last minute usability testing
Marketers come up with all kinds of excuses not to perform user testing, but failing to do so carries long term impacts PHOTO: Luca Mascaro

Making assumptions can be the downfall of many a marketer. 

Think about it: how often have you conducted user research without actually talking to real people?

All too often, we use data to infer what users want without ever asking them firsthand. According to Forrester Research’s 2015 Customer Experience Index, 73 percent of businesses cite customer experience as a strategic priority, yet only 1 percent of companies deliver excellent customer experiences.

Building the Case for Testing 

With research showing that by 2020, customer experience will overtake both price and product as a key brand differentiator, if was ever a time to learn how to conduct effective user testing, now is it. 

Introducing testing into your organization isn’t always easy and there will inevitably be pushback regarding its necessity and ROI. 

We think a good analogy is the process of building a house: First, you must set the foundation to make sure the structure is sound. And even once you pass inspection, there will be ongoing maintenance and upkeep to ensure that things don’t fall apart. 

Pre-Launch Testing

Even before laying the foundation for creating the best user experience, you’re likely to run into either or both of these barriers to buy-in: stakeholders feeling they don’t have the time or they don’t have the money for testing. 

We don’t have the time: Yes, it’s important to get to market quickly, but stakeholders need to realize that testing can actually save time. Focusing on the user in the beginning allows you to get it right before the project, rather than having to redo things toward the end. 

What’s more, the process of gaining insights doesn’t have to be time consuming. You can quickly prepare and execute a test with just a few participants in a matter of hours. 

We don’t have the money: It’s a common misconception that testing is always expensive. Testing can easily help eliminate feature overload, which reduces development time. There are a variety of online testing options available today to can fit any budget. 

Minimum Viable Testing

The best way to get stakeholders to see the value of testing is to show them the results. Testing at every phase in the product life cycle is ideal but might not always be possible, so your first step is to decide what you’re going to test and when you’re going to test it. The Nielsen Norman Group UX Research Cheat Sheet can guide you here with some great tips. 

We recommend taking a Minimum Viable Testing (MVT) approach. Your MVT is going to change from project to project, but if you do any sort of testing, the most informative and useful will be wireframe usability testing.

Wireframe Usability Testing 

Wireframe usability testing allows you to gain insights by asking users to complete typical tasks. In-person testing allows the facilitator to watch, listen, ask follow-up questions and take notes. With today’s remote testing services, you can quickly recruit users and get results in a matter of hours.  

Testing wireframes allows you to make sure you’re delivering the best experience possible by validating that your navigation is working and seeing if users can perform the necessary tasks. 

Wireframe usability testing also gives groups within your organization a way to align on priorities, ensure that the proposed experience can support business objectives and shorten the development lifecycle.

Putting Your Testing Plan Into Motion

Testing doesn’t require a massive number of users. In fact, using as few as five testing participants will uncover 85 percent of the usability problems on a given website. 

Putting the test into motion can often be the biggest barrier. That’s when it can be extremely helpful to sit down as a team to discuss the items below: 

  1. What are you trying to learn?
  2. What are the tasks and questions you want your users to answer?
  3. What target users do you need to recruit to get the feedback you need? How do you plan to recruit them?
  4. How many participants should you include?
  5. Will you be testing remotely or in person? 
  6. When are you going to test? What are the timing milestones you need to meet? 
  7. How and when will you analyze the test findings and discuss the results as a team?  

Some Tools of the Trade

Having the testing tools you need will make your job much easier. For in-person, moderated usability testing, Silverback 3, is a free app for Mac with most of the basic features needed to record sessions. 

Other helpful in-person testing tools are Morae or Camtasia, which are more expensive, but worth the investment for extensive testing. For remote unmoderated usability testing, UserTesting.com allows you to recruit, write tasks and test wireframes, all within a single platform. You can also do quick remote moderated testing by using WebEx to schedule and record your sessions.

Post-Launch A/B and Multivariate Testing

With your new site up and running, there’s still some learning to be done because post-launch testing will also provide valuable insights. For example, post-launch testing will help you determine how the user experience can be maintained or improved, as well as where there might be additional opportunities to optimize the site further. 

Launching your site required you to make assumptions about the content that would effectively engage your users and move them to take the desired actions. A/B and multivariate testing allows you to get to the heart of what’s working and resonating with your users — and what isn’t.

Call-to-Action Versus Optimal User Flow

Your site analytics will let you look at how your pages are performing versus your goals. If you’re seeing low conversions or content that isn’t being engaged with as expected, develop a hypothesis and start developing content variations to test against. 

There are two fundamental approaches to post-launch testing, action content testing and flow content testing.

  • Call-to-Action Testing: Action testing tests your call-to-action (CTA) and conversion content to provide insights into what user interactions are reinforcing your business objectives. For example, you could test the effectiveness of different CTA button text, button colors and styling or imagery that supports your CTA
  • Optimal User Flow: User flow testing uses analytics to identify pages with high drop-offs or low conversions.  Here’s where you might test different messages or offers — for example, 10 percent off versus save $10 — to gauge their relative effectiveness

Setting the Stage for Smart Decision-Making

Testing, like building or buying a home, can be a process that may feel overwhelming at the start. The gains in user experience, however, will make it all worthwhile in the end. 

The data and insights you gain will not only demonstrate the value of your investment, but set the stage for smart decision making about content, experiences and user engagement in the future.