Paul Rouke
Founder & Director of Optimisation
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  • User Research

6th Aug 2007

7 min

To all online marketing managers, project managers, site owners, designers and developers (of commercial websites) – if you haven’t yet experienced user testing of your (or your clients) site 1st hand, then (budget permitting) I would strongly recommend getting your feet wet.

Instant benefits user testing can provide you and your business (or your clients business)

  1. Provides immediate quick wins – you can then action and subsequently enhance the user experience and user task completion rates, in turn increasing site conversions and ultimately your ROI
  2. Establish why checkout conversion rates are low and drop-out (abandonment) rates for a particular stage in the checkout process are high – again for E-commerce sites, a serious issue effecting the majority of sites large and small is poor (or poorer than what can be achieved) conversion rates of customers who have begun a checkout process. User testing this key shopping journey can identify where users experience barriers to progression and any areas of frustration or security concerns.
  3. The significant Search Engine Marketing company budget isn’t being wasted – rather than continuing to throw money on Google Adwords marketing and similar, driving more potential new customers to your (un-tested/poor conversions) website, budget is spent optimising the user experience of the site which will provide much greater increases in return on investment
  4. Help identify key issues in information architecture – knowing that users struggle to find a key area/tool within the website can be invaluable, providing the necessary proof that key changes need to be made
  5. Raises issues not even considered internally – perhaps an area that is considered optimal may in fact have room for improvement
  6. Shopping behaviours can be identified and the website tailored to maximise conversion opportunities – for e-commerce sites, providing there are enough participants, user testing will provide insight into different shopping behaviours (hunters, followers, impulse buyers) which in turn can help a business identify how critical information and calls to actions should be positioned within a page hierarchy as users progress through a shopping journey
  7. Quashes any in-house politics – real users provide the insights into what is and isn’t working on your site
  8. Creative marketing messages and promotions ignored – the expensive, slick piece of on-site marketing is actually overlooked as users exhibit banner blindness, instead they go looking for actual site content and not forms of advertising or promotions

User testing, when conducted professionally, can provide an overwhelming insight into how real users actually interact (or attempt to interact) with your site.

As I have experienced on both transactional and non-transactional websites, from SME’s to blue chip companies, the return on investment by carrying out user testing can be outstanding to a businesses online operation

Understandably work is required on identifying your existing and potential target audiences, and ensuring the right users are recruited to carry out the user testing, but with the right user experience testing facilitator (a service I personally provide through my user experience agency) and the right structure of test scenarios, gaining the insight available through observing a user using your website can both shock and excite website owners, as they realise both the current failings of their site (whether in UX, information architecture or technical errors) and begin to understand that by making sometimes subtle changes to their site will significantly increase user task completion rates.

What if you have no budget for user testing?

  • For businesses and clients without sufficient budget – improvise! Use friends and family who use the internet to a level which fits with one of your customer segments
  • Task these people with the same site objectives inline with your commercial objectives
  • Observe them as they navigate the site, successfully or un-successfully, and you will begin to realise the potential of user testing

With reference to the title of this post, in addition to observing user experience testing, a second factor comes in to play – think out loud methodology.

What is think out loud methodology?

The user is encouraged to talk about their experiences when carrying out task and scenario based exercises, so when they may have paused their mouse movement whilst contemplating where to look/what to click on, the user testing facilitator encourages (but only subtly) the user to talk about what is going through their minds at this key stage – remember the more cognitive effort a user requires to complete their tasks can enhance their frustrations or limit their patience in carrying out the task

I have spoke to other usability professionals, some of who don’t like to rely on what the user says, and although this can be true dependant on a variety of factors such as a facilitator who wrongly provides prompts for the user, or when a users actual site interactions conflict significantly with what they are saying, for any user testing that I have facilitated or being involved in, the user is always encouraged to ‘think out loud’.

How to maximise the potential of think out loud user testing

I would like to point you to an excellent and comprehensive article over at UX Matters entitled When Observing Users Is Not Enough: 10 Guidelines for Getting More Out of Users Verbal Comments. A quick summary of the 10 points that Isabelle Peyrichoux talk about in depth are:

  1. Be aware of your own judgments and projections
  2. Be genuine and transparent
  3. Adapt to each user. Do not ask users to adapt to you
  4. Be conscious of the way users are interacting with you
  5. Get users to speak about their own experiences
  6. Notice when users are censoring their own comments
  7. Get users to speak in terms of problems, not solutions
  8. Ask “Why?” and dig deeper
  9. Make objective and precise observations
  10. Allow users to be spontaneous and follow their flow

Although this great article will be of more use to user experience professionals and people involved in user testing on any level, it should provide an incite as to how user testing and the think out load methodology can be combined using basic (but often un-used) human relationship qualities to provide optimum user testing data and results.

Eye tracking – another level of user testing and customer insight

Coupled with the user testing and think-out loud principles, taking the testing another step further by introducing eye tracking can provide an even greater insight into exactly how users are interpreting a website and trying to find their way around to achieve the tasks/goals they have been assigned.

It would be diluting my points on user testing with the ‘think out loud’ methodology to go more in depth with the benefits of eye-tracking on this post, although it is certainly an area I will talk about more on a later post, especially as my user experience agency has now introduced this service to our clients.

Using Web Analytics To Further Identify Site Conversion Improvements

Although I’m a big fan of using web analytic data to uncover a vast range of improvement possibilities with site content and conversions, for this post the most useful think I can do is direct you to the following pages on the excellent blog of Avinash Kaushik dealing with all things analytics:

I hope you’ve found this article useful, and any feedback (and diggs) are greatly appreciated!