The Ultimate Guide to User Testing

Web Marketing & SEO


User involvement is the most important element of any software tool. Your website is no different and you need to make sure that it’s user-friendly as well as easy to navigate and understand. What better way to learn than to have the people who would potentially visit your site test it out? Today we’re going to cover everything you need to know about user testing.

4 Reasons You Should Test

In order to effectively and productively test your users, it’s important have an understanding of why we test in the first place. Success starts with knowledge.

1. ROI on User Testing

You need to consider the downside of not conducting user testing. Substantial evidence supports the that user-friendly websites convert at a higher rate. To be successful, you need a combination of a good product and a good user experience. If your software, for example, is too difficult to navigate, you’re going to have people getting “stuck” in the funnel. Investing in user testing will give you insights into how to “unstick” these people, resulting in increased conversion.

2. Unbiased Eyes are Best

Many of us can relate to being “too close” to our product. When a person becomes so familiar with their product, it becomes harder and harder to remain objective. Allowing outsiders to test the site will lend fresh opinions on how to improve results and better your overall product.

3. Written Content Perceived by Users

You also want to make sure that the verbiage you’re using makes the most sense to your target audience. For example, you can say “Continue Shopping” in many different ways, such as “Return to Products” or “Continue Searching”. Be sure that whatever it is you’re selling aligns with the language you use on your site; mixed messaging can be offputting and confusing to your site visitors.

4. Understanding the Human Thought Process

It’s not uncommon to get caught up in technical components of testing such as user requirements, errors, and calls for help.  Understanding what goes on in a person’s head while they’re using your site is important to have successful user testing. You want to comprehend why they did what they did and how you can make their experience on your site more enjoyable or easier for them. You want to know how you can best meet their needs, and while technical data is also important, the human factor is ultimately key to the success of your site.

Chris Goward of Wider Funnel gives advice in his short interview with Search Engine Journal on how to gain valuable marketing insight by testing.

Watch it? Now remember, your customers are “unique”, so testing in relation to their personas and needs is crucial.

5 Key Areas of Usability

Now that you hopefully have a good understanding of why you should be testing, we’re going to discuss what defines a solid user experience.

  1. Ease of learning the site and how to use it
  2. Efficiency of use once they learned the site
  3. Memorization or how easy it is to remember tasks on the site
  4. Error avoidance and handling as they happen
  5. Overall satisfaction with the use of the site

Now let’s move on to how you can accomplish these 5 key areas of usability!

Simple is Best

You want users to come to your site to improve their lives in some way, not make it more complicated. The best way to achieve this is to use easy to understand commands and content that requires general knowledge. Users don’t want to have to rack their brains while they’re on your site. User testing can help you in determining whether or not you’re on the right track.

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

During user testing, try to be aware of moments of silence. It’s possible a user could be confused about something they’ve run into on the site, so a silent moment is an opportune time to ask the user to express their concerns out loud. Really useful feedback can be gathered at times like this when the question or concern is fresh in the users mind. All it takes is a simple “ask” on your end to receive extremely valuable information from your user – which leads us into the next step.

Always Ask Questions

Asking the users questions while they’re testing your site is an excellent tool for gathering a better understanding of their thought process. Here are a few examples of key questions you should ask:

If you’ve already built strong relationships with these users, they will likely be more than happy to provide useful feedback to make your site or product more productive.

Have Enough Users

The number of users you should have depends on the goals of the testing as well as your budget. Every company is different. The recommended minimum is usually six users for each site. The majority of user issues can be identified with anywhere between 6-10 users, but having as many as 15 (if your budget allows) can help uncover additional areas that need improvement that you might have overlooked.

Comprehensive Evaluations

User testing should not only uncover the problems in the key areas you identified to test, but should also expose problems in areas you may not have considered. A few to keep in mind are:

This isn’t brain surgery; the key is connecting with your users in order to provide them with value.

User Tests: Qualitative vs Quantitative


Combining both qualitative and quantitative users tests will help assure that you are covering all aspects of your research.

Qualitative methods for gaining insight into user preferences include:

Qualitative testing helps you gain insight into users’ attitudes, desires, and objectives. You can also learn how they feel about a proposed design before the site goes live. Qualitative testing prior to or during the early stages of development of your site is usually ideal.

Advisory Boards:  These are small groups of selected representatives that typically include stakeholders and possibly end users who can describe the issue(s) that you’re trying to solve and the desired end result. Though this is usually the fastest and least expensive type of user research, you run the risk of not having sufficient input needed to ensure you’re meeting the needs of real users as well as the needs of the project.

Focus Groups: These are small groups of end users who are asked questions in order to gain feedback about the project. Depending on how easy it is to access end users and get the sessions organized, will determine the cost and timing for this type of research. More often than not, focus groups are completed after a day or two and the results can be analyzed shortly after.

Field Research and Observation: In this type of research, you go to the end users with direct questions, observing them in their own environment where the issue you’re trying to solve would take place. This method allows you to gather first-hand knowledge as well as identify any additional factors, which might not be prevalent in meetings or interviews. Cost and timing for this type of research depends on how easily accessible the end users are in their environment and how many visits you need to conclude your research.

Task Analysis: In this type of research, you can identify specific tasks and ask users to walk through the process they would use in order to complete said task. Using something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk would be a great way to go about task analysis.

Expert Review / Heuristic Evaluation: This is where a user experience expert walks through the proposed solution where they specifically check to ensure it meets the identified best practices for user experience design.

Quantitative methods for gaining insight into user preferences:

Using quantitative methods, you’re able to gain reliable measurements on patterns of use and user behaviors. Using these methods early on allows you to test a proposed solution as well as get feedback about an existing solution. These methods can also be used as part of ongoing testing for improvements.

Online Surveys:  This is a quick and easy way to get feedback from a large group of people. For the most part, you want to use yes/no questions, but you’ll also want to give the user an opportunity to provide any additional feedback so you can maximize your understanding of their experience.

Competitive Benchmarking: In order to understand the content and tools that competitors are providing to their end users, this method is usually performed at the beginning of a major project and in some cases, those solutions can also determine what is or isn’t working for your target users.

Using a product like Rival IQ to deconstruct your competitors site before your own site redesign can be extremely valuable. To learn all you need to know, check out our previous blog post on “Reverse Engineering a Website Design for Competitive Research”.

Testing User Behavior

While learning about user preference is a great proactive approach to building a great site or product, learning and testing user behavior allows you to continuously improve. The following are great approaches to testing user behavior.

Heat Mapping: This allows you to actually see where users click on your site in order to get a better understanding of how they navigate. There are various types of software packages that let you do this type of testing on concept sites as well as live sites.

Web Analytics:  After your site goes live, web analytics allow you to measure the performance of a solution by permitting you to see which pages users visit, how they got to these pages, where they enter and leave the site as well as any other performance indicators defined as part of the solution.

A/B or Multivariate Testing: This method allows you to test two or more solutions by splitting the users into groups in order to see which performs better for the specific task you’re testing. Key performance indicators provide hard data and can reveal which solution is most successful allowing you to determine which design to implement.

To Sum It All Up…

It’s important to remember there is no such thing as too much testing. A combination of qualitative and quantitative testing can prove to be invaluable for most projects. As you develop, testing along the way will help you stay aligned with user needs. A good approach is to plan your objectives, figure out your budget, and use that as a starting point for your test planning.

What are your favorite testing methods? Let me know in the comments below!


Gary Victory

Gary Victory is a Business Analyst at Elite Group Marketing, an innovative digital marketing agency in London. delivering cutting edge online marketing solutions to an extensive portfolio of private, public & multinational companies both locally & internationally. Connect with Gary on Twitter, @GaryVictoryLDN and Google+.

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