Test Early, Test Often. User Testing and its Benefits.

Imagine you’ve just launched a new website that sells shoes and other footwear. A month goes by and your sales numbers are tracking below what you had initially projected, but your website traffic has been great. You look at your website analytics to see the various pages users are visiting and uncover that they usually make it to a shoe detail page before bouncing from the site. You aren’t sure what exactly is causing users who arrive on this page to leave your site, so you decide to set up a round of user testing. Turns out, your call to action to add the item to your shopping cart wasn’t clear and users were leaving the site because they were frustrated with their inability to make a purchase. Now that you’ve uncovered this issue, you adjust your call to action and begin to see a spike in your sales. So what exactly is user testing? And how can it benefit me and my business? In this blog post, we’ll answer those questions in addition to covering the stages of a user testing project.

What is User Testing?

User testing is the process of eliciting feedback, whether qualitative or quantitative, from people who are the intended audience of your product. At WillowTree, we incorporate user testing within our user experience design process, testing both existing websites and apps as well as proposed designs in order to validate that users can achieve their intended goals. For example, an ecommerce company may utilize user testing when evaluating the effectiveness of their online ordering processes, or an airline may employ user testing to analyze the functionality of the flight search and booking features on their site.

Why is User Testing Important?

Now, you may be asking yourself, “when would I ever need to implement user testing?” User testing helps identify problem areas in a product and provide valuable insights that can result in a variety of benefits, such as increased sales, better lead conversion, and increased customer satisfaction. Teams who are involved with developing a website or mobile app will always have blind spots when it comes to the usability of a product due to their close involvement in its design and development. To use an old adage: they can’t see the forest for the trees. User testing introduces the perspective of the actual end-users who can provide insight as to what works and what doesn’t through actually using the site or application to accomplish core tasks. Possibly the greatest value of user testing is that it can reveal the “why” behind issues with a product, which is information that analytics alone can’t provide.

Benefits of User Testing:

  1. Identify problems and optimize solutions. This is the primary reason that most companies engage in user testing, as it indicates where a website or application can be improved. User testing uncovers hidden friction points that make it more difficult to achieve the desired goals. By identifying these friction points you then have the opportunity to determine what the correct solution would be.
  2. Gather qualitative information. While analytics tell you what is happening, they don’t say why it is happening. User testing provides qualitative insights, including feedback on the following items: information architecture, clarity of content and naming on the site, UX design, items that are broken, features customers may want on the site, as well as a general understanding of what users do on the site. For example, the analytics or quantitative data may indicate that users get stuck on the checkout page, but it doesn’t tell you why users are getting stuck.
  3. Risk Mitigation — Save Time AND Money. Often we will find that our clients need to be user testing products but don’t know it. By testing the product before launch—ideally during the design phase—you can see what needs to improve, change, or be redesigned, prior to the product launching. Doing so saves your team the time of going back to make costly changes after work has been finished. The phrase often associated with user testing is “test early, test often.”

The User Testing Process

As you look to implement user testing, it’s important to understand the various stages involved in the process. Below, we outline what happens during each of the various stages:

  • Define the goals/objectives of the test. Similar to most projects, we begin with an understanding of the business’ goals and objectives. We also look to understand the role that the digital channel is intended to serve, and then map that back to those goals and objectives. While testing without specific outcomes in mind will provide you with information, it might not be the information you are looking for. Determine what the goals or objectives of the test are beforehand, and clearly define them.
  • Define and understand your audiences and their goals. This is a critical step that allows us to create a successful test. User testing uncovers friction points for our audiences as they look to accomplish their goals. Customers are great at getting stuck in places you wouldn’t anticipate them getting stuck at. Journey mapping can be a helpful exercise during this step of the process, but is not required.
  • Pick the user journey to test. Regardless of whether you have completed a journey mapping exercise, it is important to establish the user journey that will be tested. It is important to keep the test focused and not ask users to complete too many tasks at once.
  • Create the test. After establishing the user journey to test, you must go about creating the test. The design of the test itself should be easy to follow for the user, and the parameters should be clearly stated before it is administered. Providing clear directions at the beginning of the test and including boldface text for important information is recommended.
  • Implement the test. Now that you have your product, your test, and your audience, make sure you have an environment conducive to testing and that your users have the necessary equipment to begin. During the test, do not advise your users on how to use the product, regardless of how bad users are struggling.
  • Analyze results. At the end of the test, gather and analyze your results. If you are doing more than one round of testing, limit the variables of the test (environment, time, administration of test, etc.) so that the results are comparable. For most testing, limit your test group to between 5 and 8 participants, as test results will yield diminishing returns with larger groups.
    • When analyzing your results make sure to revisit the goals/objectives of the test. Did users achieve their goals? If a user didn’t complete their goal, what were the obstacles that made it difficult? What do the results show you about your product? Take notes and have several people review them so that you can determine what the most important changes are and how to improve.
  • Make improvements. Using the findings gained from your round of user testing, the next step is to design and implement the necessary adjustments to your product. If the data gained from user testing is inconclusive, another round of testing may be beneficial to attain relevant insights.
  • Repeat. Good companies and products aren’t (usually) created on the first run. Continue to test and refine your product on a regular basis to ensure its quality.

While user testing is an incredibly valuable tool, it won’t solve all of your problems. User testing tells you what a sampling of users think works well and what doesn’t work well. It’s then up to a trusted member of your team to assess the findings and translate them into meaningful suggestions for improvement. To put it simply, user testing allows you to avoid making assumptions about your customers and to instead, begin understanding them.