Think Website Usability Testing is Costly? Try Not Doing It

Website Usability

Website usability testing is sometimes regarded as “too difficult” or “too expensive.” But the costs of a poor user experience could be much higher than investing in usability testing in the first place. Here are three ways to test effectively and affordably.

Usability testing is a technique in which selected users are asked to test-drive a new website design. Websites, as you likely know, can be expensive to create or redesign. And depending on the client or project, the process can take a long time. When significant amounts of money and time are involved, it’s critical that you don’t end up with a flaw that ultimately leaves users fleeing out of frustration. Simply put, usability testing helps you make sure that your new design won’t turn out to be an expensive mistake. And the approach you choose doesn't need to be overly complex or costly.

Here are three well-established testing techniques that can produce valuable user experience insights and help you deliver the best possible website to your target audience:

Paper Prototypes

Paper prototyping is one of the least expensive, easiest and fastest website usability testing methods. It lets you create a nonfunctional, printed version of a website, which can include drawings on paper or printable wireframes in a tool such as Balsamiq or Photoshop. After investing minimal time creating your prototype, you use it purely to try out ideas.

You present your paper prototypes to people who represent your user base and ask them exactly how they would engage with the sample screens to accomplish specific tasks. For example, where would they click on the home page to log in? In this way, you can catch problems early and correct course.

A/B Testing

When you want to choose the best alternative among two or more different website designs, A/B testing can really help. This approach presents multiple designs to real users (each user gets one design to use), giving you an opportunity to measure any number of things. Some examples:

  • Measure the time the user takes to complete specific tasks.
  • Click-trail analysis to see if users can find the information they are looking for on the first attempt or if they need to try multiple approaches to locate what they need.
  • Completion success rates and abandonment rates to learn if customers are giving up before they finish the tasks.

This technique works best when you have narrowed your designs to just a few, which have successfully gone through other usability tests. A potential downside to A/B testing is that it requires you to take some big steps. You must actually implement your proposed designs, find a way to measure the impact of the changes and gather enough usage data for the numbers to show a statistically meaningful improvement.

Listening Labs

Whether you're testing a new product or upgrading an existing website, listening labs are a great way to analyze what is working and what needs improvement. You start by presenting users with your website and giving them a list of tasks to perform. The key is that you ask users to narrate what they’re doing, including their thoughts as they work.

During these “think aloud” sessions with users, it’s ideal to also record the screens they’re using and maybe even use video to see their facial reactions and body language. The instructions should be open ended (“find a product,” rather than “enter the product name at the top of the screen and click the Search button”). Listening labs are so powerful that doing just a few can produce useful results.

One of the challenges of creating a website is that designers and developers can get caught up in their own preferences, opinions and feelings. A listening lab can help bring it all back to the needs of the end user.

Given today’s short attention spans, the website you’re designing needs to quickly draw in visitors. As noted in The Creative Group’s recently released Guide to Digital Marketing Strategies & Staffing white paper, the website remains the core platform — the hub — around which most businesses build their digital presence. As such, websites need to be aesthetically pleasing and intuitive. So, make usability testing a top priority. Putting in the effort to uncover potential problems now will save you a ton of trouble later.

User experience is hot. If you’re looking to transition into a UX role, check out our post, 6 Interview Tips for Aspiring User Experience Designers.