We say this all the time, but have no problem repeating ourselves; you’ll never truly know if you’ve got a good thing going until you test it out.

As a business professional, it doesn’t matter how great your content is or how cool your website looks, if people can’t figure out what to do, where to go, or how to navigate through it, they’ll eventually just leave, that’s it.

To avoid this, make sure to test your website with actual users before you go live. This will help you to identify both the obvious and not-so-obvious flaws so you can refine the experience into one that has the greatest potential to convert. Here are a few things to consider.User testing, usability testing, and A|B testing are totally different beasts- you have to understand this.

News flash: user testing and usability testing are different things. User testing (aka focus groups) helps to gauge user aesthetic preferences, expectations, emotional responses, and other opinion-based metrics. Usability, on the other hand, is all about how a user performs specific tasks and understands website functionality or organization; how your website makes someone feel is important, but it has little do with how usable your site is – we hope that helps a bit.

Then there’s A|B testing. Firstly, let us just say that we love A|B testing. There’s pretty much no better way to find out what design elements, content, and copy will resonate most with users and encourage them to take action/convert. An A|B test, however, is about optimizing a site that already has some baseline of performance. It involves creating slightly different web pages with different elements to test, and requires a lot of traffic to achieve any kind of statistical significance that can influence change. But, this type of testing is a great way to figure out what’s working and what isn’t—what you don’t get out of this is the why, how, and what behind what’s working and what isn’t. For that, you need insights provided by user and usability testing, and those things should happen before you nudge your website out of the nest and into the world. So in short, they go hand-in-hand to help you understand the websites functionality as a whole. It’s all-important yes, but it is usability testing first and foremost that helps facilitate the others. Getting started not always easy, but here are steps that we consider the most essential.

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  1. Define your scope + purpose.
    You can’t just send people to your website and tell them to have at it – how can you get anything from that? You have to first need to define which parts of your website you want to test. The whole thing? Just the homepage? Just the copy or content? Then you’ll need to narrow it down by purpose of the test. For example, how difficult is it for people to locate the search bar? Asking participants to accomplish this task and rate the difficulty will help you test and refine your site’s navigation design. Sounds simple enough right? But it’d understanding that something as simple as the search bar can
    make or break your site.
  2. Determine the time, place, and length of sessions.
    Usability testing is a one-on-one affair, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got enough time and resources to accommodate participants and learn as much as you can. Remember to leave enough time after each session for Q&A and to reset the test for subsequent participants – this way the beginning is the same for all participants, no matter the outcome.
  3. Get your gear in order.
    Will you test your website’s usability on desktop, tablet, or smartphone? Will you provide, or will the person need to bring int heir own device? Figure out what equipment you’re going to need to accurately recreate testing scenarios against how you anticipate people will interface with your site in the real world. Ideally—and in consideration of how people consume content nowadays (mobile accounts for one-third of all global website
    traffic!)—you would want to use all three.
  4. Round up some participants.
    Gather up some people, typically those that match your target demographic so their results will reflect the optimal user experience. As for number of testers, remember that whole thing about how A|B testing takes a lot of users while usability testing…doesn’t? This study makes a compelling case for testing with just 5 users—that is, 5 users per iterative round (15 total). The theory is that, by the fifth tester, you stop learning new insights. So testing in groups of 5 and using what you are learning on those tests can be proved not just helpful, but better on your budget.
  5. Identify what’s worth measuring.
    Every test you create should center around the participant accomplishing a specific task, and the metrics of that data should represent various aspects of that. For example, you’ll not only want to record if the task was successfully completed, but also how long it took them to do so. Were there any stumbling blocks that caused task completion to be less efficient? How many participants were able to complete tasks without errors? All of
    this will help you to tweak and refine after each testing group.

Usability testing can be a time-consuming but humbling process; but it’s the best way to give your website and most of all your brand, a foundation for success out there in the Internet wilderness. It’s so important to work both usability and user testing in before you launch, and on a regular basis as your products, offerings, or brand, change—it’s a small investment that can save you a lot of money and grief in the long run- and who wouldn’t want that?

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