What’s the best way to throw the perfect punch?
Lots and lots of practicing and testing.
Daniel-san didn’t become a martial arts sensation overnight. He had to put in his hours.
Oh the power of testing like a martial arts pro.
And not just any testing. There’s the testing where people tell you what they think and there’s the testing where people show you as well.
What people do and what they say they do are too often completely different things. Yes, even if you have good intentions and want to tell the truth.
How to unmask the secrets? Capture and record how people naturally behave using usability testing.
If you’re seeking the honest answers to how real people actually interact with your websites and landing pages, usability testing can bring you straight to those behavioral facts so you can grow your conversion rates and reach your sales goals.
What Is Usability Testing?
Usability testing is a way to evaluate how easy something is to use. Unlike interviews or focus groups, where people tell you about their user experiences (UX), usability testing more accurately demonstrates to you how real users are navigating your pages.
There’s a ton of usability testings types out there. For the purpose of improving your conversion rates, there’s three main usability testing methods:
- Moderated in-person – this is where your participants physically come to a lab to be observed by a team of researchers. This one may be more costly as far as hiring the experts and renting the facility.
2. Moderated remote – users log into a screen-sharing tool (Join.me, GoToMeeting) and attempt their tasks while the researcher observes remotely.
3. Unmoderated remote – this one’s software-based (tons of tools available nowadays)
Jeff Sauro has a chart that compares pros and cons of each method for you to consider. Nowadays, there’s a ton of Saas companies that have usability tools available for you to run unmoderated remote tests (my next blog post features usability testing tools).
Jakob Nielsen at Nielsen Norman Group defines usability with five components:
- Learnability – how easy is it for users to do basic tasks the first time they see your site?
- Efficiency – how quickly are users performing the tasks?
- Memorability – when users return, are they still up to speed?
- Errors – how many and how severe are the errors, and are the users able to recover?
- Satisfaction – how pleasant is the experience?
Jeff Sauro at MeasuringU defines five types of usability testing:
- Problem discovery – helps you find the most common issues
- Benchmark – test usability before and after design changes to see improvement impact
- Competitive – test out your competition’s pages to gauge how you’re doing
- Eye-tracking – find out where people look vs. click
- Learnability – have participants attempt the same tasks repeatedly to quantify the learning curve
Notice an overlap?
Learnability is on both lists. Here’s where I emphasize the importance of enabling your end-users to learn how to use your page.
Why Should You Care About Usability Testing?
Yup, the learnability. We want to make things as seamless and natural as possible for your visitors to figure out.
Test usability so the design of your page becomes so user-friendly your visitors don’t have to do any heavy lifting, whatsoever.
That means less thinking, less guessing, less navigating, less questioning, less choosing and nothing but easy-breezy experiences for your visitors.
They’ll enjoy. They’ll remember. They’ll convert and maybe even recommend.
And in the end, you’ll be more likely to achieve your sales goals.
Here’s what hands-on usability testing did for Walmart: they achieved overall conversion boost of 20% on all devices. On mobile, orders went up by 98%.
Here’s a peek at the post-testing design for their desktop and mobile sites:
Most of the hangups we experience when visiting a site are blamed on us, the user, whereas in reality, it should be the responsibility of the designer.
Because you helped to design the landing page, you know how it’s supposed to work, but this might not be the case for a fresh user.
There could be issues clogging your conversions that you wouldn’t know to think about.
Usability testing can help tremendously with unveiling and clearing out those conversion clogs.
What would happen if we designed landing pages based on factual UX numbers and evidence vs. subjective stuff?
Here are some tips to beef up your usability testing skills so you can slice your competition outta the picture.
27 Usability Testing Tips
Usability Testing Tip #1: Generic Survey First
Begin with generic questions for a better understanding of the user’s history, habits and experience level. This kind of background info can help you correlate behaviors after your data’s collected.
Ask these general questions before you assign the tasks. Some opening questions from UserTesting’s Remotely Possible Demo usability test:
- What do you do for a living?
- Roughly how many hours weekly do you spend using the internet, including web browsing, work and email?
- What’s the split between email and browsing?
- What are some of your favorite websites?
After you give out tasks, you can start to ask usability questions specific to the sites being tested, like:
- What is this website for?
- What’s your thought process while completing this task?
- What is this website offering?
Before you formulate the task questions, you must first choose your tasks (more on the specific task questions later).
Usability Testing Tip #2: Choosing Tasks
There’s a lot that goes into deciding on what to test, so take some time with this one. Ubuntu Design’s Tingting Zhao breaks this down into three stages:
- Clearly establish the goal of the testing and call out exactly which features and areas you want feedback on.
- Walk through the process with the design team so nothing’s lost in translation.
- Go through and inspect the testing interface at least three times before going live with your participants. As you do this, be in the mindset of your users. This will help whittle down your tasks to those that are most specific and goal-oriented.
UsabiltyGeek’s Thomas Churm recommends choosing tasks at each stage of your landing page’s lifetime:
- Explorative – when your landing page is just being published. Tasks can be based on user’s thought process and conceptual understanding.
- Assessment – when your landing page has been given ample to time to drive traffic flow. Tasks can be oriented on user satisfaction, effectiveness and overall usability.
- Comparative – asses tasks across two or more similar pages to determine technical usability.
Patrick Neeman at UsabilityCounts recommends assigning five tasks per participant. The recommended time period for a test is generally 30-60 minutes, so leave time for your questions section, too.
Usability Testing Tip #3: Designing Tasks
Several decisions go into forming your testing tasks. If you have the ability to do multiple tests with a smaller number of participants in each test (which you do – more on this later), don’t be afraid to list out all those specific (and goal-oriented) things that you want to test.
You can build your tasks around each of those elements.
When designing tasks, make the task realistic and actionable, and don’t include any clues that help describe the steps.
You can have tasks that are formatted as closed or open-ended, and direct or scenario. Here are examples of each:
- Direct – strictly instructional: “Download a gluten free recipe.”
- Scenario – comes with context: “You just discovered you have a gluten intolerance and you need to find meal options.”
- Closed – checks functionalities: “You’re looking for some new ways to cook gluten-free meals. Download an ebook with recipes.”
- Open-ended – better for understanding how your participant’s mind works: “What’s the message on this landing page?”
Usability Testing Tip #4: Prioritizing Tasks
Intentionally choosing an order in which to present your tasks is a good idea, since the order in which you introduce them matters to the user’s behavior.
For instance, if you repeat a similar task in your testing, the user might be more familiar with the process the second time around, which will affect their ease of use.
The first time they experience the task will act like a practice run and they’ll naturally do better in the second similar task.
This is also known as order bias.
Usability Testing Tip #5: Choosing Questions
By answering specific questions about how people are using your landing page, you can uncover super useful actionable insights.
Jonathan Hicken at UserTesting recommends asking many specific questions, rather than a few all-encompassing questions.
Rizwan Javaid defines Question-asking Protocol as a technique used during usability testing to elicit direct responses.
It’s a way to dig deeper into a specific item so you don’t have to wait for your participants to stumble upon an issue.
His examples of questions you could ask participants:
- Please tell me what you would expect to see when you click on this button?
- Can you tell me why this label doesn’t match your expectations?
- How would you perform XYZ task on this page?
You can ask questions to find clarity on several topics:
- Product info detail
- Key features
- Missing info or availability
- Specificity or preciseness
- Page speed
- Proposition or offer transparency
- Anxiety level
- Threat level
- Attitude level
- Emotional experience
- Form completion process
- Flexibility for different action stages
- Info relevant to different buyer journey stages
- Experience level
- Knowledge level
- Education level
- Pain points or friction
- Control level
- Next steps
- USP and benefits
- Tone and copywriting style
- Time spent on tasks or efficiency
- Mistake recovery time or fault tolerance
- Media types (video, image, etc.)
- Design elements (layout, readability, legibility, etc.)
- Concept Testing
Usability Testing Tip #6: Task Goal Clarity
As a moderator, you should be very clear about the goal of your task (i.e. sign up within 60 seconds). However, you don’t need to share the goal with your participants either – just the tasks.
When assigning your tasks, you should also be very clear and don’t over-explain the test. This is how you keep your testing customer-led.
If you must, play dumb.
Lee Munroe at Mesosphere suggests answering questions with another questions.
Ubuntu’s Tingting Zhao’s advice:
“Avoid task cues that would lead users to the answers.
Be realistic and avoid ambiguity. The tasks should be those that would
be carried out in the real context, and the descriptions should be unambiguous.
Ensure an appropriate level of details. It should contain just enough
information so that participants understand what they are supposed to do…”
Usability Testing Tip #7: Recruiting Participants
This one applies more so to moderated in-person and moderated remote testing. For unmoderated remote testing, there are oftentimes options to use the SaaS tool’s panel and recruiting process.
Some options on where to find testing participants:
- Recruit from a panel
- Recruit from your site users
- Recruit through a research agency
- Recruit the participants yourself
Here’s another option to guide you on where to look:
Recruiting participants can be a challenge, but you can focus on certain audiences.
UsabilityCount’s Patrick Neeman recommends three audience types:
- Find people that fit your target audience – makes the testing more relevant and realistic.
- Find people with a range of experience – you can gauge the range with your opening generic questions.
- Find people that will hate your product – what better way to discover all the honest and brutal pain points.
Usability Testing Tip #8: Number of Users
If you’ve conducted any usability testing in your lifetime, you can understand the pain in finding the time, money, testing site (if moderated in-person), and in recruiting all those participants.
The good news: you only need to test with five participants.
According to Nielsen Norman Group’s Tom Landauer and Jakob Nielsen, elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. They say:
“The best results come from testing no more than 5 users
and running as many small tests as you can afford.
As you add more and more users, you learn less and less
because you will keep seeing the same things again and again.”
The bad news: didn’t find any. #killinit
Maybe you can afford to test that long list of tasks after all.
Usability Testing Tip #9: Statistical Significance
Instead of using all your resources on recruiting more than five participants per test, spend your money on running as many mini tests as your budget affords.
If you’re going for some split testing for groups of participants, make sure you have statistical significance and figure out what you need for a sample size.
Here’s a calculator you can use for a usability-oriented split testing.
Usability Testing Tip #10: Thinking Out Loud
Encourage your participants to literally think out loud while they’re working on tasks.
All those thoughts going through their heads are little golden nuggets that could lead you to some serious secrets, so try to get your users to share them as they go through the process.
The moderator role: say as little as possible while simply keeping the user on task. This will help to keep the user feeling natural.
Usability Testing Tip #11: Relaxing Environment
Similar to the last tip, it’s important to let your participants act naturally and do their thing. If you give them the confidence to act naturally, maybe they will.
A way to do this is to just relax and see what unfolds. If possible you can even leave the room at certain times to give your participants extra freedom.
Just be sure to record the results and encourage thinking out loud so you’re capturing the results.
Regardless, don’t make it awkward.
Usability Testing Tip #12: Competition Testing
It’s considered a best practice to include your competitor websites in your usability testing. It’s a way to test for the real world and it follows Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience (more on that later).
Warning: don’t reveal which pages you’re testing for to get truly objective answers. Find a way to slip it in there discreetly.
Usability Testing Tip #13: Counterbalancing
UsabilityFirst encourages using something called counterbalancing in your usability testing, which is a technique used to avoid the introduction of confounding variables.
Translation: Balance out and mix up the order of your tasks between participants in case a certain order affects how they might handle subsequent tasks.
This goes back to the order bias concept mentioned in USABILITY TESTING TIP #4 (prioritizing tasks).
Usability Testing Tip #14: Mobile Testing
With the crazy influx of mobile use, be sure to test usability on mobile devices.
Remember the Walmart example?
Those two pages ended up looking starkly different from one another after the rigid testing phase.
People think, feel, need, act and use differently on their mobile devices so be sure to include mobile-only usability tasks.
More specifically, people are increasing their interaction with mobile apps. Check out these stats:
Here’s what a typical mobile usability test looks like:
Usability Testing Tip #15: Behaviors, Not Opinions
Focus on your participant’s behaviors and not their opinions. This is especially true for your moderated tests, of course, where your participants have the chance to talk to you and think out loud.
Remember, usability is not necessarily about how much people like or dislike your site, or even the advice they provide. It’s about learnability and how easily they’re able to adapt to and use your site.
Usability Testing Tip #16: Prioritize Findings
Love your findings but don’t know where to start? Prioritize your findings to organize your data into more bite-sized achievable pieces.
Mesosphere’s Lee Munroe suggests highlighting and prioritizing your main issues once your data is collected. Here’s the hierarchy they use in their process for regular, efficient usability tests:
- Critical bug that needs fixed now (e.g. form doesn’t submit)
- High priority (e.g., no one understands how to do something)
- Mid priority (e.g., took more effort than expected to do something)
- Low priority (e.g., you notice a hover style missing for a button)
Usability Testing Tip #17: Take Action
This one’s pretty obvious, but it still takes motivation to follow through and take action on what your findings. What’s all that data good for if you’re not doing anything with it?
You’re almost there – once you spend the time and energy on improving your pages with all those needed changes, you should be able to enjoy the conversion rate increase.
Soon you’ll be obsessing over usability testing tasks and improving your landing pages.
Usability Testing Tip #18: Jumping to Conclusions
In any testing situation, this especially goes without saying – don’t jump to conclusions and keep an open mind. Your preconceived notions can potentially taint your findings and may even affect the tasks you choose to test for.
Usability Testing Tip #19: Recording
This one comes especially recommended if you’re running moderated testing. There’s something to be said about reading into facial expressions and visual cues.
The pioneer of facial expression research and interpreting micro expressions, Dr. Paul Ekman, has led the way to some universal understandings.
Science of People has a great guide to reading microexpressions which you might find useful as you replay your user testing sessions.
Usability Testing Tip #20: Test Early and Often
A good takeaway from ConversionXL’s Ott Niggulis:
“It’s far easier to make small incremental changes throughout
the lifespan of your site or product than it is to change one huge
lump at the end of it. Much cheaper too.”
Be strategic in your usability testing and run your tests throughout your early, mid and late stages. This will help prevent having to do a huge overhaul after publishing your landing pages.
By testing in each stage you can make smaller improvements more consistently and be quick and nimble.
Usability Testing Tip #21: Integrate Your Site with Goals
A good way to look at the purpose of running usability testing is to understand it as the path between your landing page and your goals.
The only way to reach your goal from your website is through usability – this is your secret sauce to increasing CRO. This makes defining very clear goals especially important, too.
Bonus: Six Usability Design Pointers
Usability Testing Tip #22: Use Mental Modeling
There’s thing called Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience, which basically tells us that people spend most of their time on sites other than yours.
What does this mean?
Browsers have adapted to the usability of other sites and are used to seeing things navigate a certain way.
According to Rizwan Javaid, this means that users have a mental model of how things should work.
Users expect your site to behave like those other sites, so don’t go too progressive with your edgy and fresh designs.
Go one step and consider your audience. Know your audience should be a mantra that dictates everything you do in your business.
In the case of mental model, consider which other sites your target audience visits and match those UX elements.
Here’s a case where an old-school design worked better than a modern-looking landing page simply because the audience was aged 45+. The age group was used to navigating older more classic web designs.
Usability Testing Tip #23: Use Fitts’ Law
There’s something called Fitts’ Law that’s become a staple in the human-computer interaction (HCI) industry. It’s based on an article published in 1954 by psychologist Paul Fitts, and looks like this (at least mathematically):
The translation: it’s common sense design. The bigger an object and the closer it is to us, the easier it is to move toward.
How it relates to landing page design: the concept can be used to minimize the time it takes to reach a target object (i.e. with your mouse to click), which can be a call-to-action (CTA) button or form.
There are Fitts’ Law concepts that designers can follow, like grouping items, movement and distances, sizing standards and prime pixel.
Prime pixel is a spot that’s more important than all the other on the screen, since it yields the most power. Here’s where it it lives:
If you want to dive into the more technical side of design, Fitts’ Law can score you some usability points.
Usability Testing Tip #24: Be Wary of Inline Form Fields
Labels and placeholders within your form field (aka inline form fields) may actually harm your conversion rates, according to Katie Sherwin at Nielsen Norman Group.
So be sure to test out your inline form fields to make sure your audience is completing them with ease.
The reason: it’s difficult to remember what information belongs in a field, especially if we get distracted (which happens a lot on mobile).
Here’s a layout of the field terms:
Here are examples of variations from worst to best:
Usability Testing Tip #25: Consider Cultural Usability
This has to do with being in your audience’s shoes and knowing where they came from.
Do you have a grip on what your visitors want when they come to your site?
Cultural usability focuses on the users’ understanding of the product and the context they put it in. Here’s Gavin Melles’ fancy way of looking at it:
University of Washington’s Huatong Sun thinks most people design with consumption and production in mind, ignoring the other three. Good cultural usability design includes the whole circuit.
Usability Testing Tip #26: Consider Cognitive Load
How long does it take your user to soak up all the info on your landing page?
There’s only so much time and space to use up in your visitor’s head, so use it wisely. As always, don’t make them think.
Decreasing the cognitive load will help with the learnability of your landing pages.
Here’s a difference in cognitive loads when comparing Time Magazine to New York Post:
Here are Rizwan Javaid’s offered ways to minimize cognitive load:
- Avoid visual noise
- Use patterns that match mental models
- Reduce required tasks
- Don’t break the user’s low
- Allow users to recover from errors
- Use visual cues and clues
- Consider novice and expert users
Usability Testing Tip #27: Consider Red Routes
Originally from London, Red Route was a concept used to keep traffic moving and flowing efficiently throughout the city, where key roads were identified and marked where cars weren’t allowed to stop and congest the traffic flow.
In terms of usability testing, Red Route analysis identifies any obstacles that users may hit when completing online tasks on your sites and apps.
The goal is to point out critical paths to your CTA and eliminate any obstacles that may stand in the way of your conversions.
According to Dr. David Travis from Userfocus:
“Define the red routes for your web site and you’ll be able to identify and eliminate any usability obstacles on the key user journeys.”
Attack usability testing with your best grit. Though jam-packed with particularities, usability testing can do wonders for you biz if done the right way.
Here’s a motivating example of how StubHub switched up their mobile site after running a series of disciplined usability testing.
The hidden find? People weren’t clicking the “See Details” link because they thought it would lead to fine print terms and conditions.
The fix? They added a bright orange “Go” button:
Reason enough for me. Now start uncovering your user secrets.