ordering and evaluating user tests for every new wireframe, website draft, and digital product. Wireframes are the provisional digital blueprints for a website’s architecture and are extremely useful for organizing the multiple elements of a website for structural optimization, typically emphasizing usability above all else. And what’s the best way to test usability? Lots and lots of user testing!
What are its benefits?
So, what exactly does user testing tell us about websites? What can we learn? Let’s take a look:
- It helps you accomplish your site’s goals. Your website should have at least one principal goal that it aims to accomplish for your company. Do you want to generate leads? Increase donations? Sell more widgets? Whatever your objective is, testers can help identify any friction areas on the site that are hindering them from taking the action you want them to take. If they can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing, your site needs revamping.
- It identifies problems your users might encounter with your website. It might seem like a lot of work, but the process of developing an effective and appealing website means making adjustments along the way. A broken site will frustrate users and most likely have a negative impact on business. User testing allows you to identify key issues with site usability that might not have been considered otherwise.
- It settles in-house conflicts. Let’s say one designer wants to include a certain feature, but another designer is greatly opposed to it. Instead of thumb wrestling, settle the debate by including the element on the wireframe, then give instructions for the user testers to critique it. It’s always good to have neutral feedback to settle differences.
- It streamlines website architecture. If you notice more than one user having trouble finding a critical area of your website, it’s time for reorganization. If you intend for users to always see or navigate to a very specific part of your site, but they aren’t, user testing might reveal your need to position that content in a more up-front and obvious manner.
- It lowers costs. Identifying and correcting usability issues before site launch will enable you to avoid redesign costs that might incur later. The designers and developers are already neck deep, digging into your site. It only makes sense for them to build it right the first time around.
- It improves your website’s retention rate. For existing websites, user testing helps you deduce why new visitors might be leaving the site after landing on the homepage. With most pages, it’s often due to long load times, or visitors’ realization that your site simply isn’t what they were looking for. Plug-in requirements like Flash that customers don’t want to download are also a common culprit. Whether predictable or not, user testing can help you can pinpoint the exact reasons that users leave your site, providing the data needed to work on a remedy.
- It reaffirms and enhances your brand’s image. Your website is one of the most critical components of your overall marketing strategy, serving as the digital representation of your brand and everything it embodies. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that an unpleasant online experience will lead to unfavorable opinions of your brand as a whole. Site errors, dead links, and a cumbersome layout are just some of the factors that can lead to these negative associations. These types of negative brand associations are identifiable through the user testing process.
The Proof is in the Pudding
User testing has provided digital architects with huge amounts of valuable feedback, allowing for in-depth analysis and fine tuning of design elements before the website goes live. It lets the developers and designers know which ideas work and which don’t. It’s often surprising what users comment on, while other times it’s obvious. It confirms or refutes hunches, reveals surprising insight and sometimes alters a company’s overall marketing goals relative to their digital platforms.
Below are a few real-life examples from some of our most recent client data collection processes where user testing had an expanded role in reshaping part, or all, of a proposed or existing website. Take a look at some of the insightful discoveries we made:
- Avoid Obtrusive Pop-Ups: We conducted six user tests for a popular seller of material handling equipment. Their website had a rather tenacious chat/message box that would pop up every time a new page was loaded. Visitors could minimize the box, but it would only stay minimized until a new page was loaded. The feedback from almost every user test showed us that it’s not a good idea to have this sort of pop-up on every page without at least giving the user the option to disable it. Instead of appreciation, we observed almost universal dislike and frustration towards these obtrusive pop-ups. In rebuilding the site, we searched for better ways to provide visitors with easily navigable help and support.
- If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Innovate It: Simplicity is invaluable if you want an enjoyable online shopping experience for your users. While conducting usability tests for a human resources firm that sells specialized data to professionals, certain things, like checking out and entering your billing address, just don’t require innovation. Our data revealed that it’s best to keep them simple and streamlined. These tests also showed us that the top influencers of the user’s decision to purchase often varied between cost, time and ease of acquisition.
- How Much, Though?: We conducted ten user tests for a retailer of personal protective equipment. These tests showed us that a website can be as user-friendly and visually pleasant site as possible, but if customers can’t locate the prices for products or services, they’ll quickly decide their time is being wasted and find a more navigable alternative.
So when is a good time for you to user test? Anytime! No matter what phase of the product cycle you’re in, user testing can provide unbiased insight into what features need to be tweaked, how to best organize your website’s layout, and the most practical ways to achieve a better user experience. It could give you the collective data from real life users of various websites, many of them very similar to yours.
Due to user testing’s myriad benefits, it’s easy to see why it’s becoming increasingly common in multiple industries. It has proven beneficial to Blackstone Media, and for us, it will be continually implemented to help design the most efficient, user-friendly and seamlessly navigable website and digital products.