When it comes to launching a website , the top priority is to deliver a flawless user experience.
But how can we be sure that our site is really easy to use and meets the needs of users?
You will need to conduct a website usability test.
What is a website usability test?
Usability testing is an evaluation method that consists of submitting a series of tasks to samples of people to examine their interaction with your site. The main objective is to identify any usability problems , so that we can take a series of actions that solve them to create an optimal user experience.
During this test, users are given specific tasks to complete, while observers carefully record their behavior, reactions and difficulties they encounter along the way.
It is, therefore, a direct and observational approach that allows you to look at your site with the eyes of those who will actually use it, highlighting any weak points that you had not noticed.
In summary, it offers you valuable information to understand how to improve the usability of your service.
There are 3 key components to conduct the test:
Participants : target people, i.e. real or potential consumers who could buy from your site, who form a representative statistical sample.
Facilitators : also called observers , they are technicians specialized in conducting these usability tests. More precisely, they deal with: recruiting participants, setup of the testing laboratory, conducting the test, data analysis.
Object of analysis : in our case a website or an ecommerce, but it could also be a company app or even offline physical products.
The importance of usability testing lies in the ability to understand user needs . What may seem intuitive to the designer or developer who came up with the interface may not be so clear to those who will actually be navigating the site.
Direct user feedback is therefore invaluable and is the key to designing more usable solutions .
Why usability testing is so important for your site
A smooth and intuitive browsing experience is essential to keep users engaged and satisfied . With usability testing, you can empathize with visitors and understand how they perceive your website. By identifying friction points, you will be able to find solutions to improve the user experience , thereby reducing the churn rate and driving user retention.
The site usability problems that users may encounter concern:
Site navigation and structure – if users find it difficult to find certain sections or if they get lost within the structure.
Ease of use of the features : if people can fill out a form or buy a product quickly without encountering any difficulties.
Efficiency in finding information : if they can find specific information within the site.
Technical details : for example if the site is optimized from an SEO point of view , if it complies with the user data tracking rules set by the GDPR and so on…
An important benefit of usability testing is that it gives you the ability to evaluate the actual accessibility of your website , thus improving the user experience for people with visual, motor, hearing and cognitive impairments . The tests allow you to check whether a number of key factors are in place to ensure accessibility, such as, for example:
- If the current layout and font size allow all users to read and understand the contents.
- If alternative texts (Alt-text ) have been added to make the content accessible to people with low vision.
- If navigation is facilitated through the use of the keyboard , allowing those who cannot use the mouse to move around the site easily.
In the current era, ensuring accessibility for everyone, without any exclusion, and offering the simplest possible navigation is of paramount importance. This is also particularly appreciated by the Google algorithm , which in its mission to scan the web undertakes to evaluate websites and reward those that offer the best possible browsing experience to users, allowing them to climb the SERP.
Additionally, a website with an excellent user experience tends to have a positive impact on conversions . Thanks to usability tests, you can identify the obstacles that prevent users from carrying out crucial actions such as, precisely, the purchase of a product. By solving these problems, the chances of conversion increase, consequently improving the performance of your website in terms of business objectives.
And the competitive aspect shouldn’t be overlooked either: these tests give you the opportunity to understand user preferences and expectations, allowing you to offer an experience that better suits their needs before competing websites.
What types of website usability tests exist
There are different forms of usability testing, among which the three most common are:
Card Sorting Test : Simple, fast, and especially useful for evaluating website architecture.
Users are presented with cards that represent web pages, or specific passages of the site, and which they must organize into categories according to their mental model. This type of testing helps to understand if users’ mental models align with the site architecture and the sequence of activities.
Field Studies : This type of testing involves observing users as they use the website in their natural environment. Users are guided through the process of using the site and interviewed for direct feedback. Thanks to these studies, it is possible to explore usability problems in depth and understand the specific activities of the users. For example, it is possible to identify the difficulties they encounter during a purchase process or when searching for specific information. Field studies provide an in-depth understanding of user experience and are particularly useful for designing corporate or user-focused products.
Eye Tracking : Focuses on analyzing users’ eye movements while browsing the website. Eye tracking records points of visual fixation and provides a heat map (a “heat map”) that indicates the areas on which users focus their attention most. This test is useful for determining which elements capture users’ attention and whether the display sequence matches expectations. For example, it can reveal which part of the page users linger on or if they notice calls to action.
Depending on the type of test chosen, it can be carried out both remotely and in presence. You could also take a blended approach that uses a variety of tests to have a more comprehensive assessment of the site’s usability and drive necessary improvements.
Furthermore, these tests can be accompanied by special Web Server Testing Tools , which allow you to make a further (more technical) evaluation on the responsiveness, reliability, speed and use of the site’s infrastructure without involving real users.
Differences between UX testing and website usability testing
When we talk about usability testing, we often think of UX (User Experience) , but in reality they are two distinct processes. They can be seen as two complementary assessment phases within the design and development of digital products.
The first focuses on the effectiveness of the project by relying on the ease of use and efficiency of the site to identify problems of a more technical nature that users may encounter while interacting with the website.
UX tests go further, examining different areas and including elements such as emotions, perceptions, engagement and general satisfaction. Consider branding , user interface (also known as UI , short for User Interface ), content concepts, colors and other factors that impact the overall user experience.
UX testing therefore represents a process of evaluating common usability issues that could impact the user experience while browsing a website, such as:
- Page loading speed (remember that core web vitals are a ranking factor!)
- The level of user satisfaction after using the web platform (this may also include the aesthetic impact of the various pages: the psychology of the colors used, the size and position of the logo, the alternation between text and images and so on ).
- The frequency and severity of errors when using the website’s functions.
So, to sum up, usability testing is focused on evaluating the user’s specific interactions with the interface , while UX testing considers the overall user experience, including emotional and subjective aspects.
The results of the UX tests allow you to optimize the website’s front-end structure, information architecture, UI and loading speed to generate more traffic and improve the overall user experience.
The steps to conduct a website usability test
The steps for conducting a website usability test require careful planning and careful analysis of the results.
Here is an overview of the basic steps for conducting effective usability testing:
Identify tasks : i.e. the key tasks that users should be able to complete on the website. For example, for an e-commerce it may be necessary to find a product, register and complete a purchase. Tasks need to be contextualized and converted into scenarios that provide all the information needed to complete the task.
Identify the best type of test (field, eyetracking, etc.) based on the identified tasks.
Find valid participants, i.e. in target. Recruitment can take place through announcements on social networks or other platforms.
Decide when, and for how long, testing sessions will be conducted . For example, a session of 50 minutes or an hour could be planned, with around 35-40 minutes being devoted to practical tasks.
Analyze the data once the test is complete. This can include observing user behaviors, recording their comments and evaluating usability metrics.
Identify the problems that emerged during the test.
Find the right solutions to solve the problems that arose in the testing phase and evaluate the areas for improvement.
At this point the test should be over… but no. A website can – and must – improve over time in order to always ensure the best user experience, so it is important to repeat the test over the years, in a constant manner, in order to offer an increasingly usable and satisfying site.
In conclusion, usability testing is a fundamental tool for improving your website. It helps you optimize user experience, identify usability issues, improve conversions and gain a competitive advantage.
Investing time and energy in these tests will bring you long-term benefits, guaranteeing a successful and satisfying website for users: contact a team of web professionals to make your site more usable.