Usability testing helps you reduce costs, increase revenue, and improve the effectiveness of your website. When I say usability testing, I mean watching people using your website and gauging their success. While activities like surveys and focus groups help you learn about your audience’s opinions, usability testing allows you to see their actual behavior. My favorite part of these sessions is watching participants use a website differently than I expected and learning how the website can better support that behavior.
Usability testing can take many forms. This flexibility ensures that you can find an approach that fits into your design and development process.
In Person vs. Remote
One important aspect of usability testing is where the sessions take place. You can meet with participants in person, in your office, their office, or even a public place like a coffee shop. Or, you can connect with participants remotely, where you are in one location and they are in a separate location. Remote testing involves both you and the participants using computers equipped with a screen sharing tool like web conferencing software.
I have had great success with both in person and remote sessions. Which one you choose depends on who you want to participate, what you want to learn and your budget.
In person testing works well when:
- You want to see participants in their natural environment. Sometimes you want to see how participants use your website as part of their daily life. The best way to do this is watch them in their home or office.
- You want to use special equipment. If you plan to use eye tracking software to follow where participants are looking on the screen or any other special equipment, in person testing may be the solution.
- The website you are testing needs to be 100% secure. If you are asking people to add sensitive data to the website or your website is top secret, testing in a controlled lab helps ensure confidentiality.
- You want to see the participant’s physical movements. Web cameras can give you limited access to participants’ facial expressions and movements, but there may be times when you need to see participant’s movements in person.
- Screen sharing is not an option. When your participants have a slow Internet connection or you are testing your website on mobile devices, screen sharing may be a challenge.
Remote testing works well when:
- You want to see participants in their natural environment, but cannot afford to travel to them. There are times when participants will need access to files on their computer or other items in their home or office. If you cannot afford to travel to them, remote testing is an alternative.
- You want to involve a diverse group of participants. If you have a limited travel budget, remote testing allows you to involve participants beyond your local area. This is especially effective when you have an international audience.
- You want to watch people use your website while in the middle of a task. Sometimes you want to watch participants as they are in the middle of using your website during their daily life. Live recruiting allows you to instantly request that Web visitors share their screen as they are interacting with your website.
Moderated vs. Automated
For both in person and remote tests, a user experience professional typically acts as the moderator and leads the session. The moderator either asks participants to complete specific tasks on the website or lets participants use the website as they would on their own and then asks follow up questions. In recent years, a variety of remote testing tools have become available that are automated. The automated solutions do not require a moderator, so the sessions can happen whenever participants are available. I have used tools that track where participants click on a website, but some of the more advanced tools record video of the participants so you can see their expressions and hear their comments.
Moderated tests allow you to collect qualitative data about participant behavior with a sample size as small as 5 people. Automated tests allow you to collect quantitative data about participant behavior using a sample size of about 50 people.
You do not have to be a user experience professional to start improving your website with usability testing. To learn more about usability testing and how to start doing it on your own, attend our free webinar Why and How to Do Usability Testing.
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