One often overlooked part of web design process isn’t technological at all. It doesn’t involve fancy coding or difficult concepts. It involves the most important part of your business or organization: people!
The best text, the prettiest pictures, and the most amazing layout won’t mean anything and won’t translate into better business for you if people can’t use the website or complete the actions you want them to do. For example, if you want a website visitor to read about your landscaping services and perhaps see photos of your work and then contact you for an estimate, your website is useless if he can’t find your contact information! Likewise, if you want a customer to browse through and then purchase a book, she needs to find the shopping cart.
You can conduct simple, informal usability tests to see how easy your website is to use. Round up some people in your target market who are willing to help you, and get started! These tests are ideal before a website goes live so that you can plan changes before the website launches, but it’s never too late to gain valuable feedback.
An important consideration is to try to use different computers with different browsers and different internet connections. Seeing how these tasks go in various environments (just like in the real world) can be quite eye opening.
As you visit with different testing individuals, be sure to keep them at ease. Stress that this isn’t any kind of test that they will pass or fail; if anything, they are “grading” your website! Encourage your participants to think out loud as they use your website. Knowing what’s going on inside a participant’s mind is key to understanding your website. “I’m looking for a link that says ‘Contact.’ I think it would be located in the top menu,” is valuable information. Even if your subject has a negative comment, encourage it to be shared; in fact, it’s what you want because it shows you what needs to be improved.
Ask each participant to perform some basic tasks—making purchases, signing up for newsletters, making contact via a contact form, finding the press releases—whatever it is that you want your real-world users to do. (If they need to make purchases or give any personal information, be sure to provide your subjects with false credit card and contact information for privacy reasons.) As your participants are completing your tasks and thinking aloud, you should be writing what they say, timing how long it takes them to complete tasks, noting how they go about completing their tasks. These notes will be a goldmine in helping you improve your website.
You should also avoid helping or answering your subjects’ questions about how to complete a task (no matter how it may frustrate them!). That would be counterproductive to the study. Furthermore, you should avoid making comments, groans, laughs, or any other feedback that could make your subjects uncomfortable or help them along. When the test is over, talk with the participants and ask them for additional feedback on how the tasks went. And be sure to thank them!
After you’ve conducted several tests with different people in different environments using different technologies, you can examine your results. Look for common threads of areas to improve your website. This will be a valuable roadmap as you work with your web designer in making improvements to your site. These improvements may help deliver more customers right to your door!