If you run a small business (or know someone who does), you know how important your website is. In a digital age, your customers are far more likely to look for information online than they are by calling and, depending on the product or service you provide, possibly even visiting in person.
So what does that mean? It means your business is on display 24/7 and people you may want to do business with are judging your company in large part by what they see on your website. That’s a scary thought, especially if you haven’t updated your website in a while or you don’t feel like you have the money or resources to build a professionally-designed website.
So how do you know if your website is meeting your customer’s needs? A usability test is a great way to find out if customers love your site, hate it, or just plain don’t know what to do with it. A usability test can also surface quirky problems, like when customers can’t find a product you offer, or when they get really confused about something you never noticed before.
The good news is you don’t need to hire a professional consulting firm to evaluate your website. Oh, sure, you can hire people to do it for you, but you can do a lot yourself in house. Here are my five quick tricks for conducting your own usability test.
#1: Find 5 – 10 Participants
As crazy as it sounds, having only five people test your website will provide you with plenty of information about it. In an ideal world, it would be nice if you could find people who are potential customers for your business. If you know your specific demographic and you can find five people in that target market that are willing to test your site, awesome. But don’t worry if you can’t. Finding five people that have never used your company’s website, despite who they are or what they do for work, is the most important thing. Once you find your participants, tell each of them you need an hour of their time (but you really probably only need 30 – 40 minutes each). If you’ve got incentives (like a small cash gift), that might help keep their interest.
#2: Welcome and Introduce Participants to the Test
Find a quiet room with a computer in a place where participants can feel comfortable. Before you conduct the test, you’ll need to tell your participant several things:
-You are testing the website, not the participant; participants need to know that it isn’t their fault if they can’t find something and they shouldn’t feel dumb
-You are trying to learn about the website’s problems and so the participant can be open and candid; the participant needs to know that they can’t hurt your feelings
-You will be taking notes (or recording them, with their permission)
-The participant will need to “think out loud”; this means that participants will need to talk as they use the website
-The participant may ask questions but you may not be able to answer them right away if it will affect the integrity of the test
-The participant may take a break at any time (they shouldn’t feel trapped or uncomfortable for any reason)
#3: Ask Participants Questions
To get started, you’ll want to get your participant talking. The more they begin talking early, the better they’ll do thinking out loud when you give them tasks to do. Ask a few generic questions to break the ice (like what they do for work, what their hobbies are, etc.) Then, ask a few simple, but internet-specific, questions (like how much they use the internet, what sites they use, and what they like and don’t like to see on websites).
#4: Have Participants Review the Homepage
Until this point, your participants should not have seen your website. Open it up for them and ask about the participant’s first impressions. Be careful not to prod them into thinking certain things (avoid saying, “what do you think about that yellow button at the top?”) Ask users to look at the site have them tell you if they know what the site is (who runs it? what is the product or service?); what the site does (is it for selling stuff or just providing information?); how big the site is; and what the user can do with it (can they order clothes online, make a hair appointment, request a quote, or design a book?) Ask participants to tell you what they like about the site, what they don’t like, where they feel confused or annoyed, and if they would be likely to use the website and why. Take copious notes (or record them, with their permission).
#5: Give Users 3 – 5 Tasks
Come up with three pressing things that you feel are pertinent to your website’s success. Maybe you want to know if customers can find a book they want to buy. Or, maybe your customers need to know how much a mortgage would cost. Or, perhaps they just need to contact you for some advice. Whatever your site’s purposes are, design three to five tasks that will help you better understand if users can accomplish them with little trouble. For example, on a website for a company that sells small engine parts, you might ask your participant to see if they can find out how much a new blade for their brand of lawnmower would cost. After you give the participant the task, watch their every decision and keep them talking out loud. Again, don’t prod your participant to think a certain way (don’t say, “what if you look over to the left…”) but do encourage them to speak (say things like, “so why did you click on that; or, what did you expect to see when you went there; or, how are you feeling right now?)
After the user has completed your 3 – 5 tasks (make sure these don’t last more than 30 minutes total), ask the user about their overall final impression of the site. Get their recommendations. As you do the usability test with other users, compare and contrast the user experiences and the recommendations. If multiple users have the same problems (click on the same wrong link, or get confused about the same wording in one spot), then you have an idea that that part of the website may need to be fixed.
You might find, at the end of the testing, that your website has several problems (or, if you’re lucky, none at all!) Usually, some problems are far more serious than others (like if customer can’t figure out how to purchase something versus if they just hesitate on which of two buttons to click). Your job at this point is to determine the most serious of the issues. With some luck, you’ll only have a few errors to correct. If there are some fairly serious issues, it may be time for your company to invest in the construction of a new website.