Why Usability Testing is Critical to Your Website’s Success

Is your website achieving your objectives?  Do your users like the experience?

If the answer is no or I don’t know, I have good news – you can find out.  Usability refers to how intuitive a website is and it has two parts. I’m borrowing these definitions from usability expert,  Jakob Nielsen:

  • Usability – how easy and intuitive your website is to use
  • Utility – does your site do what the user wants (functionality)

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll lump both of those descriptions under usability.

There are several ways to assess your website’s usability.  All involve testing with a set of users that match the profile of individuals who use your website or who you are targeting as users.  You can ask existing customers to participate or recruit users via one of the many user testing companies. These companies recruit participants who fit a profile that you’ve set up, including gender, income level and interests. Five users are generally considered to be enough to gather actionable results, however, I prefer to separate users into at least two groups: younger and older, which generally means you’re going to exceed five users overall.  For example, depending on who your audience is, you might want to test users who are 18-45 and over 45.  While 18-45 is a big range, individuals in that demographic group are generally proficient computer users.  As the age goes up, their proficiency and web preferences can change and you will likely get different feedback.  I’ve always found this to be true.

How Do I Structure a Usability Test?

It’s tempting to ask users to perform a lot of different tasks but this will conflate your test results. Pick the most important function of your site and start there. Is that making a purchase or capturing a sales lead? Either one will have a critical path – that’s how you will narrow down what to test for first.  Here’s an example:

If you have a hotel website, the search and booking function is critical to the success of your site (search and purchase if you’re a retail site). So, isolating that function in a test will yield information that tells you where you’re doing well and where there are points of friction or confusion. You can move from that test to separate tests but pick one focus per test.  It’s also a good practice to ask users to test a competitor’s site at the same time as yours (one after the other) and then offer critique on which site they like best and why.  A little time spent testing up front can save you thousands of dollars in web design and site redesign.

Testing for Site Redesign

Companies often want to refresh their website and jump straight to design, sometimes picking a website they like and using it as a reference. Always run a benchmark usability test on your existing site first to make sure you know what features work well and which ones need fine tuning.  Some of the issues may be already known to you; a benchmark test will uncover the ones you don’t know about.

Testing Design Concepts

Let’s assume you’ve done benchmark testing already and you know what problems you need to solve. This information has been given to your web designer who has created some page designs. Test those designs to make sure they are intuitive and solve the problems they were intended to solve. This will also save thousands of dollars in redesign.  There are a few ways to test design concepts using tools created for that purpose.  It won’t be a fully functional website but will contain enough functionality to let you know if the concepts work for your users.

Iterative Testing – When Do You Stop?

User testing doesn’t stop but it will slow down. If you identify a section of your site that isn’t achieving the objectives you intend, test that section to get actionable information.  Trends change in the digital world and what was all the rage gets replaced with new and different functionality. Some of it is worth adopting; some isn’t. Testing will help you understand how your site should evolve.

My Usability Test Budget is Small, Can I Still Do This?

There are many variations of user testing to match all budget levels. Everything from remote, unmoderated testing (this is a self-service model) to remote moderated testing and onsite, moderated user testing.  Each variation renders different levels of detail with onsite moderated providing the most in depth user information.

Work with Experienced Testers

Even if you’re going with the least expensive approach, work with someone who understands how to craft a test, recruit users and interpret the results. The MBK Group has conducted user tests at all price points and can help you get actionable results and translate those results into a more functional website or mobile application.


Paula Valentine is a digital marketing strategist with a proven track record for driving revenue and growth. Her expertise includes developing multi-channel, affiliate, and mobile marketing strategies and spearheading digital initiatives from concept to execution.

2018-06-26T11:08:39-07:00 May 29, 2018|Digital Marketing, Website Usability|