Usability refers to how friendly a website is to new visitors, and how effective it is at increasing the conversion rate.
For my team at Volume Nine, SEO and usability frequently play off of each other: Strong usability is a sign of effective, high-quality SEO. When SEO hands a visitor off to the site, usability picks up the job and carries them to a purchase decision.
This gives usability testing two advantages at once in that it can increase conversion rates while also locating problems with site-based optimization strategies.
Common targets of usability testing include:
- Attention Span: How long do customers stay on specific pages? Where do their eyes linger? Do they reach their goal or give up partway through? Studies on attention span can find very specific answers to these questions and others like them, a particularly useful analysis for judging SEO from a human perspective.
- Text and Font: Does the website text do its job? Is the font, the position and the size all ideal? If you are revamping your site or creating new pages, studying usability from this angle can pinpoint problems that may drive visitors away to other sites unless they are fixed.
- Information Value: Lengthier content like blog posts and product descriptions can be examined for informational value. Usability tests rate how much value your content really provides, and also help find problems with tone or style. This is a great way to prevent awkward keyword stuffing or messy linking practices.
- Checkout: Usability testing excels at studying completion rates, especially the final stages of completion where your site needs to navigate customers smoothly through the checkout process. Tests will note issues that keep customers from completing a purchase, and give you ideas on how you can make the process easier or more obvious.
- Emulation: Some services also offer the ability to emulate your site on other devices. This is a great tool for small businesses that are creating content for smartphones or tablets and need to test responsive design, mobile-only features, and other important projects.
Usability Testing Tips
Go Beyond Functionality
Automatic testing programs can often find the most obvious website flaws. For usability testing with real people, you need to study factors like accessibility, completion rates, image use, information, vocabulary, and more. In other words, the human side of website design matters, and usability testing can help you study it. Test in multiple directions whenever possible.
For basic system checks, use tools like LinkTiger to solve simple linking problems and save time when moving onto complex usability testing.
Use Real Consumers
Look for tools that use real consumers from your targer country whenever possible. Try to stick with testing services that round up participants from specific regions. If you want to run your own tests, searching for customers through social media and email to find willing participants who are, preferably, not employees or designers. Depending on the size of your company, entry-level employees, interns and others can also contribute. Whatever your approach, aim for a group of real people relatively unrelated to your company.
Make a Schedule
How often should you test? Some companies test at least basic functions every day. Others only test when implementing new designs or features. Whatever you choose, you want consistent intervals of feedback for your site. When it comes to SEO, both functionality (you want all your pages to work) and design are important. If you are creating a lot of new content, you will want more regular testing to ensure that content is readable and effective.
Focus on Conversion Rates
Traffic is good, and a great indicator of how effective certain aspects of your site are. However, usability testing reveals a more important factor – conversion rates. Focus on conversion in your testing to locate precisely what barriers stop customers from completing actions on your site. Are they struggling to find the right tab? Do they get bored filling out information? Does your checkout process need some work? This is the time to find out.
Page Speed Matters
Here is one area where functionality intersects with usability in a big way. A recent study by WebPerformanceToday showed that an advantage of 250 milliseconds of page load time was the difference in keeping your customer from going to a competitor. That’s right: even tiny slowdowns in loading time lead to lost sales.
When conducting usability testing, remember that questions about loading times can yield valuable information. Tools like http://www.webpagetest.org/ and Google’s own Page Speed can help you analyze and optimize your website page performance. Fast and optimized pages lead to higher visitor time on site, engagement, retention and you guess it – conversions.
Choosing a Usability Test Tool
What do you want to test, and how much can you spend? Ask those questions, and then take a look at tool options such as:
UserTesting is a popular testing tool with a simple format. You create a test for a specific device, and UserTesting crowdsources reviews for you. You pay $49 per review (with a discount for new users), which includes a Flash video and a written report by the participant. This makes UserTesting ideal when reviewing new content or designs as you make them.
If you want basic reviews in short order, Feedback Army has numbers on its side. For $40 you get 10 different reviews for a basic list of 4 to 6 questions you can create about general site use. You can order up to 50 reviews at once if you want.
MouseFlow is a more advanced option for more behavioral analytics. You can capture the scrolling, clicking, and other mouse options with your reviews, building heatmaps that show where the most activity lies. You also get analytics per page that can help pinpoint conversion issues. Prices ranges from $19 per month to more than $400, but there is also a free trial option.