Does your Website work effectively for your Visitors and Customers?
Website usability continues to grow in importance for businesses of all sizes. While large businesses can afford to hire usability engineers or bring in outside usability testing resources these options are outside the budget structure of most (all) small businesses.
Yet the impact of website visitors having a positive website user experience is a growing factor in visitor engagement, repeat visits and sales conversions. What can a small business owner with a very small budget do to improve their business website usability?
While large scale, professional usability testing may be out of reach for the small business, there are a number of effective, basic, low cost options available to answer the question, “How do I know if my website is usable for my visitors?” A good starting point for answers is to ask people that are using your website.
“How do I know if my website visitors find the site easy to use?”
Task-Based Usability Testing
Here are several easy steps to gather valuable insights on the ease-of-use (usability) of your company’s website.
1. Define Tasks
Start by identifying 6-10 tasks that could be important for your visitors to complete. This could be something as direct as “Locate information of Product X” or “Find information about how to contact the company by phone.” Other tasks could include, “”Locate the shipping rates for Product Y”, “Sign up for the mailing list”, “Use the website search to locate information on Product/Service X”, “View company videos”, or “Like/Follow the company on Facebook or Twitter.”
For businesses that have direct online sales pertinent tasks could include questions such as, “Set up an account to make a purchase”, “Start from the Home Page and go through the purchase process for Product/Service Z”, “Locate where you could get pre-sales information on Product/Service X”, “Locate where you can get tech support”.
2. Identify Users for Testing
Ask 5 – 7 people to participate, one at a time, preferably in a quiet environment where they can focus on the testing tasks. Ask each one to execute the tasks that have been defined. Have each user complete each task one at a time while you sit and observe. After each task is completed go back to the Home Page as a starting point for the next task.
Important: Before starting the testing explain how the testing will work and that you cannot answer questions or provide any guidance during the completion of the tasks. All questions will need to wait until all tasks are completed. If a user cannot complete a task in a reasonable amount of time, skip the task and move on to the next one.
It is important that you do not say anything while the user is completing the tasks. For the most effective assessment, the user must figure things out on their own. Much like they would do if they were sitting in front of a computer at work or at home. Be sure to take notes while users are working on each task. You can also time the completion of each task.
3. Was The Usability Testing A Positive Experience for You?
After all tasks have been completed, and before the user asks any questions, you should ask them: “What about the website was good or worked well and what was not-so-good or did not work well?” By doing this before the users asks any questions you are more likely to get their gut level feelings of the website and of the testing process before they have any of their own questions answered.
4. How to Make It Better?
As a closing discussion you can ask the user (if they haven’t already offered their input), “What would make using this website better?” Some users may just offer feedback like; “I think it works well,” but others may provide significant details and opinions. If you run test with 7 users and 5 of them identify the same area(s) for improvement you could be on to a real opportunity to improve the user experience and potentially increase sales.
5. Tablets & Smartphones – Testing the Mobile World
If you want to take this testing to the next level run these same tests with users on a Smartphone and then on a tablet. It would be best to use the same set of tasks on all forms of hardware but mobile platforms may require some modification of tasks. For websites where mobile traffic is a very small percentage of traffic this may not be a high priority. However, if 35% of your visitors are coming from mobile devices, do you really want to ignore them?
“If 35% of your visitors are coming from mobile devices, do you really want to ignore them?”
Other Usability Testing Thoughts:
A. Selecting Users: try to get a cross section of people for testing. Getting people who most effectively match the type of people who visit your site will likely provide the most useful feedback and data. It is also good to get users who are not familiar with the site or have never visited the site before so that their results are not impacted by prior experience with the site.
B. Why Not? This is pretty simple, why doesn’t every business do this? Well, one answer is that if the results indicate elements or functionality on the website are causing problems and need to be changed it could mean more work/cost. Reminds me of the old saying, “”If you don’t want to know the answer, then don’t ask the question.”
Another reason companies avoid this type of testing is that sometimes people who have a stake in the website (designers, developers, Boss) don’t like criticism. The danger here is that doing nothing or ignoring a known problem can be quite costly in the long term.
C. Selecting Tasks: There is no one specific set of tasks to test for usability testing. The features, functions, scope, design, and products and services sold can vary widely from business to business. One thing that will be consistent is the opportunity to observe where users get stuck, what aspects of the site may be problematic or unclear, and whether users express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their ability to complete the tasks they are asked to do.
Lots More Can Be Done to Improve Website Usability
There is much more to small business website usability testing than this simple process. However, if you are a small business and are not currently doing any website usability testing this would be a great place to start.
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