People talk all the time about the need to be a data-driven company and to use scientific decision-making at work.
This is why so many companies conduct website tests like A/B and multivariate (MVT) tests. However, these are by no means the only testing methods available to marketers and UX designers. These tests tend to rely on large data sets to work correctly, and not everyone has those.
We also know that having data in and of itself is not enough. Knowing what to do with that data is the true superpower.
The rise of big data and the burgeoning field of data science has lots of companies excited about the opportunities these new insights will create.
But if you’re a startup or a smaller company who lacks access to large swaths of user data, or who struggles to make sense of the data you have, it might make more sense to pay people to test your website at first.
So how do you know when this might be a good option, and whether you should pay someone to test your website for you?
Enter Usability Testing
Companies aren’t just paying random people to poke around on their website for an hour and then rate their experience from one to five—they’re conducting usability testing.
Usability testing measures how easy it is to use a product or tool.
In this case, the product is your website, and you aim to improve its user experience (UX). You do this by gathering feedback from a group of people who have used your website and making changes accordingly.
Feedback can be gathered by observing behavior (using reports like heatmaps, watching recordings of users in action, asking questions directly) or, by taking a more explicit and direct route. Typically, a balance of both are ideal. But we don’t always have time for ideal.
What To Look For With Usability Testing
Usability tests vary by the method you choose (more on that in a minute), but most usability tests look to see:
- How quickly users learn how to use the website
- How memorable the website is
- How efficient process flows are
- How many errors users make trying to figure out how to perform certain functions
The Importance Of UX
Improving your UX will improve your bottom line.
Usability testing is a shortcut to that improvement. Usability testing is one way to start paying attention to the people visiting your digital experiences, so you can make the most of every visit.
Have you ever used a website that was frustrating to navigate or poorly organized?
You probably didn’t stick around on it for very long before finding a similar website that was much easier to use.
Better UX means a lower abandonment rate, which in turn leads to more pageviews, more time spent on page, and ultimately, more money.
But apart from the obvious business benefits of an easy-to-use website, good UX puts your customers first and empathizes with their needs.
No one likes being frustrated, so why wouldn’t you go to great lengths to ensure your customers have the best possible experience on your website?
Methods Of Usability Testing
You have a lot of options at your disposal when it comes to deciding how you will conduct usability testing. Below are a few different methods you can use to test the quality of your site’s UX.
With this method of usability testing, everyday people with no extraordinary technical knowledge of how websites work are brought into a lab to use a website while a trained observer notes their actions, frustrations, and difficulties with using the site.
This method can be expensive and time-consuming, as only a handful of test observers are usually present at any given time.
Hallway testing is an effective method, but it has gone down a bit in popularity.
In remote tests, test takers either join a video conference with a test observer who asks them to perform certain tasks or functions on the website, or test takers complete the test on their own time based on instructions from the company.
For tests completed without a test observer, companies usually require test takers to record their screens and to narrate their reactions to the website stream-of-consciousness style. Some companies also have participants answer a few questions at the end.
This method might be the most popular way to conduct usability testing today.
Paper Prototype Testing
Paper prototype testing gives test takers physical, paper prototypes of the website to test instead of the actual website.
These prototypes usually consist of printed or hand-drawn, cut-out pieces that test takers move around to simulate working with the real website.
As the name implies, this method of testing is most common for websites in their early design stages, but UX designers use paper prototypes throughout the design process.
Questionnaires And Interviews
While this method probably can’t replace observing someone actually taking a test, some companies still do conduct interviews and send questionnaires to learn more about how they can improve UX.
Interviews are more flexible and allow for exploring certain topics as they come up in conversation. However, questionnaires are rigid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you want highly structured data.
When To Pay For Usability Testing
Usability testing is effective when you have people to take your tests, but you’ll be hard-pressed to get anyone to take your tests without paying them.
So how do you know when it’s actually worth the investment?
Traffic And Timeline
Most companies that conduct usability testing do so when they don’t get a lot of organic traffic to their website or to the specific page or pages they want to test.
This is because other methods such as A/B, multivariate, and multi-page funnel testing require a lot of traffic to show statistically significant results.
All three of these tests can also take a long time. Instead of waiting weeks or even months to see meaningful test results, usability testing can deliver results in as little as a few hours to a few days.
Usability testing is an improvement over traditional A/B testing, especially if you’re trying to scale a website or web page in a very short amount of time.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use other kinds of testing—you just shouldn’t use them when they won’t work.
If there’s a page on your website that gets thousands of organic, unique page views every month and you want to see what aspects of the page people interact with the most, heatmaps and session recordings are probably the most cost-effective options.
But if you want to add a brand new page to your website that currently gets no traffic, go with usability testing.
Another important consideration is budget. Usability tests aren’t free, but neither are A/B or MVT tests. With usability testing, you pay by the response, whereas you usually pay a monthly fee to run A/B tests.
But usability testing can be more expensive than A/B testing if your site gets decent traffic volume.
Depending on your needs, it might be more cost-effective to get multiple A/B tests for a consistent monthly price than to pay a variable price for each usability test you want to conduct.
Conversely, if you don’t currently get enough traffic to conduct A/B tests, you’ll need to run ads to drive traffic to your site to make testing effective. This can quickly add up, so a lot of companies opt for usability testing, especially if they’re essentially starting from scratch, traffic-wise.
Where To Find Test Takers
Use A Testing Company
You can scout out people to test your website by yourself, but this is a time-consuming and tedious process. Instead, it’s a good idea to go with the experts.
Do your homework, and make sure that the service provider you go with is right for your testing needs.
If you’re on a budget, it might make more sense to take a DIY approach.
This does not mean you need to scour the web to find willing test-takers. Instead, roll up your sleeves and practice your PR skills. Websites such as The Work at Home Woman, Work at Home Adventures, and MoneyPantry frequently write about websites that pay people to test out their websites.
Send a short email request to be added to their lists, and at least a handful of people will probably raise their hand to test your site for a fee.
Don’t forget about social media, either.
Like-minded individuals who are genuinely interested in what you have to say are very active in Facebook groups and subreddits.
For example, people seeking long-term employment join subreddits like r/WorkOnline, but people seeking quick and easy ways to make a buck might join a subreddit like r/Beermoney.
The important thing here is to find groups and subreddits that post similar opportunities, and to always read the posting guidelines before sharing anything.
What To Do With The Results
Once tests are done, go back through your results to identify similar responses and trends.
If you received 100 responses and a couple of people complained about a certain font color, it’s probably not worth changing. But if 30 of those 100 people said product image sizes are too big, you should consider making them smaller.
How you choose to identify trends is up to you, but many companies offer analytics, annotation, and tagging features for remote testing results.
These features are particularly helpful if you have a lot of responses to sort through, as you can usually filter through your notes later.
Once you make your changes, consider testing again to identify further areas for improvement.
Don’t Commit Yourself To Only One Testing Method
Usability testing is a great way to get high-quality quantitative and qualitative data about your UX, but it’s neither the only testing method available to you or the only method you should use.
Visual reporting, A/B testing, and multivariate (MVT) testing are also highly effective ways to gain insights into how you can improve your UX. Multi-page funnel testing might be a viable option if you have the web traffic to support it.
Don’t stop conducting usability testing when your web traffic improves.
Usability testing is popular among startup companies, but remember that industry behemoths like Google and Virgin also use this method to learn lessons that other testing methods can’t easily teach.
UX is complicated, so prudent designers and marketers should make every effort to examine it from as many angles as possible.