Today, a great online experience is simply expected. And yet, many business launch their sites without knowing if the design delivers on the customer’s expectations. Why does this happen? And more importantly, what can be done to increase the odds that your new design is quickly adopted and performing?

If you could see into the future with a crystal ball to predict your site’s success and to identify opportunities to improve the experience before launching, would you consider it? User testing is the solution that mitigates risk and helps deliver a better final product to market.

Testing can be done throughout the project
User testing can be used strategically throughout the project development cycle, from competitive analysis and discovery of key functionality or experiences expected by your end users through to the final designs. It offers the ability to test multiple designs or experiences quickly and cost-effectively to increase your confidence that your site resonates with the intended audience. And it can be done in parallel with your design phase to avoid costly development recoding efforts or during the user acceptance testing (UAT) phase to finesse the final flow and site navigation. 

Testing can be fast and painless
A typical testing engagement can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months to complete, depending on the complexity of the site and the number of unique audience segments. The magic number for seeing typical patterns of what is and isn’t working on your site is five study participants. Remember, you’ll want to include five participants within each segment to complete the key use-case scenarios of site interactions. As a general rule, an effective test lasts 30 minutes to an hour, with the participant completing a set of standard activities on the site. 

A test can be virtual, led by a facilitator, or conducted in a lab. In our experience, we find virtual facilitator-led sessions with the participant in their natural setting (work or home) to be highly effective. This type of testing offers a real-life user experience as well as an opportunity to not only watch users’ screen interactions but also understand the rationale of their online behavior. It simply provides clarity and often identifies terminology and navigation flows that are either intuitive or not. 

Testing refinements are key to validating an awesome experience
We strongly encourage our clients to integrate early findings into the remainder of the test, as the true purpose is to deliver an awesome experience. In our methodology, we build a study guide of the end-to-end experience, knowing that the insights collected early in the study can help a team refine the experience during the actual study. We find mini-testing within the overall testing simply leads to better results faster. It works. 

User testing uncovers the minor snags that impede your customers. Often, we see significant “a-ha moments” with simple modifications to navigation design flows or refined terminology that creates the best experience for your clients. It gives our clients the confidence that their sites will be successful because they’ve seen their own clients in action before the site is live.

So, if you’re building a site from scratch or undertaking a major redesign, consider integrating a user test phase into your overall project. It will deliver a cost-effective, outcome-driven experience that reduces risk, cost, and anxiety. 

Remember these five things for a sure-fire user testing program

  1. Identify the key audience segments in which the site is targeting.
    a) Curate a list of study participants for each audience (5 people per audience segment).
  2. Participants can be a mix of internal stakeholders, existing customers, or part of a third-party screening selection process. The most important element is to have testers that are the true site users.
  3. Select a tool such as join.me, Google Hangouts, or WebEx where you can create a virtual shared environment to run the test. Observers around the world can watch and hear the participant and see firsthand how they engage with the site.
    a) Create a list of up to five key scenarios that the site would typically support (and that are important to your business), such as signing in, searching, purchasing, managing account settings, and more.
  4. Create the scenarios and then break them into smaller related tasks so that you can consistently ask the same questions to each participant. Ask them to rate how easy each task is so that you can quantify your findings.
  5. Be open-minded and listen for ideas on how to improve the experience. If you see a consistent pattern, don’t be afraid to modify your design to make it better!

If you want help, call us, and our user testing experts can help craft a custom experience to fit your budget and needs.

Debbie Carkner is a VP Commerce Strategy at SMITH.


Tags: User Testing, Strategy and Intelligence