In radio, we conduct all sorts of research: call-out research, library tests, perceptual studies, etc. Yet too few of us regularly test our websites to see how listeners are interacting with them.
I am a big proponent of running Website Usability Tests — tests designed to see how real people interact with your website. When I conduct these tests on radio station websites, I follow the methodology described by Steve Krug in his book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. I find three people on Craigslist who are willing to give up an hour of their time for $40 apiece. I prefer to use people who are not in the same market as the radio station that runs the website we are testing. That's because I want our testers to give us feedback based solely on the website itself, not on any other information they may have gleaned from listening to the radio.
I sit each person in front of a computer with the radio station website on it. I ask them to perform a series of tasks and to think out loud as they do them. I am looking for tasks that they have trouble completing. This tells me that we need to tweak some things to make the site easier to use. But before I start doling out tasks, I will ask them a few general questions. Here are those questions, along with the answers I hope to hear:
1. “What does the organization that runs this website do?”
In my recruitment for these tests, I am very careful never to give any hint as to what the website might be about. I never tell people that I am testing a “radio station's website,” just a “client's website.” That's because I know that I am purposely asking a very broad question to open the test. Of course, the answer we're looking for here is, “It's a radio station.” You'd be surprised how long it sometimes takes people to figure out that they're looking at a radio station website. I once had a tester take 10 minutes to figure it out!
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Of course, some stations have signals on their site that makes it more obvious: If the station logo features a frequency followed by “AM” or “FM,” testers tend to figure it out pretty quickly. On the other hand, stations with generic names like “Arrow,” “Mix,” or “Hawk” don't usually fare as well.
2. “What city is this radio station in?”
My best guess is that 90% of all radio station website fail this question. On the air, we don't need to identify our location consistently because everybody who can hear us is in the same place. On the web, however, that's not the case. People can visit us from across the world. As broadcasters, we often neglect to tell people where we are on our website, but it's not safe to assume that people know.
3. “If you tuned into this radio station, what would you expect to hear?”
Ideally, the testers will identify the musical genres a station plays or its format. (Testers are more likely to answer with the name of some formats than others; they might say, “Top 40,” but they're unlikely to respond with “Triple A.”) Hopefully, you've placed a musical positioning statement right beneath your station's logo that tells people what type of music your station plays. Again, some positioning statements are going to be clearer than others: “Today's Hot Country,” “Hip Hop and R&B,” and “Classic Rock” conjure up a more specific music selection in the minds of testers than a vague phrase like, “A Wider Variety.” That's why I usually follow up this question by asking…
4. “Which artists would you expect to hear if you tuned in to this station?”
We're hoping that the testers are able to namecheck your biggest artists in response to this question: “Kanye West, Beyonce, and Rihanna,” or “Green Day, Sublime, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” The best way to ensure that you get this type of answer is to have artwork that features these artists on the homepage. This could be labeled photos of bands, a collection of logos, or a collage of album covers.
Unfortunately, too often, radio station homepages are dominated by a rotating slideshow. This slideshow usually doesn't showcase the station's core artists. Instead, it might feature a Dunkin' Donuts promotion or whatever C-level band is playing the 300-seat club in town this weekend. Rotating slideshows detract from the message you want to send with your homepage, which is why I recommend removing it and replacing it with a static image featuring core artists.
If you're reluctant to remove the slideshow, I have seen some radio stations successfully include the images of core artists in the website's header.
After that, I'll ask the testers to perform specific tasks. Here's a full sample list of questions. I'll also spend time examining the verbiage in main navigation, which often reveals these common mistakes. Based on what I learn from this usability test, we'll implement changes that can improve the user experience. I recommend running a website usability test at least twice a year, before the launch of a new website, or when adding a page for a key component of the station, such as a new morning show or an annual concert event.
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