Usability Testing Your Website

These days, it seems as if everyone has their own website. Even school-age children can make a webpage with the help of software programs that write the code for them. However, if you have a business or organization and you want to make sure that your webpage is professional and easy to use, you need to go one step further and usability test your webpage.

About Usability Testing

Usability testing is the process of having real users test a document or webpage by working through real-life tasks or situations. For example, a usability test might ask users to find a specific product and check out on an e-commerce webpage. Although the users are attempting to complete the task, their skills are not the subject of the test. Instead, the clarity of the instructions and the setup of the webpage are the subjects of the test. If more than one user cannot complete a specific task during the test, such as finding a specific product, the tester assumes that the search or navigation function of the webpage is unclear. The authors of the webpage can then take that information and revise their webpage to make it easier to use.

Benefits of Usability Testing

Usability testing has numerous benefits for the creator of the webpage. The web designer often accidentally introduces errors or problems with the webpage without realizing it. For example, she might use an icon of a dollar sign to signify the checkout function, but the users of the webpage may find this icon confusing. Usability testing reveals problems like these before the webpage goes live, which allows the web designer to fix the error before it causes problems for real-life users.

Hiring a Usability Consultant

The best option for conducting your usability test is to hire a consultant who conducts these tests for a living. These consultants are skilled in interviewing participants as well as designing a usability test that will lead users through actual tasks. More importantly, a usability consultant can conduct the test in an unbiased manner and report the results objectively. An unbiased test will reveal the important issues that need to be changed on the webpage.

To find a usability consultant, call your local university or college. Many English or psychology departments have a usability program or lab and they may even test your webpage free of charge. If your local university can't help you, a quick web search will reveal the names of dozens of reputable usability consultants that will test your site for a fee. Ask for references and examples of the usability reports that they produce before you agree to hire any consultant for the project.

Conducting Your Own Usability Test

Although having a trained expert conduct the usability test is better, if you can't afford the help of a professional, you can conduct some informal usability tests of your own. To start, write down a list of essential tasks that users should be able to complete when they use your webpage. For example, if your website is for a bookstore, you might ask users to find a particular book, complete a purchase, find the hours of operation, and locate the directions to the store.

Then, ask five or more people who represent real users of the webpage to complete the tasks. Do not interrupt them or help them with the tasks. Instead, observe them as they work and make notes of any areas where they had problems. This will give you an idea of which areas need revision.

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