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How You Can Use User Testing to Quickly Find Weaknesses In Your Website

By Fairhead Creative — Get free updates on new posts here

Over the coming months, we'll be going over some various new techniques. They're designed to help your business grow by making engaging, memorable experiences for your website visitors. User Testing is one of those techniques, and it's one that can have fast results. It's something you'll be able to take advantage of shortly after reading this article.

Luckily for you, your competition isn't likely to be using User Testing. And they're missing out.

It's one of those things that often gets written off as a "thing to try later". That could be due to perceived costs, and a misunderstood ROI.

You're a business owner though. Not a UX specialist. So I'm going to avoid getting into the psychology of such things, or make this a How To post. I'm going to focus on showing you how User Testing can benefit your business. I'll make it a part of your process, and make sure it's successful.

I've also created another free gift for you with this article. This one unpacks how to lead effective User Testing. You can use it yourself if you want, or you can give it to employees or contractors to use. Either way, it's designed to give you great results.

What is User Testing?

Do you have your UX Cheat Sheet from the previous article handy? You'll see that User Testing is an "Evaluation Method". That means it's often a method used with released products. You can also use it with Prototypes for early feedback. We'll cover how that's possible in a future article.

User Testing is the process of:

For example, let's say your product had a shopping component. We can assume some tasks from that. We could ask participants to find a particular item for sale, for instance. Or find reviews of that item. Or maybe negotiate the item's checkout process.

As participants work through your tasks, you'll ask them to speak their mind throughout. The idea is to find where their hesitations are, how they process through what they're seeing, and how they figure out what to do.

It's like being inside their brain, only less creepy.

The info you find from going through this process can be gold dust. It will shine a spotlight on potential weaknesses, areas of confusion, hesitations and errors in your product that you can start working on immediately.

The effectiveness of User Testing is even greater when used alongside other UX techniques. I'll be covering right here on this blog in future articles.

What investment do you need to start User Testing?

All you need for User Testing is time to prepare the test, and the knowledge of what to test. Depending on your approach, the financial investment is negligible. Particularly in light of the results you'll receive from effective testing.

I've broken down your options into three tiers, and you can hop between them as you please. Each option has a different level of involvement expected of you, from most to least. After we cover them, I'll show you what to do with the data you receive from your testing, and how to apply it to your business.

Option 1: The Fan Club method

User Testing involves people's time. Most people will respond well to financial compensation for their efforts. For this particular method, we'll need to make use of your product's fans. If you don't have any of these, and would like to know how to get some, let's talk about it over email.

Some of your real fans will jump at the chance of being able to have a live call with you. You're the owner of one of their favorite products, after all. Just to be able say they did. They'll be happy to tell you their thoughts about your product.

This option is almost definitely going to need you to take the lead, as the business owner. You're the one they'll want to talk to. Options 2 and 3 let you off the hook.

Think of a product that you use and love. How would you feel if the owner of that product offered an exclusive live chat with you? To allow you to speak into the product's future?

Make that offer to your fans.

These fans will be able to screen share with you as they use your product. For desktop or web products, you could use Skype or Google+ Hangouts. Both are free. Both allow you to record your screen and theirs at the same time. This way, you can capture the participant's actions and their reactions to those actions. For iPhone apps, UX Recorder is a great app that achieves similar functionality for mobile, for $1.99 per recording.

It's nice to offer a small gift card to your fans as a surprise "thank you" at the end of a test. Just to let them know you appreciate them. It's also worth asking them if they'd be willing to take a test again, at this point.

This article's free gift will give you a step-by-step guide on how to lead a User Test.

Option 2: The SaaS method

This option isn't free, but it's cheap, and it doesn't ask for much of your time at all.

There's two tools I'll cover in this option. Both of them ask the your test questions for you, and do all the video/audio recording. They also don't need you to pay participants. You don't even need to be around to watch the tests.

The first of the two is UserTesting.com. These guys charge $49 per 15-minute video of a single participant using your product. You'll get to choose participant age, income, gender, country, etc. Even web expertise and operating system. Once you've outlined what tasks you want to ask your participants, their tool will take over. It'll ask them to complete your tasks. It'll then send you the video/audio files of how the test went. You won't be able to pick who takes the test with this tool though, unfortunately. So you'll need to factor in that they might not be from your target industry. That’s the biggest downside of this option, in my opinion.

As an aside, UserTesting.com also offers a service called "Peek", which lets you try out their service for free. Just encase you're on the fence about using them. I'm not affiliated in any way with these guys, encase you’re wondering.

The second of the two is Inspectlet. These guys do have a free plan, but prices start at $39 for really useful data. The benefit of these guys is that you don't actually have to arrange a test. Instead, they simply take recordings of actual site users as they come. Sites like Salesforce and eBay are among Inspectlet's customer base. The downside to this tool (when used alone) is that you don't get to "hear" the user, or ask them questions, like you would through a recording. You just get to watch them use the tool.

If you're interested in going with Option 2, I'd suggest using both of these tools together. Neither captures the full spectrum of data that is both demographic-specific with audio/video at the same time.

Option 3: The Specialist method

This option involves working with a UX specialist. That specialist will lead your users through the User Testing. While you'll have to pay both the specialist and the participants to do it, you can give them this article's free gift. That'll make sure they really know how to run a successful User Test. This will make sure they're not missing any important business goals.

The best part of this option is that the specialist will have experience conducting these tests. They may be able to extract more information out of each participant than an inexperienced tester would. That'll make your tests more valuable. Particularly if you have an ongoing relationship with a specialist familiar with your product.

How to make sense of your new data

Great. So at this point, we've gathered our User Test data into video/audio files. Next, we need to analyze that data.

Next, we'll cover how to make sense of your new data. We'll also show you what to do with it before applying it to your business. This is important, so that your team doesn't have to watch hours of video playback each time you want to make improvements.

Before we dive in, look for any participants that had any "I don't know what to do" moments during the test. These will already have some actionable information. Put these at the top of your to-do list. Those will need fixing ASAP.

As for the rest, here's some things to look out for:

1. Areas of hesitation

When your participants were attempting to complete your tasks, were there any points where they paused for a moment? Or had confused facial expressions, wondering where to tap or click next? Pay attention to those moments.

Facial expressions and hesitations can be a helpful insight into what your participants are really thinking. Since they tend to be less talkative in these moments, irrespective of having being asked to communicate their thoughts the whole time, these expressions are invaluable. Hesitations or facial expressions that suggest confusion might be opportunities to bring clarity to your product.

2. Failures

Did any participants fail to complete a task? Watch their recordings carefully, and try to determine where they started going wrong. A failure may be due to one tiny mistake which derailed the whole process.

Think about how how clear such sections of your product are, and if you can make them clearer. Even a minor update could drastically reduce failure rate.

3. Different flows

Sometimes, participants will find totally different ways of completing your tasks than you expect. Perhaps this is true of many participants. If that becomes the case, consider whether your intended path is actually the most intuitive, or if your participants have revealed a better way. There may be a new user flow to focus on optimizing that you never expected.

4. Areas ignored

Did any sections of your product get ignored, that you thought would prove useful for the tasks they were asked to complete? If participants consistently forgo using a particular section of your product, consider whether it need it to exist. Removing unnecessary features from a product allows for users to focus on features that do help them complete their tasks, with fewer distractions.

5. Analytics comparison

Analytics show what users are doing on your site, but your User Test results give you an insight into why.

Compare participant activity with your analytical data to see how similar they are to each other. Hopefully, there will be similarities and patterns. Your test results may add depth to your analytics.

6. Reporting

Test results can be a real time sink. After you've gone through all those results, you likely won't want to do so again for a while! It's good practice to get a User Testing Report prepared that summarizes the results of the test, so that you (and others in the business that weren't a part of this process) can absorb the results as efficiently as possible. An example report is included in the article's free gift.

How to make use of your new data

Ready to apply what you've learned to your product? Great! There's three things you can do with your new data from User Testing. All three will result in a better product for your business.

Changes you make to your product should be tested too, and we'll cover how to evaluate whether your proposed changes benefit your product or not in a future article. It's important to make sure that any changes you do make to your product solve the problems your audience has (and doesn't make them worse!)

1. Refactoring

Focus on the areas of your product your participants hesitated on, and find new ways of presenting those sections of your product. For example, if your product was a commerce site, and your user hesitated when asked to add a product to their cart, it could mean that your Add To Cart button isn't prominent enough.

Fixing up areas in your product that cause people to hesitate will make your product easier to understand.

2. Pruning

Any functionality that could have helped your participants - but didn't - is either unhelpful, unclear, or hidden. Every product is unique, so you'll need to discover which of those it is by analyzing your data and matching it up with your analytics.

Pruning away features that aren't important to your users will result in a leaner, simpler product. Unclear or hidden features are good candidates for refactoring.

3. Pivoting

Any areas of your product that were used much differently than expected should be looked at with an open mind. It's possible your users are indicating that a small pivot may benefit your product.

For example, if your product was a clothing subscription service and the only items your customers ever bought were shoes, it's possible that's where your established audience's interests are. If that were the case, your product could benefit from focusing on that shoe buying experience, and dropping the rest. Beware, though: it could also mean that you don't display other types of clothing prominently enough. Test results present a symptom of a problem, which you need to diagnose carefully.

Either way, it's highlighted a valuable question that deserves your attention.

By allowing your product to change shape in response to your user's needs, it will become more closely aligned with your audience and what they truly want from a product such as yours.

If your product is a perfect fit for how the audience wants to work, your competitors doesn't stand a chance.

Building Processes

Some process documents can be reused across many businesses, such as the testing report template included in this article's free gift. Other process documents should be as unique as your business's USP.

Things that your specific audience particularly resonates with, for example, can't be captured in stock documents. After a successful test, it's a great idea to have the process of conducting User Testing documented by the people who were responsible for leading the test (whether it was you or employees).

This way, the next person who lead a test in your organization doesn't need to re-learn how testing works, or the nuances of testing within your organization. Instead, they'll be able to lean on your User Testing process documents to get them up to speed quickly. Couple those documents with the report and guide found in this article's free gift, and your business should be well placed to rapidly call on User Testing at a moment's notice.

Consider making User Testing a part of other processes, such as during beta launches or partial rollouts, to see how your audience responds to the changes you make. The library of reports you'll get from conducting ongoing testing will provide you with an invaluable insight into not only why your product is how it is, but also why it isn't.

Wrapping up

Hopefully, you now feel equipped to go out there and introduce User Testing into your business. I really hope you do - there's fantastic information trapped inside your users that your business would really benefit from knowing.

Now you know what it is, how to make it happen, and how to analyze the data you receive and how to act on that data, I'd love to hear about what sorts of tests you've conducted and how they went. Other businesses would benefit from hearing your stories, too.

Email me about how your User Testing experiences have gone, or what ideas you have for future tests. There's fantastic information trapped inside of you, too, that your fellow readers would benefit from learning.

Now, go download that free gift!

Download your How To Lead A User Testing Session guide.

Effective user testing will give you invaluable insights into how your users interact with your website or product. Download this guide to avoid common pitfalls and get on the road to effectiveness from your very first test.

Download now, no opt-in required

Next steps

There’s a lot of stuff to do to make your web presence work.

A lot of it may be entirely new to you.

You can’t just wing this stuff. Well, you can, but you’ll discover very quickly how ineffective that is.

But - if you have all this spelled out for you, step-by-step, you can see exactly how to make this work.

We’ve created that step-by-step guide for you.

It’s yours already. No charge. All you need to do is download it.

If you’re not sure it’ll be worth it, or if you think it’ll just be one long pitch, that’s understandable.

There’s a lot of that in our industry.

The good news is, it’s not a pitch. It’s a guide.

If you didn’t know already, we’re here to help difference makers make a difference. That’s it.

So download it now, while it’s still available, and let us know if you have any questions. We’re here to help you succeed.

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