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From experience, usability testing is THE most enlightening and powerful activity that brands can carry out to answer an extensive range of questions which can be crucial to how their website performs.

As well as providing genuine evidence of what people are doing on websites, usability testing provides compelling insights as to WHY people are doing what they are doing. OK, stay with me on this, I know I’m not enlightening anyone so far with this statement…

The problem (or opportunity) is the term usability testing, or user testing, whichever you prefer to use. Testing is much more than just testing the ‘usability’ of a website, much more than just testing how affective a website is in achieving its goals.

If planned and moderated well, usability testing can answer questions around user perceptions, user behaviour, business processes, brand perception and customer research -  as well as whether or not users can get from A to B and if not, why not.

In this post I have listed out a wide range of questions which we typically aim to answer for our clients when conducting usability testing, whether this through moderated lab sessions or remote user testing.

Online behaviour

These are just some of the questions around general online behaviour that usability testing can provide answers to:

  • How do users usually interact with websites?
  • How do users typically browse websites in our industry?
  • How do users usually interact with search results pages?
  • What expectations do users have based on past experience?
  • At what stage would users end up phoning customer services or sales?
  • What do users expect to see when they click key buttons on the website? (ask before they click the button!)
  • How important are product images when users are considering an online purchase?
  • What questions do the users want to know the answers to in order to commit to buy/click/proceed?
  • What features do users now come to expect on websites i.e. postcode look-up facility?
  • What presumptions do users make when browsing your website?
  • What elements could we introduce which would provide a more persuasive experience for users?
  • How can we generate a more emotive response from users?
  • How important is security for users when submitting sensitive information online, and how does our website cater for this?
  • What do users do when they are presented with terms & conditions?
  • Is banner blindness a myth?
  • What level of control (filters) do users expect to have when browsing large categories of content?

Business processes

Usability testing can provide businesses with invaluable insights on whether the current business processes, which may well be based around offline processes and systems, are a help or a hindrance to users.

  • Do our current business processes meet with user expectations?
  • Can we mirror our offline processes for online, or should we take a different approach?
  • Do our strict data capture requirements force users to abandon?
  • Do our backend systems force users to make un-necessary steps?
  • Do we name things (features/navigation/promotions/content) on our website based on our business terminology rather than what users want/expect?

User's attitudes

As well as behavioural insights you can gain very valuable evidence of what are user’s attitudes to specific elements of both websites in general and of your website.

  • What are the major issues which will make this user leave our website?
  • How do users respond to being forced to register or create an account?
  • How do users think a guest checkout will compare to an account creation checkout?
  • How much information are users comfortable in submitting online, and what do they really not like providing?
  • What are user’s attitudes when presented with marketing preferences?
  • How long are users willing to spend on a particular process before they get bored/frustrated/consider leaving?
  • How do users respond to video content as part of their browsing and exploration experience?
  • What are the reasons users prefer to interact with us online versus offline, and vice-versa?

Brand perception

Who doesn’t want to know what people think about their brand? For our well recognised brands a part of any test sessions is aimed at uncovering the perception users have of the brand, both before and after the test session.

  • What is the user’s current impression of the brand?
  • How much does the user know about the brand before the test?
  • How has the current website experience changed the user’s perception of the brand, if at all?
  • How do users respond to our USP's?
  • How credible is our brand compared to our competitors?
  • How does our brand credibility affect user’s experience of our website?
  • How do users respond to the tone of voice used in our product and editorial copy?
  • Are users aware of our full product/service range?
  • What are the reasons users would or wouldn't engage with us through social media channels?

Customer research

Why not make the most of usability testing sessions and carry out some customer/market research while you are at?

Depending on the time you have with each user it can be quick and efficient to carry out a bit of research which doesn’t have to be specific to your website – and this can be particularly useful for brands with a high street presence.

  • How does our site compare to our competitors?
  • In which ways does the user currently buy from our brand?
  • What is the user’s impression of our in-store experience?
  • What does the high street store do that the website needs to replicate?
  • How important is our virtual catalogue functionality?
  • Will users understand this new feature that we are currently developing?
  • What do users think to this new feature we are considering developing?
  • Are people using our website in the way it was concepted/designed?
  • Are there any features & functionality which our website would benefit from?

Usability & user experience

Don’t forget what we came for in the first place! Of course gaining insights on the usability & user experience that your website delivers is the cornerstone of any usability test, unless of course you’ve got different objectives.

Below is a list of questions you can answer, but there are many more which I’m sure some people may point out in the comments…

  • Can users complete key tasks with no un-answered questions?
  • Are users able to locate key features & functionality that the site provides?
  • Do users understand our primary and secondary navigation?
  • Is there important information missing from our key pages?
  • What do users make of our targeted landing pages?
  • Does our search facility meet user expectations?
  • Are users able to use our page control features easily?
  • Are we providing the right level of product information detail?
  • Do we provide suitable tools for which users can compare products & specifications?
  • How do users respond to our cross sell and up-sell promotions?
  • Do our primary USP's get seen by all users, irrespective of where they go on the website
  • Do we make our full proposition transparent to users?
  • Does our page load speed cause any issues with the users site experience?
  • At what stages do users exhibit anxiety during a user journey i.e. application, checkout, sign-up, booking, reservation
  • Are users able to locate the button/action we want them to do on key pages?
  • What issues do users have when completing our web forms?
  • What flexibility do users expect to have at specific parts of their user journey?
  • What exactly is stopping users from doing what we want them to?
  • How can we make our website experience more intelligent to speed up how users interact with us online?

Summary

I hope this post has demonstrated the sheer variety of insights businesses can get through carrying out usability studies. Of course this isn’t a definitive list of questions which can expect to get answers for but it should certainly get you started (if you aren’t already usability testing of course).

In wrapping up, another one of the major benefits of usability testing is that it can and does provide compelling evidence of what to test where on your website, providing a testing & conversion optimisation strategy is in place.

Whether through split testing or more in-depth multi-variate testing it provides real insights (along with your analytics data) that are worth its weight in gold.

Comments & Questions

I’d love to hear your comments on this post as well as sharing your answering to some of these questions:

  • What questions have you answered through usability testing?
  • How important is usability testing with your online strategy?
  • Which no-brainer questions have I missed off this list (there are bound to be plenty)?
Paul Rouke

Published 7 September, 2011 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

35 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Albie Attias

great list Paul which I've bookmarked for future reference. Another question mark usability removes is the 'who's right?' question that often arises when stakeholders impart their subjective views/beliefs on the design or specification of a web project. In my experience the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion) typically gets undue consideration, often to the detriment of the project's success. Educating clients on the merits of usability testing helps shift subjectivity to objectivity.

almost 5 years ago

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Richard Hill

It certainly is a great list and I have bookmarked it too. Not much on accessibility elements for the disabled though? Perhaps something more specific needs to be added for them?

almost 5 years ago

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Chris Naughton

Brilliant list, thanks a lot Paul. Bookmarked for future reference. Will aid in auditing and help promote the need for more analytics and testing to my company.

Cheers!

almost 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Albie - glad you found the list useful. You make a very valid point around the 'who is right' question, and usability testing, when followed through with split and MV testing, provides a pretty bullet proof direction of travel.

I like you're reference to HIPPO too, just recently I was able to use a great photo of one to illustrate just this point that you make. And if you don't mind I may just use this line in future which is great - "Educating clients on the merits of usability testing helps shift from subjectivity to objectivity."

@Richard - likewise glad you found the list useful. You're absolutely right that this post doesn't touch on accessibility, and in truth I would say it warrants its own list of questions & blog post, created by those providers who specialise in accessibility testing.

@Chris - another happy customer, thanks for your feedback! Oh and I wish you well with raising the profile/importance of usability testing in your company.

almost 5 years ago

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Caroline

Brilliant article! Thanks a lot Paul. Let's bookmark it.Nice to see that people like sharing tips.

almost 5 years ago

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