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User Experience of websites in the early 90s belonged to the technology or the software teams, then it got passed on to Designers and for even more good, it has become a mainstay for every business that wants to have any online presence. Businesses both big and small see user experience of websites as essential to build credibility.
Despite commoditization of website development and high usage of mobile apps, the website still remains one of the most important customer touchpoints. While some very cost conscious said that websites can be replaced by a Facebook page, we at UXArmy always maintained the importance of having an intuitive and navigable website to businesses as explained in our article Your Facebook page is not a substitute for a usable website. Even if this is the era of the Apps and amidst talk of Metaverse, Customers still visit the website of a business they consider to deal with before they download the App or visit social media pages of that business. Website is still considered the most credible source of information about a business and its products. It helps to build trust between customers and business.
Except for specific categories like online retail, mobile games, entertainment and management of services, customers still want to visit websites from their mobile phones or computers. When people Google a brand, the first thing that pops up in the Search results is most likely the website of that brand. Even if you want your customers to connect using your Social media channels, there must be a place you redirect your customers to know more or take action. That place in most cases is still a Website. Your website holds an image of your brand with relevant content and useful information so that your users accomplish their goals in the most efficient way possible.
With the debate on websites or no website out of the way, it's not surprising to know there are still many bad websites. How often do you leave a website without having figured out how to find your way to achieve what you wanted to or, simply because the website of the business did not reflect the type of business you want to deal with.
That is where usability testing of websites becomes so important. Visitors and customers must get a pleasurable experience on your website so that they can keep coming back for more. The website is a carefully designed orchestration of content which could be text, multimedia and design graphics.
In essence there are 4 aspects which make a website feels usable:
A. Overall direction
The visitor on your website should clearly understand the business and the offering from your business. At all times, the visitors must be aware of where they are in the website and what actions they need to take to achieve their goals e.g. subscribing to a service. The most important tasks and actions must be upfront so that the users can get their tasks done with least effort and confusion.
The last thing you would want is for your website visitors to not be able to find their way - navigation among pages should be intuitive and consistent. Switching to the Home page or backtracking should be straightforward. Searching content must be easy and to build that use tree testing to evaluate navigation in your website design
Take into consideration the fact that navigation on a mobile device can be significantly different from the one on a computer screen, and test the ease of navigation on both devices with the participants.
A key aspect of the effectiveness of your website is the terminology which you use. Text labels on the headings, call to action buttons, links, etc. must be labeled consistently and jargon-free. Use the common terms used by your target audience in their day to day life. Usage of jargon is confusing, difficult to understand, and frustrating. Imagine a traditional insurance website which uses the terms sum assured, arbitrate, debentures, etc. and expects the visitor to know the meaning of these terms. To achieve a good taxonomy and categorisation, you need to run Card sorting exercises as detailed in this article Card sorting: Organize information as users expect
D. Design Aesthetics
The website has to be aesthetically pleasing. It must reflect the brand values of your business and come across as credible. In a shopping mall in which shopkeepers keep their storefront clean, shiny and showcase their best products so that they can attract customers - the website is similar to the store in some sense. Attention to detail about choice of colors, typography, imagery all play a role in ensuring that a website is attractive, leaves a great first impression, creates a feeling of trust and makes them want to navigate the website.
To build a great website, the above aspects need to be validated with users. There is a step-by-step approach in usability testing which ensures that the website is user friendly and does reflect your brand values. Broadly there are four Steps.
Step 1: Determine stage-based goals and methods
Depending upon the stage your project is in, the scope of usability testing varies. there are three potential stages you could be in and the type of usability testing you may pick up.
At the start of the usability testing, you must tell participants to think-aloud so that you can build on what the users say or intend to do. A dry-run before the actual usability testing commences helps to identify problems which may disrupt the usability testing. Using a real participant is always better than asking someone to “act” as your user.
i) Creating a website from scratch
This stage assumes you have a validated business idea, and perhaps starting a new business. To begin with, you need to establish what you want to achieve from your website. That also means brainstorming internally and figuring out what the website must do. You’d need to sort out the concept, Information architecture followed by visual identity (design styles, fonts, illustrations, imagery).
To create usability tasks which the users must perform, besides business goals of the website, you would need to also understand one or more competition websites. Conducting a quick usability test on your competition website will give you insights on what your target audience is happy with and what information they lack.
Right from the time you have wireframes drawn up (using Balsamiq, Pencil, draw.io, etc) you need to get initial users feedback on the navigation flow of the website. Once the structure works, you’d need to iteratively user test higher fidelity website design. The higher fidelity website designs are user testing using interactive clickable prototypes which are built using Figma, Sketch, InvisionApp, Protopie, etc.
ii) During website implementation
As the website becomes partly functional, you can start testing the initial versions of it with users. Usability testing needs to be planned carefully because some parts of the website may not work as expected and usability testing of under development websites may bias the feedback you gather from the users. Therefore the usability testing plan should be built in alignment with the software development. The features which are yet to be completed must be excluded from usability testing.
Finding problems with website navigation should be the primary goal of usability testing at this stage. Task success rate, navigation paths and time to complete the Task are important metrics to measure and improve.
Towards the final stages of website development, closer to the ging LIVE, usability testing can also include standard measurements of usability like System Usability Scores (SUS), etc. Although a No-go decision at this point would be heart-breaking, it is rewarding to find usability problems and fix things before the website is launched.
iii) After website launch
Once the website is launched, you are likely to receive feedback from several channels for instance, Live or business analytics tools (like Google analytics, Hotjar, Mixpanel, etc.), social media channels, customer service and enquiry forms on your website. You would also need to measure the performance of your website e.g. the speed of loading, page switching, the order in which the web page elements load and show up on the page.
However, these sources of feedback are not sufficient to identify significant opportunities to improve website usability. You would need to watch real users performing specific actions / tasks on your website, compare it to how they do the same on competition websites and ask your users the right questions.
We recommend running automated quarterly usability tests on your website using remote usability testing platforms like UXArmy. You can also conduct usability testing via interviews, remote or in-person for which this guide Before, During and After your user interview would come in handy.
Step 2: Identify Sample size
Before you start planning usability testing you would need to choose the right research method and if you are going remote, the best usability testing tools.
Once you know which method you like to use for usability testing, it is about sample size. To debunk the myth of sample size, there is no golden number for the number of users one must test with. However, testing a website with a minimum of five users is recommended to surface the majority of usability problems. The remaining usability problems can still be problematic and your users may rate your website and business negatively. The bounce rate could be high. We recommend speaking to your stakeholders to determine the right sample size - higher the sample size, higher is the confidence in the usability test findings. The sweet spot of the number of testers in our experience is a range and not an absolute number. We use and propose 6 to 8 participants for usability test interviews and between 10 - 30 for remote usability testing. If you are testing with competition, a larger sample size is helpful.
Step 3: Find matching participants for your usability testing
People who participate in usability testing are the basis of your findings from the exercise. So you need to find the right participants otherwise the results from usability testing are actually invalid. If you have access to your target audience, select from there - companies like Atlassian do that a lot. In case you do not have access to your audience, you can reach out to companies which specialize in providing participants for user research and usability testing for example, User Interviews. Here is a handy guide on How to find the right participants for your user research
The approach of Open hallway testing or Guerrilla Testing and testing with friends/colleagues is useful in cases when the stakes are low and you want to have a first feel of your design.
Step 4: Reporting
As soon as a usability test is launched, the project team members and stakeholders may start to feel a little anxious about the results. As a user researcher, it is your responsibility to publish usability test findings during the course of the study.
In these times of instant everything, topline reporting comes to the rescue. Key insights and themes of feedback emerging from the usability testing as it progresses is best distributed on a daily basis. Doing so also helps create better empathy towards users among the team members and creates the possibility to receive questions you can check with users in the upcoming usability testing.
While Report writing is a separate topic in itself, the stakeholders look for topline summary, key usability metrics and pin pointed evidence to demonstrate the usability feedback on the website.
Usability testing metrics are an indication of existing website quality. It brings out opportunities for improvements and building customer centricity. The website usability testing begins at the formative design stages and continues even after the website is launched. There are a number of usability testing tools and methods available for use, the best choice is made based on the type of UX research capabilities you have inhouse. It is important to do short and frequent website usability tests even after launch along with some benchmarking with competition websites.
Finding the right participants can be daunting due to high effort, however finding the ones exactly matching your target audience is crucial. Whether you use moderated or unmoderated usability testing or both, depends upon the criticality of the design decision involved and its impact on business. No matter whether you are doing usability testing of a website or app, Usability testing is an unconditional need in today's world.
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