Usability Testing: 3 Ways to Take Your Product’s Pulse

Your company has just released a new website. After months of development and hard work, the team has made the perfect final version and finally roled it out into the beta stage, with real people are using the site. But there seems to be a disconnect. The traffic is there, but you just aren’t generating as many conversions as you originally expected to. So what gives?

It’s hard to tell what elements work effectively and which ones slow users down. Your team members can’t make a good judgment either, as you’ve all played a part in putting the product together and won’t look at it the same way a stranger would. What to do? The answer lies in usability testing.

Remember, usable does not mean functional. Just because you’ve designed something and it works does not mean that the user will figure out how to use it.

Many have the perception that usability testing is outdated, costs to much money to run, and takes up too much precious time. Dana Chisnell, the writer of an entire blog dedicated to the subject puts it best when she says, “Conducting dry runs, practice sessions, pilots, and rehearsals — call them whatever works in your team — gives you the superpower of confidence. That confidence gives you focus and relaxation in the session so you can open your mind and perception to what is happening with the user rather than focusing on managing the session.”

While the concept is simple, to have consumers interact with the product and track their usage to see where they fall out along the way, there are so many tools available that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Joe Ayotte came to the rescue on Monday night in his class on the same subject. Joe showed us the ropes of the usability testing universe, provided some great tips and tricks, and proved that it actually doesn’t cost as much (if any!) money as one would think. He broke the process down into three simple areas.

Feedback from Users

Perhaps the cheapest and easiest way to go about usability testing is to gather qualitative data through feedback from people who have used your product. It can be as simple as emailing a user and asking what worked for them and what didn’t? Why didn’t they complete their transaction? Other options include in-person observation while the user plays around on the site, noting where they stuck. Answers to these questions can provide valuable insights into the users’ minds.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. There is a host of tools available that can automate the process for you, like

  • Userlytics – Watch and listen to participants, from all over the world, as they conduct tasks, answer questions, react to stimuli and interact with your prototype or production assets.
  • – Similar to Userlytics, you can watch videos of participants using the site, receive written answers to questionnaires, and interact with users after the test to ask follow-up questions.
  • OpenHallway – Create scenarios for participants and receive visual feedback directly from the participant.

A/B Testing

In addition to qualitative data, you’ll probably want some hard quantitative data to go along with it. A great process to gather quantitative data can be found in A/B testing. As Eric Hansen told in a recent interview, “A/B testing is probably one of the most graspable and effective ways to apply “the scientific method” towards improving your web site. Usually it comes down to presenting multiple versions of your site (or an individual element on a site, like an image or a promotion) to end users, and then measuring behavior against some business goals such as conversion rate. I often compare A/B testing to a clinical trial, only instead of doctors, patients and drug treatments, it’s marketers, end users and site variations. A/B testing is easy to understand, and done correctly, can provide a really compelling way to iteratively improve your web site over time.”

Tools like Optimizely, A/Bingo, which is open source, and even Eric’s own SiteSpect> make great options to A/B test your site.

Website Analytics

Analytics tools provide another way to gather quantitative data. There is a smorgasbord of services out there that measure the fine details of how your customers interact with your website, including

  • ClickTale – Track users’ interaction with your site. They provide heatmaps to measure mouse movements and clicks, in addition to conversion funnels and form analytics.
  • Usabilla – Measure participants emotions, couple them with data trends, and find new ways to make improvements to your site.
  • Loop11 – Gather insight into usage stats through clickstream analyses, heatmaps, and video playback.

With a full set of these tools at your disposal, you’ll soon be able to optimize your site and finally convert those users. For more great lessons, check out the blog, or visit our class page.

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