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Get Your Website Right With Guerrilla Usability Testing

Over two-and-a-half billion people use the internet. They’re probably not all looking for what your business sells. But a tiny proportion of them will be.

Once you’ve found ways to reach that group of people (perhaps via online advertising, SEO or social media work), it’s really important you give them an outstanding user experience (UX).

Make your site easy to use

Laptop in cafe - guerrilla usability testing
Photo: Markus Spiske / raumrot.com.

If people don’t find your website easy to use, they’ll abandon it. They might even broadcast their negative experience on social media, undermining your online marketing efforts.

The solution is to design everything around the needs of your users. But although web designers have known this for years, many choose to skip the usability testing phase.

Why? Well, it takes time and is sometimes fiddly, but perhaps the biggest reason is that usability testing is often a messy process.

You have to actually talk to your customers, observe them as they use your pride-and-joy website — then try to avoid taking it personally when they contradict everything you thought you knew.

But you need to get over these objections. Usability testing is vital to the success of your digital strategy. What’s more, there’s a quick, easy and cheap way to do it.

What is guerrilla usability testing?

Welcome to the unconventional world of guerrilla testing. (Yes, that’s ‘guerrilla’, not ‘gorilla’.)

Guerrilla usability testing is a no-frills way to test your website in the ‘wild’. That can mean anywhere you’re likely to find members of your target audience, such as in a cafe, library or train station.

Guerrilla usability testing is often filmed or recorded, using software like OpenHallway or Silverback. It allows you to quickly gather feedback about the usability and design of your website or app — at each stage of the development process.

The idea is that instead of testing your website once it’s finished, you can get out there and show people early prototypes, then use what you learn to improve your designs.

How does guerrilla usability testing work?

Guerrilla testing can take various forms, but generally, participants are invited to take part in short (15 minute) testing sessions, where you ask them to perform tasks using your website or app.

As they work through these tasks, you ask your users to provide feedback on your website. You can also learn a lot from just watching them. Often, you’ll spot patterns from observing just a few users. These findings can feed into improvements for your website.

Expect your assumptions to be challenged. In any typical guerrilla testing session, you may find that users don’t understand the link text you spent hours composing, or observe them heading off in directions you hadn’t anticipated at all.

Anybody in your business can run guerrilla usability testing sessions. However, it’s good idea to find someone who hasn’t been closely involved in your design process. It’s easier for them to be impartial and they’re less likely to react to users who criticise or struggle to use your website or app.

Your designers or developers should observe, of course (or at least watch the recordings afterwards), but if possible someone else should actually run the sessions with your users.

When to use guerrilla usability testing

There are lots of situations in which guerrilla usability testing can be useful. For instance:

  • Find and fix significant usability issues before you’ve done lots of work to build your new website. Guerrilla testing is an excellent way to validate your design approach early and avoid having to make expensive changes later on.
  • See how your existing site is performing in order to gather ideas for its redevelopment or improvement. You might think you know what’s wrong with your current site, but doing some testing with real users can confirm your suspicions.
  • Test out a crucial online process, such as completing a purchase from your online shop. Making your checkout process straightforward can have a significant effect on conversion – so why not test it instead of just relying on your own intuition?

When considering guerrilla usability testing, keep in mind that the people you select for testing are crucial. Approaching people randomly in a cafe could lead you down the wrong path, unless you’re sure those people are part of your target audience.

It’s therefore a good idea to ‘pre-screen’ people by asking them some questions. But ideally, try to conduct your usability testing in public spaces where you’re more likely to find members of your target audience.

For instance, if your target audience consists of HR professionals, you could spend a day running usability testing at an HR conference. (You might have to ask the conference organisers first, of course…)

Tips for effective guerrilla usability testing

Guerrilla usability testing should really only cost you your time (although it’s nice to buy participants a coffee, or provide another token of your thanks). As approaching strangers in public can be daunting, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Tell them what you’re doing straight away. Explain who you are, what it is you’re testing, why, and what sort of feedback you want from them.
  • Put together a basic release form that explains how their feedback will be used. Get each person who takes part to sign the release.
  • Keep it friendly and casual. A good way to introduce yourself is to offer a cup of coffee for a few minutes of someone’s time.
  • Avoid leading questions. The idea of usability testing is to gather people’s actual feedback, which is less likely to happen if you tell them what to think.

But remember: there’s no right or wrong way to do guerrilla usability testing (the clue’s in the name). It’s meant to be quick and dirty, so the best way to learn how to do it is to go and get stuck in.