Website Usability Testing

Letizia Zappa
By Letizia Zappa

Knowing whether or not your website is usable is fundamental at any stage. Doesn’t matter if you are just developing it, relaunching it, or promoting it. Usability testing is one of the best ways to measure websites. What exactly is website usability testing?

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What is the usability of a website?

Usability definition is “the ease of use of an object”. In the web realm, it can be defined as “the ease with which your users navigate and reach their goals within your website”.

Users want to be able to find the information they need as fast and as effortless as possible. They have a low tolerance for sites that are complicated and slow and it takes them 10 seconds to leave one website to find a better alternative one. For all these reasons, usability is a core concept in interface designing.

Website usability testing

To keep users for longer on your website and make them return, it quickly becomes clear how important it is to evaluate interfaces’ usability. Such a practice is called “website usability testing”. Before shifting to testing, let’s clarify why website usability is so important.

Website usability importance

Companies use websites as touch points to reach as many customers as possible. Therefore, the perception customers have of the brand is partially (sometimes only) built on the online channel experience they have.

A usable website can:

Think also about those businesses that only exist online. Their success depends greatly on their website interface. It does make sense to measure usability now, doesn’t it?

How is usability measured?

Usability is generally measured by selecting potential users and making them try the product by giving them specific tasks. Let’s say you are measuring the usability of a traveling website, then you may ask your testers to try to follow your instructions and book a trip. Let’s now dig into website usability testing knows and hows.

 

Website usability testing methods

How to do website usability testing?

As said above, usability testing consists in asking users to solve a selected task on your website. There are different ways to carry out these tests of course. 

  • Moderated Testing. The test is done under specific conditions and location with an “observer” also called moderator, guiding the users, making questions, and taking notes. The participant and the observer are usually in a lab or a quiet place where dialogue can happen without interferences.
  • Moderated Remote Testing. Quite the same as above but done remotely. This means that users and observers are not in the same place but on a video call sharing screens. There are many software that enable this kind of testing.
  • Unmoderated Remote Testing. In this case, the users can test the website thanks to online tools whenever suits them best. The results are only later analyzed, so there’s no need for a moderator. This last method gives, of course, great flexibility to usability testing.

What are the different types of website usability testing?

Although there are many web usability testing methods,  we decided to feature here some of the most diffused ones:

  • Heatmaps (click tracking) allow you to track users’ mouse movements on the screen.
  • A/B testing consists instead of comparing the users’ experience of two different versions of the same website.
  • Surveys are a quick way to get direct feedback from users on your website usability.
  • Paper prototyping conveniently allows developers to test websites in the development phase and can spare them lots of time and efforts.
  • Eye tracking devices allow you to follow the motion of the eyes of users navigating the website.

The 5-Second Usability Test

We also want to present an alternative option: the 5-second usability test. It is a very quick test that consists in showing an image of the website to a participant for just five seconds. After this, the participant will answer some questions based on what she remembers from the image. This kind of feedback won’t, of course, give you a full picture but is still very useful. Studies show that users spend around five seconds assessing the quality of your website, so a 5-second test can bring insightful input. Here’s a video from the famous user experience consultancy firm Nielsen Morman Group: try their 5-second usability test!

What is Mobile App Testing?

A little memo here. It may seem obvious, but if we talk about websites, we cannot leave out mobile apps. Web usage is shifting from desktop to mobile every passing year. It is mandatory for a website to be usable on all devices: desktop, mobile, tablet. Needless to say that when we talk about usability testing, also mobile app testing becomes vital for a website success.

Usability testing examples for website and website usability testing questions

In order to give some real advice, here is a typical example featuring test questions. Say you want to test your e-commerce website (loveshoes.com) as you noticed your site has a lower number of visitors compared to your competitors. You’ve noticed that people often visit the homepage, they start choosing the shoe size but often drop out. You want to investigate this issue.

Once you have your participant ready you give her a task and then make a series of questions.

Task:

Please go on lovetshoes.com and a buy the red shoes on sale, size 5.

Questions:

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10 how easy was buying the shoes?
  2. If you found any, when did you experience difficulties?
  3. Do you find the website trustworthy?
  4. Do you like the design of the interface?

Thanks to this test you then realize that users struggle a lot when they have to select the size for the shoes. You realize that this function is not usable at all and it plays a very important role in the user experience. Now you know what you have to work on to make the website great!

Website testing checklist

Checklists can be a great guide through website testing and are also a good “where to start” tool. We’ll also offer a brief checklist for e-commerce websites to give you a more concrete idea.

Website usability checklist

Here is a brief bullet point list to guide you through the usability testing process.

  1. Identify which website pages/areas/features you really want to investigate: what objectives you’re aiming for with the test.
  2. Identify potential participants. What kind of users does your website target, where can you find them?
  3. Write a list of tasks and questions you will present to the participants.
  4. Test your website usability! Remember to test website usability with different screen resolutions and on different devices.
  5. Analyze the results by always keeping in mind your objectives.

Mind that this list can also be considered a mobile website usability testing checklist (mobile app testing).

E-commerce website testing checklist

Since we have given before an e-commerce website example, we will also use loveshoes.com as an example also for the testing checklist.

  1. Identify the pages and features that matter the most. The pages part of the purchase funnel and the important buttons/clicks that allow users to select the product, the size, the shopping cart etc.
  2. Identify potential customers: for example users who use e-commerce websites and usually buy clothes online. Possibly someone who also frequently buys shoes.
  3. Write a list of tasks and questions, similar to the ones we’ve seen above.
  4. Test your website usability! Remember to test website usability with different screen resolutions and on different devices.
  5. Analyze the results: where did users meet difficulties? Was the shopping cart icon not visible enough or was the function to select the size perceived as hard to use by the users? 

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Usability test website and the usability report

Usability testing for a website can be performed with a number of online tools. UserReport is an online software that allows you to test your website and gain insights on user experience.

It offers different features:

  • Online/in-app survey→ a website usability testing survey to investigate the user experience on your website with direct and targeted questions. The survey also combines such data with behavioral and demographic ones, giving you a complete picture on who your users are and what they’re expecting from you.
  • Feedback forum→ allows users to leave comments about bugs they’ve noticed but also to leave cool ideas they may have about the website.
  • Google Analytics integration→ it is always great to combine data and make the best out of every tool at your disposal.
  • Professional reports→ the intuitive report allows you to analyze all data coming from the survey and the feedback forum in real time.

What to do after website usability testing is complete: the web usability report

So you made your best to set up your usability test. You collected data, results, and feedback. What’s next? What should be your next move? Here are 5 steps that can guide you through the post-testing phase.

  1. Take the results you collected and organize them. Find similarities between the answers you collected, this way you’ll be able to reduce the data. Then intuitively display them and draw conclusions.
  2. Make a list where you rank top priority issues and less urgent ones. This way you will have a clearer plan of action.
  3. Compare your objectives with the outcome of your test. Do the areas you wanted to investigate need improvements or are they good enough? Did you find some unexpected areas and features that need improvements instead?
  4. Create a website usability report to communicate your findings to the people involved in the development and design of your website.
  5. Take action, start from top priority issue and make your website as good and usable as possible. Creating a website testing checklist excel sheet can be great at this stage.

Website testing checklist excel

Like in most things, being organized and keeping track of all data is vital. Something as easy as an excel sheet checklist can be useful in guiding you into website improvements. An example of website usability checklist can feature as columns these properties:

  • The issues resulting from the test
  • A brief description of each issue
  • The website pages and areas affected by the issues
  • Possible solutions to the problem

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Quality assurance, accessibility, and penetration

There is often confusion surrounding these three terms, which are often mistaken for usability. Quality assurance, accessibility, and penetration are all part of website testing. There are though some important differences. We will present for each a brief checklist in order to give you a more complete idea of what each different type of website testing requires.

Website QA testing checklist

Quality Assurance, often referred to as QA, is a specific part of website testing. QA checks if the site functions correctly and whether or not it is in conformance with organizational standards, unlike usability it is not entirely focused on the user experience.

A simple quality assurance testing can consist in checking if

  • There are any broken links
  • Some contents are missing
  • The spelling of the words is correct
  • Some pages are missing titles

Website accessibility testing checklist

Accessibility consists instead of removing all the barriers that prevent access to websites by individuals with disabilities e.g. people who are blind, are deaf, have a seizure disorder etc. It is a very important aspect as you can understand. Here is a sample checklist of categories that need special attention when considering accessibility.

  • Alt-text for images is a must: a deaf person could use a screen reader to understand the content of a webpage.
  • Navigation on the keyboard: a person who cannot use her right hand or the mouse may navigate a page using arrow keys. A website should be prepared for this circumstance.
  • Audio and video content. Making sure your videos have captions AND audio is important. Any user who is blind or deaf needs to gather as many information as possible.
  • Text resizing. Users with a visual impairment may need to zoom and enlarge pages. Even in this case, the text must display properly.

Website penetration testing checklist

Penetration testing is instead focused on security. It allows website owners to identify vulnerabilities and security flaws on the website. A basic checklist of what needs attention would look like this:

  • Spam email filter
  • Network firewall
  • Cookie testing
  • Application login page
  • Credential encryption

Clearly, penetration is a delicate matter and requires time, this checklist is just to give you an overall idea.

FAQ

To conclude we want to clear out a couple of questions commonly asked about usability testing.

  • Is website usability testing functional or nonfunctional?

Website usability testing is nonfunctional. Its final goal is not to assess whether or not a website works. That aspect is sort of given for granted. Usability is all about the quality of the contents, the navigation ease, and the overall user experience. Functionality is the step before, it is testing whether or not pages and links do what the developers want them to do. The one testing in charge of checking the functionality of websites is instead Quality Assurance testing, as we’ve just seen above.

  • What is the difference between manual and automated testing?

While manual testing sees real humans trying the website, in automated testing it’s scripts and codes that test the website. While the latter can gather more data and faster, real and direct human feedback is much needed when talking about the user and customer experience. We could say that while automated testing can be enough in functional tests (e.g. QA or penetration testing) it is advisable to also have manual testing in nonfunctional tests like usability.

  • Are there website usability testing jobs?

Yes! Even though website testing cannot replace a fulltime job and income, it can still be a good way to earn some money aside. There are many companies paying for tests. Users need to visit a website or mobile app and complete different tasks while speaking out loud or answering questions. These kinds of jobs pay around 10$ per session. Some of the most popular websites are Trymyui and Userlytics.

 

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