How easy a site is to use, its usability, is absolutely fundamental to its success.
So why do many sites, even new ones built on shiny new themes that have all the modern tools and tested theories built in, still fail to deliver for the visitor?
The reason is simple. Nothing is perfect and the belief “it will do”, or that there is nothing to address leads to one vital aspect of site launch and development being forgotten: User Testing (also known as UAT or User Acceptance Testing).
User Testing is the “no brainer” that seems to escape most brains online. You wouldn’t launch a car that had not been tested, so why do so many new businesses launch sites without testing them properly?
And we are not just talking about general website functions, we are talking key custom infrastructure development – members areas, complex forms and funnels, bespoke functionality. None of it properly put through a UAT program, none of it getting any feedback, none of it run through mouse-tracking tools, nobody even observed using the site to spot obvious sticking points.
Absolute madness and money down the drain.
What makes it even more unbelievable is that half these people will then waste even more time and money trying to reduce their astronomic bounce rate by looking at their content pages, not realizing that the real problem lays with the fundamental architecture of their site.
What Exactly Is User Testing Anyway?
User testing is not rocket science (hooray!). It is simply the process of getting people to use your site and then give feedback to you directly, or indirectly through tracking tools. Based on that data, changes are then made to make the site as error free and universally easy to use as possible.
Although not rocket science, UAT does come with it’s own challenges. There is a certain element of subjectivity that needs to be accounted for. Every person is different and will have their own opinion on what is “easy” and what is “good”.
Put together, User Testing is about making use of information gathered through technical data, feedback, observation and intuition.
The Three Most Common Usability Issues.
There are a core group of issues that crop up time and time again. By being aware of theses during site development, you can head off some potential problems even before UAT begins.
Of course, by employing a web design/development company like Media Proper, who have the knowledge to develop websites that already address usability issues through intelligent and intuitive design, you can also minimize the issues that might need to be resolved.
Usability Problem #1: Tiny Clickable Areas
Something as basic as the size of links on your site can cause BIG usability problems. Remember that people are not created equal and some will struggle with small hand movements.
This feeds into another UAT area as well, responsive design and mobile device browsing.
What looks great and is easy to navigate on your 1980 pixel resolution desktop monitor may not be plain sailing for Charlie with his beefy thumbs on his mobile device. So your UAT needs to test across all major device platforms and account for changes by using different CSS stylesheet entries at different resolutions – the principles of responsive design.
Usability Problem #2: Pagination
People visit a webpage to view a webpage. Unless the article is very long or written as a series of linked pieces, it should all be on the same page.
Unfortunately, some sites think it’s a great idea to split up content across multiple pages. This adds several steps to navigating through what is basically a single piece of user content.
This abuse takes place for two basic reasons.
Firstly, it’s an attempt to game Google by creating multiple pages of content from one piece. Using different keywords, URLs and titles, the aim is to try and squeeze more chances to rank out of a single piece of content.
Although this may work at times, the downside is usually in increased bounce rate. What’s the point in ranking for more terms if you don’t keep or convert the traffic sent, because you make them jump through hoops before reaching your call to action? These days, Google is even ranking sites with a high bounce rate lower.
The second reason this abuse of pagination happens is to increase page views. Usually on sites that carry advertising, the increase in page views can benefit their advertising revenue. More pageviews means they look more impressive to potential advertisers. More pageviews also works for them if the site uses a CPM advertising method (where an advertiser pays a set amount, usually per thousand impressions shown).
So pagination is abused for two pretty dubious reasons and if the people visiting your site are tech savvy they may be repulsed by such obvious dishonesty.
Usability Problem #3: Webpages That Cannot Be Visually Scanned
People view a webpage differently to how they would view a page in a book. A webpage, even containing just a single piece of content, has links to related content, images, adverts, opt-in forms, graphics, share links, it goes on.
So a webpage is actually more like a page of a newspaper – different areas requiring focus, which leads to the eyes scan-reading for the most important key points.
So good content is not enough, it has to be presented correctly so that your reader does not give up and bounce off the page.
Each page should be clearly laid out, with an obvious flow and minimal distractions. It means each page having a clear point of focus and working hard to make sure that it works for visitors.
Make sure you page has these basics in place:
- High contrast fonts
- Larger fonts for headings
- Different emphasis within the text
- Use of numbering and bullet points
- Descriptive and compelling headings
- Use of sub-headings to divide content
- Follow rule of one or two sentence paragraphs
Great content also helps. Make sure it hits the points needed quickly, trim the fat and ensure that one point leads to the next smoothly, by tightly framing a piece to address a very specific point.
How To Address Common Usability Issues Through User Testing
The three most common usability issues we have covered can be addressed pre-UAT through well structured content pages, legitimate pagination and multi-device awareness.
However, they and other user problems can also be addressed through a simple, but structured, User Testing process.
Broadly, a great UAT structure will hit the following four areas:
1. User Task Analysis
This area covers the fundamentals of whether a site works or not. It contains broad headings which address key functionality:
Learnability. Is a task easy to complete and easy to learn for repeat tasks? Efficiency. Are onsite tasks optimally structured or do they have excess steps? Intuitiveness. Is each step of a task obvious? Affordance. Are elements required to complete a task obvious and within easy reach?
By undertaking user task analysis you can iron out functionality issues on your site. This will lead to more user participation and lower drop out rates.
This covers on-page factors related to how a user digests the information presented to them.
Key things to look at to maximize reader understanding are:
Comprehension. Do they fundamentally understand the point made or action being asked of them? Legibility. Does the text and layout facilitate rapid and complete progress? Engagement. Does the page lead to an action being taken as expected?
Ease of navigation is sometimes ignored in order to produce a great looking website. But however great a website looks, ultimately if it is easy to move through then bounce rates will be lower.
Having a clear plan of the structure of your site, through categorization and a consistent navigational structure, will dramatically aid user retention.
If you do nothing else with navigation testing, sit and watch, or record, people using your site without guidance. Look for pauses, wrong clicks and use of the browsers back button as these are all clear signs that your navigational structure is failing.
You obviously want as many people as possible to use your site and act as you want them to when on it. This means making your site universally accessible.
There are three main accessibility themes to focus on when undertaking User Acceptance Testing:
Browser And Device Compatibility. Does the site look and work the same regardless of browser and device being used?
Semantic Mark-Up. Does your language cause errors, or hinder the use of screen readers?
Impairment. Can people who are color blind read your fonts? Is the site high contrast? Are there options to change font sizes and colors?
Don’t Leave Money On The Table: Invest In UAT.
As you can now see, not testing your site on real people means you are leaving money on the table.
It is not expensive to get User Testing done and if you have a clear plan in place it will not take long to get some useful data.
Always use impartial people, never friends or family. There are sites online where you can employ groups of testers who will complete User Testing and feedback to you in detail. This sort of quality feedback can be used in conjunction with automated tools for mapping mouse movements, entry points, exit points and clicks.
Once you have a detailed bank of information, you can then use this to tweak your site and give it the best possible chance of achieving your goals.