How to Do Usability Testing Right

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User experience is one of the most important aspects of having a successful website, app, piece of software, or any other product that you’ve built. 

You can’t make assumptions about the choices that your designers and developers have made during the building process. Just because the wireframe they used looked good on paper, it doesn’t mean that the end-user will have a seamless experience. 

That’s why you need to conduct usability testing. It’s arguably the most important investment you can make in your website. Investing in UX has an average ROI of 9,990%. 

You could be selling the best products in the world. But if someone can’t land on your website, find what they need, and complete the checkout process with ease, it doesn’t matter. Your site will fail because of poor UX. 

Everyone with a website can benefit from usability testing. Whether you’re building a new site from scratch, making changes to your existing website, or just trying to optimize the user experience, I’ll teach how to do usability testing right in this guide. 

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is a method for evaluating user experience. In most cases, usability tests are designated for websites, mobile apps, and software. 

The terms “usability testing” and “user testing” are often used interchangeably. Although some people find the phrase “user testing” confusing because it sounds as though the participant is being tested, which is not the case; only the interface gets tested—not the users.

No matter how good your UX designer is, there will always be room for improvement. The only way to truly discover how to improve the UX is by running usability tests

How does usability testing work? There are lots of different approaches to running a usability test. We’ll discuss these in greater detail shortly. But generally speaking, here’s how the process works:

A facilitator will administrate a task or set of tasks to one or more participants. As the user goes through the process of completing these tasks, the facilitator will monitor the participant’s behavior. 

The user will also provide feedback about their experience. In many cases, the facilitator will ask some follow up questions as well.

Here’s a very basic example. Let’s say you have an ecommerce website. You could ask a participant to search for a product, add it to their cart, and complete the checkout process.

By monitoring their clicks, mouse movements, and behavior, you can identify potential pain points or flaws in the design. The participant can vocalize any problems they had and voice their feedback as well. 

Often times, usability tests are conducted in-person at a testing facility. To avoid bias, businesses hire third-party firms to conduct the usability tests on their behalf. In many cases, the concept behind a usability test can be compared to a focus group or product testing. 

As you’ll soon discover, you don’t need to undergo such an extensive process to get usability testing done right. There are easier and more cost-effective solutions out there. 

How to Do Usability Testing Right on a Low Budget

If you’re outsourcing usability testing to a professional usability lab, it’s going to be expensive. But that’s not necessary. You can conduct usability tests, even on a meager budget. 

Keeping usability costs low is crucial for generating a high return on your investment. Plus, most websites, startups, and small businesses can’t justify the cost associated with usability testing in a lab. 

Even if you’re running usability tests on a tight budget, there are a few things you need to get right. I’ll explain them in greater detail below. 

A Cheap and Effective Usability Test Process

Regardless of how you conduct your usability test, these are the steps you must take to ensure it’s done correctly:

1. Choose a testing method

There are three main ways to run a usability test—in-person monitored, remote monitored, or remote unmonitored. Both of the remote arrangements will be the most cost-effective, with unmonitored remote being the cheapest. 

Again, if you’re on a tight budget, you should be leaning toward a remote testing method.

2. Determine what to test

Saying, “I’m testing my website” isn’t enough to run an effective usability test. What specifically are you trying to improve?

Common examples of a website usability test include:

  • Site navigation
  • User interactions and workflow
  • Design element interactions
  • Product page behavior
  • Scroll depth
  • Checkout process

Like any experiment, you can’t run a test without knowing what to look for. Make a hypothesis and identify crucial areas of your website that you want to test. 

Once you’ve determined what to test, assign a level of priority to those tests. What’s the most important? What should be tested first? 

3. Designate tasks

Based on what you want to test, you need to have specific tasks for your users to complete. 

For example, let’s say you operate an ecommerce site for sports equipment, and you want to test the checkout process. The task could be something as simple as buy a basketball.

The tasks can be a bit more advanced, depending on the site features that you’re testing. For example, maybe your ecommerce site sells clothing. You can tell a participant to buy something blue

Will the participants use the color filter? Do they use the search bar? Do users filter the products by gender or category? The actions and behavior will give you valuable information about your site’s usability. 

It’s important that the task be relevant and realistic to the user in the test. The task should be somewhat open-ended and apply to anyone’s preferences. 

4. Delegate testing roles 

In addition to the tasks, there are two other critical components of a usability test—facilitators and participants.

The facilitator should be as neutral as possible. That’s why so many businesses outsource the usability tests to third-party labs or facilities.

But that’s not really necessary. You can use a moderator in-house to facilitate the test. Just delegate this role to someone on your team who didn’t have a hands-on role in whatever you’re testing. For example, the designer wouldn’t be a good facilitator because no matter how hard they try, there will always be some bias involved. 

Some usability tests have different roles for a facilitator, moderator, and note taker. But if you’re trying to keep costs low, all of this can be completed by the same person. 

You can use software to record the sessions and worry about taking notes later. 

5. Find participants 

Screening and recruiting is arguably the most difficult part of running a usability test. You shouldn’t be testing any random person. With a usability test, the participants should resemble your actual user base as closely as possible. 

The best way to get an accurate usability test is with actual customers. 

Put the message out to people who are already interested in your brand. Recruit social media followers or reach out to your email subscriber list. 

If your target market is US males between the ages of 30-45, having a 20-year-old female participant in the UK won’t be nearly as beneficial. 

Another school of thought says that you should recruit participants who aren’t familiar with your brand or website. If a tester has been on your website before, their actions might be pre-conditioned to those previous experiences. 

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Personally, I see both sides of the coin. Going after existing customers is the easiest. But reaching out to a competitor’s followers on social media isn’t necessarily difficult. So you can try a mix of both. 

Most people won’t go out of their way to participate in a usability test out of the kindness of their hearts. Be prepared to offer some type of monetary reward, whether it be cash, a gift card, free merchandise, or something along those lines. 

Here’s an example of a simple popup that can entice your website visitors to participate in a usability test. 

Make sure that the offer is fair for what you’re asking. In this case, $50 for 30 minutes definitely fits the bill. But if you were only offering a $10 store credit for an hour of someone’s time, you likely won’t get anyone to take the test seriously. 

To save money, some businesses will use their own employees for a usability test. I do not recommend this.

Even if the employees you’re considering didn’t have anything to do with the website build, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to provide constructive criticism for a co-worker without personal bias coming into play. You’ll be much better off paying participants instead.

6. Run the tests

Once you’ve recruited some participants, it’s time to start testing. Depending on your testing method, the tests could be scheduled, or the user can do it on their own time. 

You’ll need to use some type of software to record and facilitate the test. If you’re not going through a lab, there are plenty of online tools and software that you can use. I’ll talk about one, in particular, that’s extremely useful a bit later in this guide. 

Make sure that the participant has been given a clear set of instructions. 

In addition to recording their behavior and movements on the screen, you can also ask them to talk through their thought process. This type of test would be a bit more complex, which would add to the cost. So some of you might opt to skip that component and just focus on recording the screen behavior. That’s really the most valuable aspect of running the test. 

7. Analyze the results

You’ve collected tons of insightful qualitative data during the testing process. Now it’s time to go through and analyze it.

Start by analyzing each test one at a time. Identify pain points or friction that the user encountered. Where did they get stuck? Why did they get stuck? How long did it take them to figure things out?

Then you can start to compare tests side by side. Did all of the users have the same problems? What similar feedback did you get from every participant?

If you can’t interpret the results, then your tests are essentially useless. 

8. Make changes, rinse, and repeat

Usability testing is an ongoing process. Testing should be viewed as a continuous loop; there is no start and finish. 

It’s not just meant for the initial launch of a website or a redesign. You’ll need to make design changes that improve the UX based on your findings.

But once those changes have been made, you can’t just assume that everything is fixed. Continue running usability tests to see if there has been a noticeable improvement in the user experience. 

Critical Tips for Your Usability Test

Running an efficient usability test is an art. As you’re following the process that I’ve outlined above, keep these usability testing best practices in mind:

  • Use clear and neutral instructions. It’s important that the task or tasks assigned to the participants are not open to interpretation.
  • If you’re testing in-person or viewing the participant on a webcam, keep an eye out for visual cues. For example, a user might not vocally say, “I’m frustrated,” but they could furrow their brow or make another gesture to convey frustration.
  • Have testers use real money. If you’re asking someone to make a purchase on your ecommerce site, have them complete the actual purpose process, using their own credit card. Obviously, you’ll reimburse them, plus compensate them for the time. But using real money is the best way to emulate a real-life scenario. Participants won’t just rush and pick the first product they see; they’ll actually shop around.
  • Keep an even tone. Assuming the moderator and participant are having a two-way communication in real-time, the moderator shouldn’t agree or disagree without the user’s comments. 
  • Remain silent as much as possible. The best usability tests mirror real-world scenarios. In real life, a website visitor wouldn’t be fielding questions about their experience during a session. That’s why tests that just record user behavior are so beneficial. 
  • Don’t spend a fortune. While usability testing is definitely worth some investment, you shouldn’t blow your entire marketing budget on these tests. There are plenty of cost-effective solutions that deliver real value. You don’t need to hire a third-party testing agency or run tests in a lab to have success.

If you follow these tips, your testing process will be much more efficient. 

How to Get The Same Info Without a Usability Test

As you can see from this guide, usability testing is valuable, but it’s extremely in-depth. It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources on your end to get things right, even if you’re doing it on a budget.

You can get all of the same information by using a simple session recording tool on your website. Crazy Egg has a session recording feature, which is perfect for what you need.

This tool shows you exactly how users behave on your website. You’ll be able to record and monitor the mouse movement, scrolling, page navigation, and more. 

In many ways, the session recording feature from Crazy Egg is better than usability testing. While usability tests always try to emulate a real-life experience, there is simply no replacement for actual sessions on your website.

With session recordings, you won’t have to worry about finding a moderator, setting up tests, or recruiting and paying participants. All you need to do is install the Crazy Egg tracking script on your website and enable recordings. That’s it!

Then you’ll be able to go back and analyze those sessions from real visitors on your own time. Based on the sessions, it will be obvious if users are running into any problems, and you can make adjustments accordingly. 

The best part about using Crazy Egg for session recordings is that you’ll have access to all of Crazy Egg’s optimization features. You can create a heatmap, and access other visual reports, like scrollmaps. You’ll also benefit from built-in A/B testing and site editing.

Final Thoughts

Everyone with a website should be finding ways to optimize the user experience. 

While usability testing is one of the most popular ways to do this, it can be a hassle. For those of you who are committed to usability tests, simply follow the process, tips, and best practices that I’ve outlined in this guide.

But realistically, you don’t even need to run usability tests to get the results that you’re looking for. Just use a tool like Crazy Egg for session recordings. It’s easier, cheaper, and the only way to get information from real website visitors.

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