This blog's aim is to read and write about usability of userinterfaces.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Website Usability testing made easy

Website Usability Testing – An Iterative Process

Website usability testing is not a one time event. In the ideal world testing would begin early in the design process with some web page screen mock-ups shown to potential users to determine if users are able to understand what the purpose of the page is and what they should be able to accomplish.

As the design process progresses, live web pages can be presented to potential users who are ideally “typical” of the web site’s target audience. The users are asked to accomplish tasks while being monitored, the troubles incurred are analyzed and fixed and then tested again. This iterative Website Usability Testing process will be completed numerous times until the issues causing problems have been identified and rectified.

Website Usability Testing – The Options

As with anything there is always options and as usual options vary in cost.

Professional Website Usability Testing

Obviously if it can be afforded the best approach to completing comprehensive website usability testing is to contract the services of a specialized Web Usability Professional with access to a Usability Laboratory. A great way to test with great results however, the high cost is often the reason usability testing gets put on hold and does not proceed.

Some Website Usability Testing is Better Than None

Low Tech Website Usability Testing

I for one would like to see more usable websites on the Internet and I am sure you and your web site visitors would as well. So with a few basic steps you can begin to gain insight into where problems are encountered by your website visitors, which of course is the purpose of website usability testing.

Website Usability Testing - What you need:

Your not going to need a lot to start your website usability testing and the following will suffice:

  • Test users: You will want 3 or 4 people who are competent Internet users, willing and available to complete numerous tests on your behalf.
  • Tester: A person who is renowned for their people skills is the ideal candidate for leading the Test Users through the scenarios and tasks you require your web site to accomplish
  • Location: A quiet room where the Tester and the User can complete the website usability testing with out undue disturbances.
  • Camcorder / TV Monitor: Various website stakeholders will have an interest in how users navigate and accomplish tasks on the website. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to record your various website usability testing sessions to review with team members, and to further discuss usability solutions
  • Script or scenario: Due to this being a test some guidelines on what is to be accomplished is required. Prior to any testing being initiated prepare a script/scenario which outlines the tasks which require completion.
  • Review procedure: Ideally reviewing the results of the test should be completed as soon as possible following your website usability testing. Set up times and schedules for testing and reviews in advance to ensure testing and review times are compatible.

Two Primary Website Usability Testing Types

The whole idea of this usability testing method is to keep website usability testing fast and simple to encourage more not less website usability testing.

Website Usability Testing - Interpretation Testing

Fast and intuitive interpretation of a website is imperative. Once a user clicks through to your web site from a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) or other link the cognitive process humans use to determine if this is where they want to be takes mere seconds. Get this aspect wrong and as sure as your reading this blog those visitors are gone and unlikely to return.

Introduce users to the web site to gain their impressions of the following:

  • What is the purpose of the site
  • What benefits does the user expect to obtain from visiting
  • Does the site appear to be well organized
  • Are links clearly labeled and intuitive
  • Is the content clearly written
  • Are the business name and contact details easily discovered

Website Usability Testing - Task and Goal Testing

Accomplishing tasks is crucial to the successful visit by your customers and to succeed as a business online. If completing of tasks proves to be difficult for whatever reason it is highly likely the web site will fail for both the user’s application and the business’s.

I could list some generic tasks which are completed online here such as newsletter sign ups, online purchase transaction and so on. However, when it comes to knowing what tasks need to be completed on your web site you are the expert on the topic.

Task and Goal testing is quite simple, set up the camera and provide the scenario or script to the users and simply watch how they proceed through the system to task completion. Make a note of where difficulties arise and also what went smoothly.

Fix the problems and do it again. Website usability testing can be that simple, you may not get the results of a professional usability testing service but I am sure that your repetition of the testing procedures included here will alleviate the majority of your web site problems at a fraction of the cost.

Best of luck with your website usability testing, try the above and please let me know how it works out for you, I would be very interested in your experiences.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Do your visitors find what they are looking for?

Is your website userfriendly

Usability on the Web is crucial if you want to have customers continue to return. Jared Spool has found that 42% of Web users find what they need on any given Web page. This means that 58% do not find what they need.

This means that Usability of Web sites, is crucial in order to get sales and make money. If your customers can't find what they want, they won't be buying, and chances are, they won't be coming back. It doesn't matter how new and innovative your site is, the fact is that a cool and fancy website doesn't make it at all...

Test your site with your readers

You should test your site with your readers, so make sure that your site is cool AND userfriendly. You can messure the grade of usability by looking at:

Information retrieval is:
  • How easily and quickly people find information on a site
  • More directed than simply surfing the Web
  • Becoming more and more important to the Web as a whole

What People Want from Web Sites

  1. Graphics neither help nor hurt information gathering
    Many people feel that graphics make the Web site more usable. Another contingent feels that they make sites unusable. Neither group is right. According to this study, the amount of images on a page had no visible effect on the gathering of information, with two exceptions. These are:
    1. Animation
      Users found it annoying and "several users covered [the animations] up with their hands". In fact, one animated image had the answer to one question in it, but the users simply didn't see the answer there.
    2. Download Time
      This was not generally an issue, except with a page that had a lot of small images and poor alt text. The image had the answer, but users would navigate away before the image had downloaded.

  2. White space makes sites less usable
    When searching for information, users wanted information, not fancy, artistic sites. In fact, in direct conflict with an accepted rule of design, this study stated that "the more white space, the more users say the site is complicated, over-detailed, visually confusing, not clear, and not enticing." In fact, users in this study felt that sites with less white space were easier to use and had more information available.

    What do I think this means?
    I think that readers who are looking for information want to find it quickly. They don't want to have to navigate through several layers of the site simply because there is a nice design that is visually appealing. The more information that is on the first page they come to, the more likely they are to find what they are looking for.

  3. Content and navigation must be handled together
    A really common format for sites right now is what Mr. Spool called a "Shell Site". These sites are where the navigation is developed and then the content is shoved into that format or shell. What he found was that when a user is looking for information, shell sites are very hard to use. Because the links are the same on all navigation within the site, they don't add anything new once they have been reviewed. Thus, when a user is looking for information, the navigation shell is usually discarded as an information source immediately.

  4. Search engines (on sites) don't work
    If a user doesn't click on the Search button, they are 50% more likely to find the information they are looking for than if they do. This is disconcerting until you think about how most search engines handle searches and results:
    • Many sites have several different search engines for the Web site.
      These may be intuitive to the Web designer, but often the user doesn't know what the difference is (or even perceive that there is a difference).
    • Users don't know what they are going to get when they search.
      They may be getting a list of pages on this site, the Web as a whole, a sub-set of this site, or something completely different.
    • Results were confusing and hard to understand
      Often the search results were something apparently unrelated to what the reader searched on. Or, there was no text to clarify the search results, simply the title or file name.

What can you do?

  • Test your site's usability with your users.
    If you do nothing else to improve your site, this would be the best thing.

  • Focus on your content.
    Content will get people to your site and give them the information so they keep coming back.

  • Put lots of links on your site so that your readers can navigate as easily as possible.
    What is intuitive to you might be unclear to me, so give your readers a lot of different ways to get to the information on your site.

  • Don't believe everything you read or hear.
    Just because I've written this article and UIE did their study, doesn't mean that the results will apply to your readers. Find out, from them, what works for your site.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why does it have to be so hard

Why does it have to be so hard to make a phonecall, view a demo on the net or just simply find the right information on a website?
Everyone knows the problem finding a name in the personal adressbook on the mobile, and this is for a start an quite easy task, but when it comes to digging into details on a specific contact, it's getting harder...and before I able to make a phonecall - actually call the person - he has gone on holiday, work, to bed...whatever...why does have to be so hard. Why can't i be simple and easy? Or maybe is just my brain to simple...