Usability tests are important research tools to help business owners, website developers, and other communication professionals better understand how people interact with their organization’s website. While the term “usability test” can be used for any type of product or communication, it is most often referenced in terms of testing a website. Use usability tests to determine how well your navigation works, how well people interact with your content, and how well people are able to perform and accomplish tasks.
Click on the diagram below to learn the seven steps for conducting an effective usability test.
How to Conduct Usability Tests
- Recruit Participants
While it is ideal to find people who fall under your company’s target market, you can do a usability test with anyone that is familiar with your industry.
Find several people (you can do as many as you feel will give you good insight, but often 6 – 12 people will suffice) who are willing to do the test with you. Be sure to let them know the time it will take to complete the test (tests are best if kept to 30 minutes or less). Have participants fill out a form that provides important demographic information for you. Ask permission to record session.
- Establish Recording Method
Usability tests can be recorded in one of three ways: by video-recording the session; by taking copious notes; or by using usability tracking software. Regardless of your method, it is important that you record, in detail, the actions and responses of your participants. While note taking is obviously the easiest method, it can be difficult to capture everything that a user does or says while using a website.
- Explain Test to Participants
Once you are ready to administer the test, sit down with each participant individually. Your job is to help them feel comfortable. Some of the things you may explain to them include:
1. Why this test is being done;
2. That the website is being tested, not them;
3. That they will need to say out loud what they are thinking during the test;
4. That they won’t hurt your feelings;
5. That they can ask questions, but let them know that you may not be able to answer them immediately;
6. That they can have a break if they want it.
- Being Test with General Questions
Mostly as an exercise to get your participants comfortable, begin by asking them simple, generic questions—their hobbies, occupation, favorite websites, etc. Ask them about their knowledge of the industry and how often they frequent websites or companies related to yours. Ask them what they tend to like or dislike on websites in the same industry as yours. Remind users that they will need to talk out loud during the test, saying what they are thinking as they click on things.
- Conduct a Homepage Tour (think aloud)
Ask users to review the homepage, but ask them NOT to click on anything. Ask non-leading questions, such as the following:
“Based on what you see, can you tell me what you think our company does?”
“What are your first impressions?”
“Are there things you like or don’t like about the home page?”
- Give Tasks (think aloud)
Develop 3 – 5 tasks for your users to accomplish that will help you learn important insights about users’ experiences with the website. Consider creating both open tasks (“what’s something you would like to know on this site and can you find it?”) and closed, specific tasks (“imagine you are buying a home and you want to know the process for applying for a loan; can you tell me what the process is, based on what you find?”) Remind users at every step to talk out loud and take notes, especially when then seem confused or frustrated.
- Evaluate Notes & Make Revisions
Review notes from several usability tests, looking for patterns or repeat behaviors from participants. Pay special attention to moments when users seemed frustrated or confused or when they say things like “I wish they had…” or “I’m not sure what that means,” or “that’s not what I expected.” After carefully analyzing trends, look for the simplest ways to fix your website (most issues can be fixed with simple adjustments.) Re-test the site to see if the revisions were an improvement.