I am a huge fan of website usability tests. They show you how real people actually interact with your website. I have conducted dozens of usability tests, and every time, we discover very simple tweaks that can make a huge difference in how a website performs. Best of all, usability tests are easy to perform and very inexpensive.
In a website usability test, you sit people down in front of your website, ask them to perform some basic tasks, and to think out loud while they do it. If you want to learn how to conduct your own website usability test, I highly recommend reading Steve Krug’s book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. It’s a quick read, and he offers clear step-by-step instructions.
Sample Usability Test
Steve recorded a video demo of a usability test so you can see how it works.
One of the thing you will need to prepare for a website usability test is the list of questions to ask the participants. Based on my experience, I have compiled a sample list for you to use as a starting point.
Before the Test
When a respondent sits in front of the computer, the browser should have a tab open to Google to prevent her from getting distracted. Start with a few general questions:
- What do you do for a living?
- How much time do you spend on the internet?
- What sort of things do you do on the internet?
- Do you have any favorite websites?
- Do you surf the web on a desktop laptop, tablet, or smartphone?
On Your Homepage
Ask the participant to click on the browser tab with your homepage open. Tell her that she may scroll up and down the homepage, but ask her not not click on any links yet. Here are the key questions:
- What does the organization that runs this website do?
- What is your overall impression of this website?
- Are you familiar with this radio station?
- Where is this radio station located?
- What would you expect to hear if you tuned in this station?
- Are there any specific artists that you would expect to hear?
- Without clicking on any of the links, please go through each item in the main menu, and tell me what you would expect to happen by clicking on them.
Now invite the participant to freely explore the site. Tell her that she may click on anything, but remind her to think out loud as she does so.
After a few minutes of exploration, ask her to return to the homepage and perform some basic tasks, thinking aloud as she does.
- You’d like to listen to the radio station online. Can you do that and where would you go to do so?
- You heard about a contest for [insert current contest name]. Can you tell me more about it.
- You want to know the name of the afternoon drive personality. How would you find out?
- You are a big fan of the morning show and want to know more about them. What can you find out about them?
- You won a prize and want to pick it up at the radio station. Can you find the address?
- You’ve heard that [insert artist title] is performing in town soon. Can you tell me where?
- You’d like to see photos from the station’s [insert station concert name]. Can you find them?
- You are thinking about advertising on the radio station and would like more information. Using the website, what would you do?
- Tell me about the perks of signing up for the station’s email newsletter.
- Based on what you see, are you likely to sign up for the email newsletter? Why or why not?
At the end of the test, ask the participant to spend a few minutes looking at the website of a key competitor or two in your market (and/or other stations with the same format in other markets, Pandora, etc.) Have these websites already open in other tabs to save time.
- Are you familiar with this station/company? How are they the same or different from the station you were just looking at?
- Is there anything on this website that you like more or less than the previous website?
- [Repeat any of the tasks above]
Once again, direct the participant back to your website. Ask her for any final thoughts.
- Now that you’ve looked at some other websites, what do you think about the [your call letters] website?
- Now that you’ve spent some time with this site, what do you like about it? What do you think could be improved?
- Any final thoughts?
After they’ve given you all of their feedback, thank them for coming in, compensate them, and send them on their way. Compile the useful feedback from all of your subject and create an actionable list of changes to make to your website. Congratulations on a great test!
NOTE: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on SethResler.com.
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