Are you 100% pos­i­tive you know how your tar­get audi­ences use your website?

Have you been in the midst of a redesign when ques­tions come up about how some­thing should work, how a per­son will flow through your web­site to accom­plish their pri­mary task, what a per­son might grasp when they get to a page with detailed con­tent, or other ques­tions like these?

Start answer­ing these ques­tions with usabil­ity testing.

To run a usabil­ity test, it helps to have a spe­cific ques­tion in mind. While you can gain an under­stand­ing of your audience’s impres­sions of marketing-critical pages from usabil­ity test­ing, it’s most effec­tive in find­ing out how a user might approach a task or series of tasks. In higher edu­ca­tion, this might include sched­ul­ing a visit or apply­ing for admis­sion. In health care, this could con­sist of find­ing a doc­tor, sched­ul­ing an appoint­ment, or find­ing dri­ving or tran­sit directions.

Con­text

Beyond uncov­er­ing answers to these ques­tions, you often gain mean­ing­ful con­text dur­ing usabil­ity test­ing ses­sions. In one case, I sat with a high school senior in her school’s study hall in inner-city Philadel­phia and watched her get dis­tracted by other stu­dents throw­ing paper balls behind her, all while she was try­ing to get through a uni­ver­sity admis­sion appli­ca­tion. She’d got­ten the same error twice in a row and kept try­ing to click past it, as the melee in the back­ground continued.

Ana­lyt­ics alone wouldn’t have shown what was caus­ing these repeated errors. A real-world test­ing envi­ron­ment helps you under­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties your audi­ences may be expe­ri­enc­ing. Hav­ing the con­text of this sit­u­a­tion showed us we needed to take a com­pletely dif­fer­ent approach to that par­tic­u­lar por­tion of the application.

First time sit­ting through a full-day usabil­ity study of a site for which I’m respon­si­ble. Stress­ful, exhaust­ing, and so helpful.

— Aaron Rester (@aaronrester) July 11, 2017

So help­ful. Usabil­ity test­ing is worth the stress and exhaus­tion, because you gain solid insights and a list of items to fix. You’ll help more users than you can measure.

If you’ve never seen a usabil­ity test in action, this one may help you under­stand their value. Watch peo­ple strug­gle with Spo­tify.

This next exam­ple isn’t pre­cisely a usabil­ity test, but it is an exam­ple of a real-world sce­nario that many site cre­ators may run into. In this clip from HBO’s series Sil­i­con Val­ley, Richard protests that every­one so far has loved his prod­uct, then real­izes he’d only shared it with engi­neers.

“You’re try­ing to sell the plat­form to reg­u­lar peo­ple, but you never actu­ally put it in the hands of reg­u­lar people.”

Elim­i­nat­ing Hypotheticals

This demon­strates the real value in usabil­ity test­ing: the elim­i­na­tion of hypo­thet­i­cals. After test­ing, you know how your new site is being used by real peo­ple and, ide­ally, by your real audiences.

Test­ing early saves you time and money in devel­op­ment. Depend­ing on what you intend to test, the most effec­tive time to con­duct usabil­ity test­ing is often in the strat­egy and design phases of your site cre­ation. Have a ques­tion? Answer it with testing.

A day or two of test­ing can save many more of spec­u­la­tive con­ver­sa­tion. #aeachi

— Stephanie Ertz (@s_plum) August 29, 2016

Don’t spec­u­late. Test.