Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Low cost user experience testing

Low cost user experience testing

User experience testing and usability testing are absolutely essential for the creation or editing of a successful website. While it is important for all types of websites, testing is particularly important for e-commerce and other complex websites where users will need to do navigating through several pages in order to achieve their objectives.

Over the past few years, several companies have ventured into the development of user experience testing equipment which can help you get feedback for your website through surveys, user tests, written feedback, heat maps (which show you where users are clicking or spending the most time on a page), first clicks and expert feedback. The problem is that many user experience testing services are quite expensive, running up to $900 per month or more for larger projects. Whilst the benefits obtained from the use of such software is likely to provide a good return, the initial investment may be too pricey for smaller web development companies and small website owners.

If you are just starting out or your website is not converting website users into clients you may wish to to seek cheaper alternatives to conduct user experience testing. This can be a viable strategy until your website revenue stacks up and you can proceed to re-invest some of your website's income into more complex user experience testing mechanisms. This article will teach you how you can use the following techniques to test user experience without spending much, if anything at all. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that despite their low cost value, these techniques yield very high quality results that will help you identify user experience problems in your website.

Use affordable requirements gathering techniques

Creating a good website architecture and navigation system can help cut the costs of eventual user experience testing at the end of the website development process. So before you even start designing, get your stakeholders (which can be project participants and even your friends and family members if it is a personal website) and together to try some brainstorming sessions. This can take the form of scenarios – where the different forms of interaction with the website can be explored in the form of stories. They can then be documented using software such as mindmaps or simply using pen and paper. Whilst simple, this technique can help you create the best possible user experience to begin with, since you are involving your stakeholders at such an early stage. In this way, it is very likely that you will need less time on re-work and testing on the final design to get it tweaked. Other techniques that you can use at this stage are:

  • Paper prototyping: In an earlier article, we had explained how good old paper prototyping can be beneficial to communicate ideas before commencing any website development. Moreover, it is a very useful user experience testing technique that can help you observe human interaction with user interfaces even before these interfaces are designed and developed.
  • Card sorting: This is actually a really simple way to create categories and navigation for an e-commerce site. Just write the keywords for different products that you’ll be dealing with in your website, and have people sort them into piles that they think go together. Then, discuss the reasoning behind each person’s piles, to see why people associate certain things. Chances are that you will find plenty of overlaps in the types of things people group together, which can give you insight into how to set up your website’s navigation.
  • Backcasting: Although this pre-design technique is more suitable for your design team, it can also be helpful if used with people who are interested in your project but not necessarily involved in it. Backcasting basically starts at the ideal scenario and one would then visualize how to get there – backwards. For example, if your goal is to get someone to buy your e-book from your site, how do you get them to that end goal? This brainstorming technique can help the website creators think about the flow and navigation of the website.

Draw on the pool involved with the project

Once you are ready to actually test a website, whether you choose to run some A/B testing which compares different models of each page or simple survey type testing, you can do it cheaply by choosing the right people to help. Start tweaking the website with the feedback of any project stakeholders and creators – particularly designers, copywriters, or business owners who may not have been intimately involved in the actual website design. You can even draw on friends, family members, and Facebook fans to test and give you feedback about your new website.

Of course, there are some caveats here, too. If the people who are testing your website do not fit in your target audience, then their feedback will not be quite as helpful. However, since most web users expect similar things out of a web-driven experience, you can get some valuable information from these people, even if they are different from the group you are targeting with your site. Of course, it is important that you keep in mind any limitations and interpret any results with these limitations in mind.

Test using free UX testing tools

Once you have pre-tested your website or app and tested it again with people who are already invested in the project, it is time to employ a real user experience testing application to get a more specific and granular view of your website. Luckily, there are plenty of great free and freemium options out there, especially for smaller businesses. Here are some of the top affordable user testing tools:

  • Ethnio: This service allows you to use people who are already visiting your site to get information about what they think of it. The free plan accommodates up to 10,000 page views and up to 250 responses a month, which should be enough to get you started.
  • Simple Mouse Tracking: See how users interact with your pages by checking out this free plugin, which works with all sorts of browsers and designs.
  • Userlytics: Userlytics offers a free basic plan whereby you can sign up to be able to conduct 1 free test per month.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of great options out there for building an excellent small business websites without spending a fortune on user experience testing. These techniques can save you money while ensuring that your website will enable your users to achieve their goals.