Friday, July 16, 2010

Make More Money Online by User Testing Your Business Website

by Colette Mason

For any serious, professional, website investment, the user testing phase has become an integral part of the path to making more money online. Before your site is published, usability testing gathers feedback from the very people it is intended for -, with its main objective to ensure you're creating a website that has an intuitive and easy to use interface, targeted to all users. But how do you reap the fullest benefits from your user testing sessions?

1. Choosing Your Subjects

The results of your session well depend largely on the people you test it on. Do not get people who may be biased, such as family, friends and workers from your company. People who have prior exposure to your project may yield flawed results and rate your site high in web accessibility when in fact, it is not. Assemble a focus group, people who fit a specific profile, to be the subjects. You can ask a market research firm or a temp agency to source out your participants. Subjects must not know the name of your company or other details to maintain objectivity.

2. Before Starting the Usability Testing Session

The atmosphere of the web usability study session must be as normal as possible. To achieve the best results, participants should be at ease and feel like they are using the site at home or work. Make sure the participants know the exact location of the testing session; if necessary, meet them at local stations. Do not use technical terms such as "usability testing" or "market research' as these will only cause confusion and create tension. Inform your subjects beforehand of the length of time the testing will take and the type of tasks they are expected to do. When the participants have familiarized themselves with the environment, it is time for the signing of legal documents. Use simple English language that is easy to understand and make your forms as short as possible. Legal papers can add to a subject's nervousness. Assure him that the tests are completely confidential and you only need his permission to use the information generated during the test as part of the results.

3. Starting the Usability Testing

Acquaint the subjects with their surroundings before going to the main tasks. Tell them the name of the website and the URL and get their initial thoughts, like what they expect from the site or what they would like the site to be. Record the terms or phrases they use; this shows you value their opinions and feedback. These terms may also be used as pointers for future references in functionality and navigation concerns. Next, let them visit the business website they'll be testing. Find out what their initial reactions are before allowing them to get familiar with the site. Such inputs may give you ideas on how they evaluate a site for web credibility. Make sure your participants understand they will get some simple tasks to attempt, and that crucially, it's not them that's being tested.

4. Choosing Tasks

Choose tasks that your potential customers will consider important to their decision of whether to purchase or not. These play a major part in ensuring the success of your website. Such tasks are: buying products, paying bills, contacting the client, etc.

Encourage the participants to give suggestions of other tasks they want included. You can determine their expectations and requirements from their suggestions and set new functionality and priorities.

5. How to Express Tasks

People respond and perform in more natural way if they are given scenarios instead of instructions. In phrasing the tasks, it is more effective to say "Scenario A has occurred, and you need to ring the company urgently - find the telephone number" rather than "find the contact us section of the site".

6. Presentation of Tasks

Give participants one task at a time. Simultaneous tasks may intimidate them, or alter their normal approach to the testing. If you require the subjects to use inputs from outside the test (e.g. a brief email giving them a login to the site), give them these details in the form and order they will be presented. This will provide useful feedback on all elements of the process, rather than simply the site.

7. What Your Behavior Ought To Be During Testing

Always keep in mind that the object being tested is the website, not you or the participant. All input is treated as important; this needs to be clearly pointed out to the participant. If there's a task or a step they can't do, they must be informed that it's not their fault. During the test, it's important not to be "seen or heard". You must not do the following actions: provide clues, suggest directions or react to what they say or do. These could alter the test results. So remain neutral - so no shaking your head or huffing. It's a real no-no. The only time participants should hear from you is when they need help in giving an opinion or clarifying a response. Because they have invested much time and money in the project, clients often find it hard to keep quiet during tests. If your client wants to be present, put him in a separate room and provide an audio/video link.

8. When the Usability Testing Is Done

Upon completion of all tasks, gather and document as much information as possible. Ask for overall impressions of the website and detailed feedback on each task. You will be able to measure their experience, whether expectations were met and if their views have changed during the process. Never ignore suggestions, welcome them. These insights improve your business website usability and accessibility. Plus it creates goodwill between the participants and you, the usability tester. Finally, ask the participants what they remember about the site structure and its functions. If they can recall these clearly, it's a confirmation that the site navigation is logical and intuitive. This helps identify any labeling issues you might have missed.

About the Author

If you would like to discover more ethical, fast, fun, customer-focused ways to make more money online, visit the The Website Success System is a step by step guide on how to build a good website for your business.