Digital Marketing   |   Clock Icon 6 min read

Getting to Know Your User: The Benefits of Usability Testing

by Mike Breitenbach   |   Jan 12, 2022

As Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) analysts, User Experience (UX) touches our work to create convenient, accessible websites and ads. Usability testing is a simple UX method we can use to provide meaningful insights for our clients.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing observes user interactions with a product or service to identify problems and gauge satisfaction.

UX Consultant Steve Krug says usability tests are, “about watching one person at a time try to use something to do typical tasks so you can detect and fix the things that confuse or frustrate them.”

Usability tests can be used to evaluate live products like websites and landing pages, or even wireframes by:

  • Identifying problems

  • Uncovering opportunities for improvement

  • Learning about user preferences

Why should we do usability testing?

As digital marketers, we have a role and responsibility to positively shape users’ experiences on websites, apps, and landing pages. Implementing simple usability tests can help our clients navigate through their digital properties from customers’ points of view. Usability tests are a structured way to challenge our assumptions about how people use the internet. They reveal the gaps between how we might expect someone to react to a digital property and their actual experience.

As we craft digital strategies, it’s important to remember that quantitative data cannot answer every question or support every decision. Analytics can answer, “What happened?” but they don’t necessarily tell us, “Why did this happen?”

As a qualitative research method, usability tests help us answer the “Why?” by focusing on subjective details to give us insights into users’ feelings about a digital experience. With usability testing we can answer questions like:

  • Was the user confused or frustrated?

  • Did the user enjoy their experience?

  • How could the experience have been better, easier, or faster?

For example, if Google Analytics is reporting poor conversion results for a Call to Action (CTA) on a client’s homepage, we know what happened (not enough users are converting), but we don’t know why.

By conducting a usability test, we can ask users if the CTA was easy to find and made sense. From those nuanced, qualitative responses we can then pinpoint problems with the CTA, develop hypotheses, and implement solutions to improve conversion rates.

Testing one is better than none

The first step in designing a usability test is deciding to do it! The Nielsen Norman Group reminds us that testing zero users gives us zero qualitative data, while testing just a small group can reveal numerous valuable insights.

The ideal size for a usability test group is 3-5 people. While it may be tempting to solicit the opinions of far more, the Nielsen Norman Group reports that 3-5 users will reveal roughly 80% of problems without wasting valuable time and resources.

The testing group does not have to be exclusively composed of our target audience.

“Recruit loosely and grade on a curve.”

- Steve Krug

In other words, don’t let the challenge of niche recruiting get in the way of testing. If a user does fall outside of the target market, take that into consideration when interpreting the test results.

How to conduct a usability test

A usability tests starts with three essential elements:

  1. Facilitator

  2. Set of tasks to test

  3. User(s) to conduct the tasks

A usability test lasting one hour could follow this agenda:

Welcome (4 minutes)

The facilitator introduces themselves to the testing participant (user) and encourages them to be as honest as possible during the test. The facilitator should ask the user to explain their actions (what they are looking for or trying to do, how easy or difficult the task is, their feelings about the task), and remind them that the digital property is being tested, not them, to reduce test anxiety that could influence their responses. If the session is recorded, the facilitator should tell the user.

Introductory Questions (2 minutes)

The facilitator will ask the user a few questions to get a sense of their level of familiarity with the internet and the product. This information will help inform how steeply to curve the results.

Home Page Tour (3 minutes)

The facilitator will walk the user through the homepage and collect first impressions.

This could be a good time for the facilitator to conduct a five second test where they show the user the homepage for five seconds, and then ask what information the user remembers. This is a useful way to test CTAs and heading structure. If the user does not immediately recognize the most important information, then there could be room for improvement.

Tasks (35 minutes)

The facilitator will ask users to complete a set of tasks and narrate their actions. Tasks could include:

  • Setting up an account

  • Purchasing a product

  • Navigating through a form

  • Finding a certain product

Probing Questions (5 minutes)

The facilitator asks the user questions about their experience completing the tasks.

Wrap Up (5 minutes)

The facilitator thanks the user for their participation.

Last Thoughts

As we move forward into a big data future informed by machine learning, it’s increasingly important that we continue grounding ourselves in quantitative research.

Director of SEO Larissa Williams says, “Qualitative research is one of the least valued and understood aspects of audience research because people think more is better. But, the “why” that you get from qualitative research will never come from those other big data sources.”

Even at a basic level, usability testing is an insightful tool to connect with users and turn their experiences into positive digital change.

Are you a marketer interested in elevating your digital strategies? Check out our Digital Marketing Services.

For more information on usability testing, check out: Don’t Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web (and Mobile) Usability by Steve Krug

Portrait of Mike Breitenbach

Mike Breitenbach