How to Test Your Website Usability

Website wireframe on a computer screen

Website UX is about making your website as easy and pleasant as possible for your user. A website designer is going to make a very good start on that but it’s impossible to get perfect on the first pass.

We can work with generally accepted website usability guidelines but your users are different from other users. Your product is different from other products. Your brand is different.

Test and learn. Launch the best user experience you can, then test and learn.

Why you need to test your website usability

1. Find problems in your UX

UX issues can be bits of design that the users stumbles over or actual mistakes in the journey. A lot of these can be mitigated by doing in-depth journey process mapping – choose your own adventure plans!

But some problems will only come out in the wash. It’ll take watching your analytics, listening to users and testing to find everything.

2. Learn about your user

Everything might work just fine, but testing can uncover opportunities to make your website usability more pleasant.

Ever seen that photo of a pavement running at a right angle to a lawn, and a curving track through the grass made by people taking a short cut? Find those journeys in your analytics or through user testing, and listen to your users. They know better than you what they need.

What we need to test in our website usability

Learnability: how easy the website is to use on first entry.

Efficiency: how quickly an experienced user can achieve tasks.

Memorability: how easily users can pick up tasks after a while away from the design.

Errors: how many mistakes users make and how easily they can correct themselves.

Satisfaction: how pleasant the design is to use.

How to go about testing your website usability

User testing can be expensive (using an agency or insights consultant to run field testing) or it can be cheap (the way I’ll be discussing). Any user testing is better than no user testing – even if it’s a little biased because your mum knows, sort of, what your product actually does.

Secure, through family of friend connections, a group of users in your target audience who know as little about your business as possible. Pay them. It’s worth it.

1. Test the website you have now

Set a series of simple tasks that you’d like an user landing on your website to achieve easily.

Example website usability tasks:

  • Contact the business to ask a question
  • Find [set product] and buy it
  • Read our cookie policy
  • Book an appointment for [date]

2. Test your competitors’ websites

Same deal. Measure how well your competitors’ websites compare with your website usability.

If their user journeys seem easier and take less time, note how they’re achieving that. Steal with pride!

3. Workshop new design ideas

Put your learnings in front of all the stakeholders in the project. Discuss sticky points in your journeys, things your competitors are doing well, things YOU’RE doing well, and where your website usability needs work.

Keep any proposed ideas on paper or use a tool like Balsamiq that makes your wireframes look like a sketch, to make sure no one thinks you’re suggesting a refined solution.

We’re spit-balling here and if you can get your stakeholders comfortable with doing their own sketches, this can be a super productive workshop for moving towards a design.

4. Mock up a proposed new design prototype

Take your final product from the workshop and make it into a working prototype. Clickable, navigable – using something like Marvel.

Run the refined prototype against accepted website usability guidelines. Are you good on accessibility, three- to four-click critical paths, lack of clutter?

5. Test your website prototype internally

In any business, you have smart people who don’t have a clue what you’re doing with the website or app or whatever other fluffy stuff they’re not good at. These people are perfect for finding sticky points and asking difficult questions.

You’ll obviously also need sign-off from your stakeholders at this point, and then it’s on to building your final (but not final – there’s more testing) design.

6. Build – and test some more

Your built site needs to undergo various tests – accessibility, browser – that all feed into user experience. But as we’ve tested the prototype and we’ll test the live site, you can give user testing a break. For now.

7. Test the live website

Yep – you’re not done! Now the site is live, you can more easily test your website usability in the real world. If you’re out of testing budget now, there are loads of places you can get independent feedback on your website for not much money.

Userfeel gives you videos of users navigating your website, so you can get their thoughts and feeling as they complete tasks. Userfeel works on credits, so for one credit (about £45) you can do three five-minute user tests of your website.

If you’re REALLY out of budget – ask people you know to complete various tasks. It’s not science, but it may throw up more howlers than you’d think possible after this much testing.

Hey, we test our website usability for a reason.