Simple Website User Test to See What Your Clients Really Think of Your Site

A client had a professional designer and a team of developers revamp their e-commerce website.  New design, navigation and lots of advanced functionalities were implemented. Everyone was very proud of it. Until they launched it. Immediately after the new site went live orders plummeted. Their customers obviously disagreed but none could understand why…

I suggested they run a simple user test to see how people actually interacted with the site to get users’ perspective and uncover the cause.

This is how the test went:

We asked 3 friends to test the website. We gave each an avatar (the profile of our ideal customer) and an objective (the goal we wanted them to achieve – such as book a course in this case). Then we asked them to imagine themselves as our avatar and to try to complete a given objective while recording their screen.

They were asked to speak out their every thought, every question, every objection and frustration. We wanted to know their thought process at each macro conversion point, every step of the way. This was needed so we can identify gaps in the conversion funnel, to optimize for.

This was the basic format they were asked to stick to:

1) tell us what you are looking for now?

2) what are you expecting to find behind a certain link? Did you find it?

3) what’s missing for you?

They recorded themselves, sent us videos and then we watched them in action. Here is the summary of their experiences…

  • All participants had very similar frustrations with the new navigation & search functionality
  • All testers struggled finding key pieces of information
  • All participants looked LOST
  • All participants spent most of their time trying to find information instead of having it available right off so we can focus on persuading them to book now.
  • When interviewed after the test they all confirmed that had they not been asked to do this, they would not have tried so hard and would have given up much sooner.

Noone likes criticism, especially designers. Designer’s response to users inability to find information was “its right here inside this other page! She must be blind!” Well that’s not where they EXPECTED to find it. Users want it where they want it, you have to accommodate them or its game over. With your website you won’t get a chance to hand-guide anyone to the page where you hid the information.

Cons of this technique:

  1. Three users is quite a small sample to draw conclusions from. However if all three display similar behaviors and frustration you have a good case for rethinking your decisions.
  2. These people aren’t real prospects. As much as they try to identify themselves with their avatar there is still a big chance that they don’t completely understand needs, desires and issues that our real prospects are facing.

Pros of this technique:

  1. It will open your eyes to how your website is used by people completely unfamiliar with your website. When its your business its too easy to lose objectivity. Its also hard to come from a place of limited knowledge on the topic (as your customers usually have) and to ‘unlearn’ all the things you yourself know.
  2. It will pin point usability issues when it comes to how new users use your site vs how you envisioned it to be used. In our case users were struggling to find information on the site as they expected it to be in a different place to where designer envisioned it.

This is such a simple, no-cost user test (or very low cost if you choose to pay a company to run it). It will give you so much insights into how others see your website and what changes need to me made to make it more effective.

Recorded and in-Person User Testing

Another way you can run this test is by sitting behind the tester while he/she tests the site. This way you can ask questions and ask them to elaborate on issues raised. Its just important to not influence or lead them in any way. Recorded testing is more similar to the live user behaviour and avoids any attempts to influence, but the shortfall is that you can’t ask testers to elaborate.

One more thing to beware of …

Try to do this test in the earlier stages of website re/development. Reason being is that I guarantee you will make discoveries that you will want to implement. You might even need to revamp a good portion of your site. If you already spent your full budget, it will be harder to decide to implement these changes.

Why not just use HeatMaps, ScrollMaps and other maps to track behaviour?

HeatMaps, eye movement maps, scroll HeatMaps are all great tools for quantitative analysis that reveal WHAT users are doing and HOW they interact. However these won’t tell you WHY they are doing it. eg. scroll map with tell you that users aren’t scrolling past the first paragraph. What action can you take to remedy that? You won’t know until you work out a cause (or at least hypothesize and test your hypothesis). The quickest way to getting to your why is to run a qualitative test like this one.

Important: this can not be done by your internal team, managers, owners etc. This has to come from outside of your business or it won’t be reliable. I will be the first to admit that I refuse to work on my own websites and instead I outsource this job. This is probably why they say that the writer should never edit their own writing and fashion designers always wear black at fashion shows.

Author: Natasha Popovich

I have been in Digital Marketing since 2003. My focus over the past decade has been Google AdWords, Analytics and Conversion Rate Optimization. I spent in access of $30m on Google and worked with companies of all sizes in NZ, AU, Asia & Europe, directly and through advertising agencies. I now provide consulting services to agencies and businesses directly.