One of the most useful tests that radio stations can run to improve their digital strategies is a website usability test. A website usability test can show you how real listeners interact with your station's site. It will show you what people think of the site, which tasks they can easily perform on the site, and which tasks give them problems. Every time I conduct a usability test, I walk away with a list of changes — some big, some small — that will improve the website.
To conduct a website usability test, I recruit three people through a Craigslist ad. These people to not need to fit any particular demographic; they simply need to know how to use a computer. In fact, I prefer to use people from outside of the radio station's market to ensure that the testers' actions are influenced only by the website in front of them, not by any information from the radio that they may bring into the room with them.
We pay these people a small amount of money for an hour of their time. One by one, we bring them in, sit them in front of a computer, and ask them to think out loud as the perform various tasks. For example, we may say, “You want to know more about the afternoon DJ. What can you tell me about her?” Then we watch to see what the tester does. If they can accomplish the task easily, we know we're in good shape. If not, we know we need to tweak the site.
The basic process of running a usability test comes from Steve Krug's fantastically useful book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. I taught myself how to perform usability tests using this book, and I frequently recommend it — along with Don't Make Me Think, Krug's book about website design — to other people.
Of course, as with so many other things, the way we run these tests for radio stations has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of inviting the testers to join us in person, we now conduct them over Zoom. I'll admit, when the pandemic first started, I was not sure how well these tests would work over Zoom. As it turns out, my apprehension was completely unfounded; they work just fine over Zoom. Sure, there are some minor adjustments that need to be made, but overall, the insight I've gained by conducting virtual website usability tests has been every bit as useful as the insight I've gained from the in-person tests. At this point, I don't know that I will go back to in-person tests when the pandemic passes; it's just more convenient to run these tests over Zoom.
If you've never conducted a usability test on your radio station's website, the holidays, when things typically slow down for radio, are the perfect time. In fact, I recommend running usability tests a couple of times a year, and always before making any major website changes or launching any important online initiative. The tests are inexpensive to run, so they won't break the bank during these lean times. And they're sure to provide lots of actionable insights.
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