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Website Usability Testing – This is How You Get More Conversions by Improving User Experience

Post By Scott Yoder | Design & Branding

Website usability tests are underused, particularly with small businesses.  Many SMBs will develop a website based on their own instincts, intuition, and taste, but never analyze how visitors respond to the content.

The result is conversion rates that are lower than they should be.  Business owners love their websites but don’t realize that visitors are confused and unmotivated to act.

A website usability test uses a test person or group to interact with a website for the first time from the perspective of a potential customer.  They take a brief (about 30 second) tour of the site content then provide feedback on their experience.

One reason more businesses don’t conduct usability tests is they conflate them with conversion rate optimization (CRO) testing and user experience (UX) audits.  These are data-driven agendas, involving split tests, multiple variables, and long time frames.  The complicated process involved with these tests keep many businesses from using them.

Usability tests for SMB lead-generation and small eCommerce sites, on the contrary, can be straightforward and quick – while providing important insights.

Here are some tips on how you can conduct a usability test on your website and follow up with actions that will improve your conversion rates.

The “Fresh Eyes” Perspective

One mistake you may make from the beginning is to think you can do a usability test on your own website.

Let’s get this straight.  You can’t.  In fact, as the business owner, you are the worst person to conduct a usability test.  Your website designer, developer, and content writer aren’t much better.

The problem is that you cannot take on the perspective of a visitor looking at your website for the first time.  You’ve worked with your product too much; you’re too deeply involved.  Likewise, designers and content writers who’ve worked on the project for weeks or months can’t take on the needed perspective.

To get the right response from a usability test, you must use someone who has never looked at your website.  They take on the state of mind of a potential customer.  For example, if you’re a chiropractor, the tester assumes the persona of someone with back problems who is actively seeking help.

We cannot overstate the importance of this “fresh eyes” perspective.  It’s the only way to emulate the experience of your actual audience.

Choose the Right Testers

For SMB website usability tests, we recommend two users groups/types.

The first is what is called “hallway testing”.  This is where you get random people to look at your website and make anecdotal comments on their experience.  Often, you can do an “over the shoulder” analysis and simply watch how they respond to your content.

Hallway testing is quick and informal.  You might get a family member or friend to be your tester.  It’s best to watch them navigate so you can directly record their reactions.  As laypeople, they may have trouble articulating their experience to you after the fact.

Also, keep in mind that hallway testers probably won’t be as critical as you need them to be.  They’ll hesitate to disparage your work, even when it deserves it.

The second and more essential test comes from an expert review.  In this case, you get a marketing professional who is well versed in website design, user intelligence, and CRO to test your site.

This person still takes on the “fresh eyes” perspective of your target audience.  It’s critical that they’re looking at the website for the first time.

However, unlike the hallway tester, the expert can provide you with detailed feedback on critical aspects of your website content.  They can review:

  • The effectiveness of your orientation and navigation.  Do people understand what you do and where you are?  If they need more info, is it easy to find? 
  • The effectiveness of your value propositionDo people know how you can help them and why you’re a better choice than your competition? 
  • Use of imagery.  Do your images help convey important information, or are they filler that’s getting in the way? 
  • Content organization and structure.  Is your copy easy to read on computer and phone screens?  Can visitors skim read and get the main points?  If you have a video, does it enhance your message? 
  • Messaging and tone.  Is your content direct and informative, or vague because it’s filled with fluff and buzzwords
  • Thought sequence.  Do you provide the necessary steps and information someone will need to understand your value, or are you asking for a commitment too soon?
  • Trust factors.  Do you seem professional and trustworthy?  Do you back up your claims about quality and service?  Do you have proof that your customers were happy with your work? 
  • Call to action.  Is the action you want visitors to take clearly laid out?  Do you offer enough incentive to motivate them?  Is it fast an easy to take that action? 

An expert tester can provide you with a report on these aspects of your website.  It’s also effective to have the tester record their visit and make out-loud comments of what they’re thinking during the test.

This report should also break-down the experience based on time frames.  You want to know what their impression was in the first 3-7 seconds, if they were oriented enough to find the information they need over about the next 20, and if they’re on the way to conversion within about 30 seconds.

Evaluate the Results

Every website is different, and so will the responses you get on usability tests.

We’ve done hallway tests that uncovered obvious things like the phone number being difficult to find.  Often, it’s discovered that the content is too vague, making it hard to discern what the value of the offer is.

Sometimes it’s discovered that the website is a vanity project.  It has too many stylistic elements that get in the way of users completing their task.

Usability tests are excellent at seeing how trustworthy the website makes the business seem.  Even the slightest hangup with trust sinks conversion rates.

Last, you can see how effective your site is at motivating initial action.  Would the visitor call, fill out a form, or make a purchase?  Have you taken them through a sequence of decisions that is inspiring them to become a customer?

A good time to do a usability test is when you’ve finished an initial round of design, and also when you’ve completed a design or content project and you’re ready take it live.  Think of this as a test run where you can catch oversights, debug issues, and get insight into how a fresh pair of eyes reacts to your content.

This will ensure you don’t waste time marketing to content that has glaring problems.  As you get more traffic and data, you can begin to run CRO tests to refine your content for optimal conversion rates.

In just a handful of seconds, your website is either making the needed connection with the visitor or it’s losing them.  When you’ve done a usability test on your content, you’ll know which is happening.

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