Usability Testing is Crucial to Retaining Website Visitors

By Heidi Trost, HT Design Studio

Have you ever left a website because it was frustrating to use? Have you ever abandoned a purchase because the user experience was so bad? Of course you have, and so will your customers if your website or product is not user-friendly. You’re lucky if potential customers are on your site in the first place—don’t lose them for good because they can’t figure out how to use your site.

The website you built isn’t for you

Chances are you’ve looked at the metrics of your site already. Quantitative studies (analytics, A/B testing) show what website visitors are doing, but not why they are doing it or, more importantly, what their thought process is behind what they are doing. That’s why usability tests are so critical: they give you a look inside the brains of the people visiting your site. And guess what? Their thought process, preconceptions, and world view are different from yours. And you are building this product for your users, right?

What is a usability study?

A usability study can be a quantitative measurement (the user successfully completed the task or the user performed the task in X minutes) or it can be a qualitative measurement (the user experienced frustration or confusion performing the task). The number of usability study participants who can successfully complete a task is critical, but you’re also really interested in their thought process along the way. The user may eventually complete the task but he/she took many missteps and ended up getting really frustrated as a result. Usability tests are conducted in order to ensure you don’t lose a sales opportunity because website visitors can’t perform tasks on your site. Making your site easier to use translates into increased conversions.

Traditional usability tests aren’t the only types of research you can conduct that will inform your product. Instead of creating tasks for participants, you may decide to interview specific types of users to see how they complete tasks on their own. For example, an education technology company would interview teachers to see how they create, edit, and keep track of assignments—which may or may not align with how tasks are carried out on your web app. Asking these types of questions can help you decide if the sequence of steps required to carry out a specific task are consistent with how a user manages that task in the real world. Conduct field studies to understand the environment in which your user completes a task. Maybe your target user prefers to use a tablet and doesn’t use her old desktop computer anymore or maybe the companies you’re targeting have outdated PCs using an old version of Internet Explorer, causing your web app to work improperly. Performing research outside of traditional task-based usability tests will help to inform your product design and prevent costly mistakes.

Finding solutions to usability issues

Sometimes it takes a little thoughtful analysis to really get to the meat of the problem. Sometimes the inability to complete a task will stem from a much larger problem or misunderstanding. I once watched my mother type in the name of her bank into Google. She had no idea that the bank had a URL that she could easily type into the address bar or that she could bookmark the site for easier access. It’s also possible that you’ve recruited participants that are just too far removed from your target audience and they are skewing the results.

The hardest part of conducting a usability study is consolidating the findings and figuring out how to address the most pressing issues. Some usability problems can be fixed with a simple wording change and others require in-depth rethinking on how a user completes the task. Remember, usability testing is conducted to help you solve problems before they become full-fledged user experience disasters. Committing to periodic usability testing (coupled with documentation from other user research) will ensure you spend your design and development resources wisely.

HT Design Studio helps companies create tasks and scenarios, recruit qualified participants, and conduct usability tests. They also conduct other research including field studies, user interviews, competitor audits, and content reviews. Ready to start research to improve your website? Contact them today.