8 ways to get the best out of your usability testing

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A lot of times, website re-design projects are fueled by a lot of assumptions and anecdotal data that usually steer said projects into doom. By doom, I mean poor content strategy.

A lot can depend on google analytics and there’s no doubt that hard data will provide a lot of insight into the direction you wanna take content.

But there’s nothing like getting a little DIY with the discovery process and actually being next to your audience member and seeing what they think, first-hand. Usability tests are probably the best way to put a face to a name (in this case a number) and you might often find yourself surprised by how much more smart your audience is compared to you. Making you say: “I didn’t even think of that!”

I’ve done some user-testing in the past and it’s always an eye-opener when you’re still ironing out those content details in the beginning of a project. So here are some ways to make the testing process easier.

1. Identify your calls to action

It’s important to really know why someone would go to you for your services. I mean that goes without saying, but boiling it down to 2-4 simple calls to action could really help you come up with the best tasks for your users. Let’s say you’re on an On-Campus Recreational Services site… first three tasks that pop in my mind are: 1) Hours of Operation 2) Fitness Class Schedules 3) Membership Rates. Model your tasks around how easy it is to find this information. If the user finds it too hard to scope these out, then you got a problem. If you’re blank on what kinda tasks to come up with, ask the unit’s marketing and/or communicator to identify them for you.

2. Get Organized

Every user test will be different because obviously every project has unique goals in mind. But just creating a very simple user testing template can really help the process a little. Keep in mind, too, that once you’re conducting the test on a user, ideas come up and spread making the user test a lot more fluid than just a standardized sheet. A user can identify very different insights about a site which can lead you to ask different questions… and believe me that’s more than okay. The template is just a guide, but really listen to what the user is saying/experiencing.

3. Reward your users

Pizza is often a reward for user testing, and who can say “no” to pizza, really? We like to change it up and give Starbucks gift cards. But ultimately the point of the reward is to incentivize the test and to give them more of a reason to help out. “It’ll improve your website experience” is oftentimes not enough.

4. Don’t be afraid of your users

Being part of a webteam often has you couped up in a cave. This can be damaging, I think, especially if you’re trying to really tap into what users think. Students can be intimidating, sure, but don’t be afraid to talk to them. They’ll appreciate it more in the long run. Come up with a couple of talking points beforehand that you can use as a way to introduce yourself and the test.

5. Pay attention to your user

I scratched the surface a little on this before but really pay attention to what your user is doing and saying. There have been many times where I was “following the script” and my user suggests a change that leads to different set of questions on my end.

6. Be careful with bias

Try to be as clear as possible when introducing yourself and what exactly you’re trying to do. Stress that you’re independent of the site you’re testing and that you simply want honest answers. Sometimes a user will think you’re working for the office/unit, or you give off the impression that you’ll be offended by any results. And try not to talk to them too much when conducting the user testing. Any little remark can influence where they go on the site, and you won’t be getting a truly organic user experience from them.

7. Get as usability testing app

If your budget can handle paying for a usability testing application, do it. There a couple out there… most of them you have to pay. We use Silverback, which has a free 15-day trial. This one comes highly recommended as it records, not only the screen and where the user clicks through, but also records the user with the laptop’s web cam. There are some other ones like Applause and User Testing that I haven’t tried but hear good things.

8. Regroup and rebuild

You got all of this data now… what’s next? Well, go through the data and really pin-point the big insights. Maybe there was a task that had more importance over the others, and made you look at the content a little different. Don’t boil yourself down to too many details… you might get too caught up and lose sight of the bigger content picture. Assess your 3 calls to action and work from there.

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