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Website Usability Testing 101

Written by Taylor Hawes

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

website usability testing

Sure, your website may be beautiful, but is it doing its job when it comes to converting first time visitors into lifelong readers?  If you aren’t sure whether or not your website is performing as well as it could, measure it against all of the following usability metrics:

 

Step #1 – Accessibility

As you might expect, a great place to start your website usability testing is to determine whether or not visitors are able to access your site in the first place!  Ask yourself the following questions to minimize any such issues:

Does your website display correctly in multiple browsers?

What looks good in Chrome might not work in IE – and what looks good on your desktop might render horribly in a mobile environment.  Check your website in multiple browsers at once using cross-browser compatibility testing tools like BrowserShots.

Are your load times reasonable?

Slow load times frustrate both users and the search engines alike.  Make sure your site speed is up-to-par (or get recommendations on how to improve load times if necessary) by using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.

Can the search engines index your content?

Plenty of different website elements can interfere with search engine indexing, which can prevent your site from receiving all of the natural search engine traffic it should.  Run your website through the WebConf’s Search Engine Spider Simulator.  If you don’t see your content appear as text, something in your site’s code is preventing proper indexing and must be resolved.

 

Step #2 – Branding Identity

Of course, website usability isn’t all about your site’s functionality.  Another key component of your website’s operation is its ability to distinguish itself from other sites in order to retain readers.  Here’s what you need to know:

Does your website pass the “5 second test”?

Using tools like FiveSecondTest, determine whether or not your company’s most important website elements are appropriately highlighted through your site’s design.  If not, make changes and run future tests until visitors hit upon your most important content right off the bat.

Do your visual aesthetics distinguish your brand?

The importance of a site’s visual qualities can’t be understated.  Use the principles of color psychology and the process of split testing to ensure that the visual aesthetics of your website don’t conflict with your brand’s identity or positioning.

 

website navigation

Step #3 – Navigation

While it’s important to address any deficiencies in your site’s structure, it’s just as critical that users be able to find the information they’re looking for upon arriving on your website.  Check your navigation before it wrecks your site’s usability.

Is your main navigation easily identifiable?

When it comes to navigation, don’t make your visitors guess!  Ask friends, family members and other contacts whether or not they can immediately identify the main navigation elements of your site.  If they can’t, your website visitors can’t either – meaning that a redesign is in order.

Are your links styled clearly and consistently?

Beyond your main navigation bars, internal and external links help your readers to move through your site and find the content they’re looking for.  Make it clear how they should proceed by styling your links using a consistent set of colors and fonts.

Can visitors quickly identify important pages on your site?

Website visitors have notoriously short attention spans.  If they can’t find what they’re looking for on your site in just a few moments, they’ll hit the “Back” button and head to your competitors’ websites.  Minimize this by making key pages and key pieces of content immediately apparent through your site’s design.

 

Step #4 – Content

Once you’ve helped your visitors to move through your content, make it as easy as possible for them to digest the information they’ve found by optimizing your page text from a usability standpoint:

Is your content easily digestible?

Large blocks of text fail when it comes to usability.  Instead, break up your content through the use of headings, sub-headings, bullet point lists, numbered lists and bolded text.

Are your critical pieces of information placed above the fold?

Don’t hide important information below the fold (that is, below the point at which a user must scroll his browser window to read more).  Doing so frustrates users, leading to unnecessarily high bounce rates and low on-site engagement.

Does your page content utilize on-site SEO best practices?

Although SEO often gets a bad rap as being “scammy,” it can be used appropriately to benefit both users and the search engines.  Make use of meta tags, keyword placements and internal links in accordance with current on-site SEO best practices for best results.

Though the thought of measuring all of these different website elements might seem overwhelming, don’t let this prevent you from taking action to improve your site’s usability.  Addressing individual elements as your schedule permits will allow you to create a culture of continuous improvement that results in better website performance over time.

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Comments
  • Mike Becvar

    For all of the projects I have worked on, “accessibility” has always related to the ability for a person with disabilities to use a piece of software or website. Testing a website for accessibility means to see if a person can navigate via keyboard, use assistive technology like a screen reader, or follow along with a video or audio segment by reading the transcript. These are totally unrelated to the items you list as Accessibility in Step #1.

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