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Apply the Basic Concepts of Web Usability Testing to Your Own Pages to Maximize Multiple Visits

written by: cra8051•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/30/2010

Many Web developers have no idea how useful their product is for the end user. Even an amateur creating a home page can use web usability testing to improve the usefulness the site. Apply some of the principles below to get pages that encourage users to revisit and make use of the information.

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    It is not enough to design, or hire someone to design your Webpage, particularly if it will have an impact on your business, such as getting new clients. If the pages are not usable by visitors, then you will have wasted a lot of money. Fortunately, over the past few years, some good principles about Web design as well suggestions for usability testing now exist.

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    Professional Usability Testing

    Ideally, a Website designer or client would recruit independent subjects to test the Web pages. Using people involved in your business likely will produce biased results. Family members are no better because they may have a hard time giving an independent opinion. You want people with the same characteristics as potential users, not people familiar with your product or afraid to hurt your feelings. If you can afford it, use a temporary agency and tell them what characteristics the testers should have. Five testers is an ideal size for this kind of research.

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    In-House Usability Testing

    However, small businesses may not be able to afford this type of usability testing. While not as satisfactory, if you do two things, you may be able to gain some helpful information about your site. First, use the areas listed below to look at your competitors’ Web sites. If you have no competitors, then just examine some commercial sites at random. Make careful notes of what is found as you work through these steps.

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    Five Key Elements in Usability Testing

    1. On a first time visit, how easy is it to accomplish the tasks on the site that you suspect the originator intended to be easy.
    2. After you gain some experience with the pages, how fast can you use the options? You might actually time yourself with a stopwatch when you go through one of the processes. Then come back to it after more exploration and see if it is easier now.
    3. Revisit the Web pages in a day or two. How easy is it now for you to use the site? Could you use your previous experience, or did you have to start over from scratch?
    4. What kind of errors did you find yourself making in the first use? Was it easy or hard to recover?
    5. What did you think about the Website and the product advertised after your use?

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    Using the Results

    Do not rush this process and do not limit yourself to only a few Web sites. Take several weeks to make these analyses and review your notes carefully. Then, outline every concern or observations found and apply them to your own new Web pages. Be as objective as possible and avoid defensiveness. Do you see similar problems to ones encountered as you went through testing other sites? Look at the things you liked and disliked about the other pages and see how your own pages stack up. Now revise your own pages and then take a second look at them for the same five principles.

    This method will not be as valid as a full-scale market research or focus group test, but it still should be of some help in trying to get as much out of a new Website in terms of user happiness and return visits.