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What is website usability testing

Website usability testing is observing people when they are using your website. You give them tasks (e.g. buy a product, create an account, find a specific piece of information etc.) and observe what they do to achieve it. Testers are expected to share their thoughts and observations with you – what works well, what frustrates them, what is surprising, and alike.

The goal of a usability test is to show you how people assess your website’s usability and what causes problems. Analyzing tests can give you ideas what changes to implement in order to improve the usability.

Often times, watching a usability test is the first time people in the company, including those responsible for the website, see how other people use the website and what they think about it. Even a simple and not 100% professional usability test conducted on your own can open eyes of managers and marketers to problems completely overlooked, like ambiguous navigation or confusing calls to action. Those elements are often considered as given – everyone at the company got used to them and can’t see problems that are obvious to people who visit the website for the first time.

Sometimes, simple fixes inspired by observing a test can dramatically improve website usability and lead to higher conversion rates and user experience.

The problem is that a real usability survey requires at least a bit of know-how (how to set the right goals, how to encourage testers to share their thoughts, how to analyze results etc.) and some infrastructure (cameras, screen-sharing software, ideally a meeting room with a big screen and speakers to accommodate staff interested in watching the test etc.). Also, you need to find a tester that matches your target group (can be difficult if you’re targeting a highly specific audience or create a website for a foreign market).

For details of how usability survey should be run, take a look at Kroog’s bestseller ‘Don’t make me think’. They are not so difficult to arrange, but complicated enough to detract most of the possible users from running them. How can we make it easier?

Remote usability tests

As mentioned, running usability tests can be too complicated, especially for small companies with no dedicated usability professional. But luckily, now anyone can run remote usability tests with digital tools like usertesting.com. Remote tests provide you with similar informational value to real-life tests but require no effort to get. How do they work?

Vendors like Usertesting provide you with recordings of people using your website. They browse according to a given scenario and share their thoughts aloud. To get a remote test, just choose one of the providers, upload your website, choose a target group, give scenario and pay. Vendor handles all the rest, you just wait for a recording. Sounds simpler than real-life test, doesn’t it?

Tip: you can get 3 short and simple usability tests for free using Peek by Usertesting. Highly recommended for anyone working on a website design.

Alternatives to remote usability tests

Remote usability tests are a great alternative to real-life ones – they are way cheaper and you can get them with a few clicks. But they hold some drawbacks and limitations, including:

  • people doing them are not your actual users so their behavior and attitude might be different
  • testers might do their best to provide you with lots of ideas for improvements, i.e. they can overemphasize issues that aren’t really problematic
  • even though much cheaper than real life tests, each remote tests costs between $50-$100. If you want to run tests on each step of designing or redesigning a website or mobile app, it’s going to cost you a lot.

That’s why you can be interested in alternatives to remote tests. The best one is using session recordings and website surveys. Using this pair, you’ll see what is happening on the website, where people get stuck, and get their valuable feedback – what causes them problems, why they are leaving, etc. For the price of one or two remote usability tests, you can observe thousands of sessions and collect hundreds of answers.

Keep in mind one thing: if you want to test the usability of a mockup session recordings and website surveys won’t do their job – you need visitors to collect their feedback.

Next steps

To get started with usability tests, use Peek by Usertesting and get 3 simple tests. If they provide you with interesting insights (I bet they will) then order some remote tests or start using website surveys and session recordings. Using collected insights will lead you improving website usability, which translates into higher conversion rates and sales.