Andre Charland from Nitobi was at the IMC today, and here are the highlights from his talk about why you should be doing online usability testing.
Tip #1 - Keep it simple.
Simple is good. It's easier and usually less expensive. In other words, we like where this is going. Andre further broke this tip into 5 main points:
1. Use demos and prototypes
2. Write a quick script
3. Prep the user
4. Boardrooms not labs
5. Test early
Let's elaborate on these a little.
1) Do not lock down a design until you have done some kind of usability testing. Try to test concepts for individual pages or processes (such as purchase and checkout) early in the design process. This will help speed up your rollout as you deal with problems upfront.
2) Maybe you can't afford the time or money to create a prototype. That's fine, just grab a trusty white board or pen and paper. Sketch out a map of the process you envision and check it over with clients and customers.
3) Don't just sit someone down in-front of your website and say "okay, use it." Set up an open ended scenario such as "From the homepage, search for an item of your choice from our inventory and attempt to purchase it." This will put the user into a realistic train of thought and reveal ad interface problems that prevent the user from reaching the desired result.
4) When you browse online you do it in a cold white room with a one way mirror and a panel of five marketing experts watching you, right? Hey, whatever floats your boat. Unfortunately most normal people don't do this, and therefore you shouldn't be testing them like this. Set up your test computer in a realistic user environment like a boardroom, an office or lounge.
5) Test as early as possible. Why? because you are looking for hang-ups, problems and stalls in the user experience. What are you going to do about it once you have your site built, up and running. Probably not much. Going back to point number one, you should heavily consider testing all the way through the process. It will probably save you time and design money in the long run.
TIP #2 - Recruit Passionate Users
Sometimes it's easier said then done. But on the plus side, Andre Charland says that five people is plenty. Usability tests that near 10 or more people tend to get a bit excessive. He recommends you recruit users who use your software, but choose carefully. If you are a dating match maker site for example, not everyone 19-29 uses dating sites. Qualify your test subjects properly and don't just choose them at random based on general demographics.
TIP #3 - Check out this great usability testing software!
There is a wide range of software available. Some are free, while others can get pretty expensive. Fortunately Andre was kind enough to bring along his list of favorite free and cheap testing applications. Be sure to check them out!