How to Run a Website Usability Test for Your Website

Sticky notes

Editor’s Note: The following article was penned by Eric Goldschein, Partnerships Editor at Fundera and Leadpages Guest Blogger. Interested in writing for the Leadpages blog? Hit us with your best shot!

Good websites are easy to use. That isn’t a groundbreaking observation, and yet many small businesses and e-commerce sites suffer from poor design.

Since 2017, 16.2% of tech companies have made customer engagement a high priority, while 15.5% have invested in customer experience improvements. Many of these improvements occur on company websites, where potential customers determine if they’d like to try or buy a product.

Many usability case studies illustrate the importance of a usable, well-designed website. As such, if you have not performed a usability test on your website, you may be missing out on business.

A website usability test can tell you whether visitors can complete tasks on your website that will turn them into customers. Small businesses should perform usability tests, regardless of industry or how popular their website is. In this article, we’ll cover how to do so effectively.

Dive right in or skip ahead:

1. Define what success means to you
2. Identify the right test method
3. Experiment with target audiences
4. Use insights to make improvements

Define what success means for you

Every website has a different purpose. While most e-commerce and small business websites want to turn visitors into customers, the specific metrics you care about may vary. While a landscaping business may want to drive visitors to schedule appointments, a small marketing agency may be more interested in building an email list. 

Before running a website usability test, you should define the test parameters and metrics that will determine a successful test. Do you want your visitors to buy something, sign up, interact with a service representative, or something else?

While your metrics will be unique, any website should emphasize a few foundational tenets:

  • High readability: A site’s legibility, comprehension, language, and grammar all communicate authority on the site’s subject and make it easier to use.
  • Easy to navigate: How many clicks does it take to accomplish a specific task? Are links and CTAs easy to find? An end-user should be able to easily complete any task that you feel is important to the site’s success.
  • Great design: You know a great site when you see one. Attractive user experience makes customers want to come back to your site.
  • Speed: Nobody wants to wait for pages to load. Plus, your SEO strategy depends on having a fast site. Google PageSpeed can help you test your site’s speed.
  • Accessibility: Your website should look and feel the same across all browsers and devices. These are some good tools for testing accessibility.

It should be easy for a user to perform any task that you deem important to your site’s success. Whether that is making a purchase, opting into promotional materials, or something else entirely will depend on the goals of your site.

Identify the right test method for your usability test

Computer testing

Because many components make up a website, there are many methods of usability testing, ranging in difficulty. However, a small team can complete many tests for little cost.

Some of the questions you may ask to determine the right tests are:

  • What do most visitors come to the site to do?
  • What is the most important thing I want a visitor to do?
  • What does a visitor need to do to convert?
  • How does my site look on different browsers and devices?

The answers to these questions will inform the tests you perform. Here, we’ll cover a few popular test methods and what they’re best suited for.

Task analysis usability tests

Website

Task analysis is a hands-on exploration of how users get from point A to point B on your site. In a task analysis, you begin with a goal, like scheduling an appointment.

Then, you break down the goal into the individual steps needed to complete the objective. Once you’ve outlined each of these steps, you have a picture of how a user gets to a certain goal. From there, you can hone the process to be more efficient. Lucidchart is a good tool for performing task analyses on a budget.

Card sorting usability tests

Woman working on whiteboard with sticky notes

Card sorting is the easiest and fastest usability test. A card sort assesses the viability of a preliminary design, as well as users’ understanding of the site.

In a card sort, you create cards that represent a concept or item, then ask people to group the cards into categories. A card sort can be open; meaning users create categories to sort their cards; closed, meaning the tester has already predefined categories; or a hybrid, depending on what you’re testing for. Typically, cards represent individual web pages or steps in a process, such as arriving on the site and moving from page to page.

Users will sort cards in a way that makes sense to them and, ideally, in the same way, that your site architecture has them sorted as well. If users sort the cards in ways that are vastly different from your site architecture, it can reveal significant flaws in the design.

Card sorting is useful when you want to design a new section of your site or see how customers expect your site to look.

Eye-tracking usability tests

If you’ve ever seen a heat map of a website, you already know what an eye-tracking test is. Eye-tracking studies determine where a user is looking on a webpage, what they’re clicking on, and the order in which it’s all happening.

These tests help determine how customers navigate your site, surfacing opportunities to hone the messaging in each of those sections. They also highlight irrelevant or uninteresting content that you can potentially remove. It’s like putting a video camera inside your customers’ eyes so you can see your website as they do.

Experiment with target audiences

Website

People on the internet fit into a near-infinite number of categories. Experimentation is crucial to any testing process to get a comprehensive view of how your site works for different types of customers or potential customers.

The industry standard of users needed to conduct a usability test is just five, which makes running a test simple for teams of any size. You can perform both internal and external testing on a wide range of audiences.

If you’re testing to find how usable your site is for existing customers, you need to find users as close to your own as possible. You can reach these users by sending out a survey to your subscriber list to screen participants, or incentivize users to take a usability test by offering money off an order if they take part. These users are your actual users, so you know their feedback is valid.

Many tools can help you experiment with other audiences, too. A few good tools are:

  • What Users Do: An online user research platform that lets you select test subjects from a pool of prospective users to test various aspects of your website. You can even receive videos of users performing these tasks.
  • UsabilityHub: This suite lets you test a variety of aspects of your site using different tools. It helps you engage many different types of users and perform UX and conversion tests to see how different audiences engage with and convert on your site.
  • UserTesting: This online service records real people and their commentary while using your website. You can select users based on different buyer personas and concentrate testing on specific areas of your website.
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Use insights from your usability testing to make improvements

What good is any information if you aren’t going to use it? All of the feedback you generate from your usability tests is, well, usable.

After receiving the results of your tests, compile the information and analyze any emerging patterns. Figure out what people had the most difficulty doing and compare those results to the questions you were testing to answer. Look at how long it took users to complete certain tasks and take note of any steps that took a particularly long time. Take note of the verbal and written feedback you receive.

As you develop solutions, implement them as soon as possible. The internet doesn’t stop, and every moment your website is not as efficient and user-friendly as it can be may affect your bottom line. 

As with any form of website testing, don’t stop after one set of tests. You should always test your website usability to continue to hone and improve the experience.

The bottom line

For small businesses, a good website can sometimes be the difference between scaling and shutting down. Of course, a website isn’t helpful to your cause if it isn’t user-friendly and efficient. Usability testing can improve your site to keep your existing customers happy and convert new ones. Use this guide to help you start testing.

 Partnership Editor, Eric Goldschein

Meet the author

Eric Goldschein
Partnership Editor

Eric Goldschein is the partnerships editor at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. He has nearly a decade of experience in digital media and has written for outlets including Business Insider, Startup Nation, BigCommerce, Square, HostGator, and Keap, covering, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and small business trends.