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Web UI Usability Testing using

Ross Beyeler

Here at Growth Spark we are frequently testing new web apps and SaaS tools for the sake of finding new and better ways to help our clients effectively engage their audiences and optimize their web UI (apparently we are also working on our tongue twisters - whew!). One such tool that we've been exploring lately is User Testing, a usability tool for website administrators. Before we dig in, however, here is some background on usability testing.

[caption id="attachment_490" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Home page screenshot of User Testing\'s home page[/caption]

User Testing is the act of setting up a test environment in which users are asked to complete tasks on a website for the sake of learning how others interpret that website's intentions. What may seem like a clear call to action to you or an obvious process to your team may in fact be differently interpreted and/or engaged with by different audiences. While we'd all like to be able to hire designers and marketers who are knowledgeable enough to readily present a clean and usable web UI, it is a crucial step in marketing your website to examine whether or not your audience is interacting with your website in the ways in which they expect it to behave. Unfortunately for all of us, every audience is different, and thus without discovery and usability testing processes, it's difficult to accurately pinpoint which methods will be most effective.

Enter, one of a slew of usability testing tools we've been trying lately. Used by many of the world's leading brands, User Testing is a tad expensive (comparatively), but offers a valuable product. You input the URL you'd like to have testers visit, along with a set of tasks for them to complete, followed by questions you'd like them to answer. Their browsing actions on your site are then recorded.

[caption id="attachment_491" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Setting up a Web UI test Adding tasks to User Testing[/caption]

The obstacle that User Testing manages to get around that other comparable tools don't offer is a community of usability testers. What this means is that User Testing pays vetted users from around the world a percentage of your testing fees to take these tests for you, which is a nice accommodation given the difficulty you could have in both finding and compensating testers. Remember, for the broadest and most valuable perspectives, you want testers who might not match your intended audience.

[caption id="attachment_492" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Usability Testers' interface Usability Testers are crowd-sourced[/caption]

While testers complete the tasks and questions you've requested of them, their browsing actions on your website are screencasted, meaning their mouse movements are filmed. In addition to this, their voice is recorded, which can be helpful to hear them thinking out loud. At the end of every test, testers are asked if they'd like to submit written follow-up in addition to what they've recorded.

Now, you might ask, how can I ensure that testers are appropriate for the tasks I've presented? Do they speak English? Do they do stuff like this all day, and thus are they looking on with a set of trained eyes? According to User Testing's FAQ, testers are carefully vetted participants who are asked to rate their usability testing experience according to a number of factors, such as their expertise with using the web, their age, their gender, etc. User Testing offers a full refund on any test in which a tester has not complied with the set of tasks set forth for them. Additionally, upon configuring your test, you can specify whether you want a tester from the US, or someone experienced or inexperienced with the web, among other fields.

We were lucky enough to gain access to User Testing's service using a promotional offer from the daily deal site, AppSumo (daily deals for web apps - check it out!). Otherwise, without the aid of a coupon code, charges $39 per test, which, if you're a small business, can add up. Still, as I mentioned previously, User Testing provides the testers, which, unlike many of the tools we've used, is an exception.

Overall, we've been impressed with the service provided by User Testing and would recommend their product to others. If you're so inclined, give it a try. Or, if you'd rather us do it, we'd be happy to help you set up a usability test using either User Testing or the variety of other tools we've been trying. Get in touch if you'd like to talk usability and the ways in which you can further optimize conversions for your website.
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