How to Test Your Website’s Usability Prior to Launch

Use these strategic principles and tools to check the user experience of your new (or newly reconfigured) website before it goes live.

Whether you’re getting ready to launch an ecommerce or lead generation website or thinking about revamping an existing site, the experience can be both exhilarating and terrifying.

On one side is the idea that your conversion rate is going to explode once the new site or newly designed site is launched. On the other is the nagging fear of “What if it doesn’t work, and we waste all this time and money?”

While it’s true the only guarantee in marketing is that you’re going to learn something of value with every experiment you try, those who think conversion optimization is like shooting in the dark don’t quite get the picture.

Get a feel for the effectiveness of your new website before you launch. Click To Tweet

It is possible to get a feel for the effectiveness of your new ecommerce or lead-generation website before you launch. Some say that’s like asking the website designer to pull out a crystal ball, but here at The Good, we always test sites for user experience (UX) before launch.

The more we can reduce the haze in that crystal ball, the better.

In this article, we’ll set forth some of the strategic principles and tools you can use to help make sure your conversion optimization efforts don’t create unwelcome surprises. You can use these tips to check the UX of your new (or newly reconfigured) website before it goes live.

Here’s how…

The only guarantee in #marketing: you’re going to learn something with every experiment you try. Click To Tweet

Employ usability testing sessions to look for points of friction

Usability testing puts eyeballs on your website to find out what’s working and what’s not. Employ this tactic at critical points in the development cycle to identify potential points along the sales path where the visitor is confused or misled.

Usability testing puts eyeballs on your website to find out what’s working and what’s not. Click To Tweet

You can choose between several approaches and tools – all designed to help you evaluate the usability testing session. A typical scenario will require a person who has never accessed the site before to visit and accomplish a series of pre-defined tasks. The tools help you observe what happens.

Here’s an example of a series the test participants might be asked to perform:

  • Find a 100 percent cotton shirt in your chosen size and color.
  • Select a shirt and place it in the shopping cart.
  • You have a question. Find out how to get an answer in the quickest way.
  • You want to add a second item to your cart. Find a lint brush and add it to the cart.
  • Continue on to checkout and purchase the items.

During the test, the user’s actions are observed and recorded. Points along the sales journey where the user is confused or has difficulty accomplishing the task are noted. Likewise, points with minimum friction are marked.

Both types will hold critical lessons.

Note: Whether the result of testing is what we want or not, the information is equally valuable. One says “You’re on the right track,” the other says “You’re off course.” We need both for long-term navigation.

Resource (white paper): The ROI of Data-Backed Website Design and User Experience Testing

Should you consult a vendor or perform your own usability tests?

While it’s certainly possible to perform usability testing in-house, many businesses seek outside help. Given the rather complex and technical nature of formal UX testing, employing a third party can be the best choice.

That said, if you learn to use the proper tools, there’s nothing to stop you from carrying out your own UX testing efforts. Some companies begin with third-party help and move in-house as they learn more about the process.

Possibilities range from relying totally on a third party to do your UX testing for you, to a hybrid model where you use their online tools and suggestions, to offline testing you control completely.

Here are some online examples:

  • UserTesting: You can begin with a free Peek, then move up to the paid version. The company promises results within 24 hours. With the paid version you can filter participants by age, income, gender, country, internet expertise and type of device used to access your site, just for starters.
  • User Zoom: Get help designing your usability studies, recruiting participants, and conducting data analysis. UserZoom offers extensive usability packages.
  • Validately: You can test both mobile and desktop and choose to supply your own testers or get them from the system. Validately provides recordings and analytics. This is a subscription service.

There are other options, but those three will get you headed in the right direction.

Ongoing testing is the surest way to keep your path to sales uncluttered and easy to navigate. Click To Tweet

NOTE: Usability testing is not a pre-launch tactic only. Ongoing testing is the surest way to keep your path to sales uncluttered and easy to navigate.

Note: Usability testing methods and tools vary. Get started slowly and simply. Once you’re sure of the process, you can begin to dig deeper and increase your investment based on observed ROI.

Resource: University of Oregon (Case Study)

Dogfooding for usability

A CMO we know once served as Group Director of Marketing for a major pet products manufacturer. One of the things he liked best was visiting the research facilities and setting the groundwork for new product launches.

It took some getting used to (and maybe some head-turning to health regulations), but he found that one of the most experienced workers on the pet food line took a hands-on approach to quality control – he literally ate the dog food!

While it may sound like a sure case of getting too close to your work, that attention-to-detail diligence more than once saved the company considerable time and money by identifying potential trouble-spots in the product before it was cleared for mass production and distribution.

And it actually turned into a marketing event where the dog food was served like hors d’oeuvres!

You should eat your own dog food too.

It’s not unusual for companies to find that many members of their management team have never ordered something from their own website. Part of your pre-launch and post-launch testing protocol should require everyone whose job is related to the project to take part in a UX testing session.

We’ve seen the lights come on when the dog food gets eaten.

Note: Dogfooding makes sure everyone who prescribes the medicine also gets to taste it!

Resource: What Everybody Ought to Know About A/B and Multivariate Testing

An offline tool for usability testing

When you’re ready to perform your own UX tests offline, Morae is the tool to compare the rest against. The software is from Techsmith, the developer of Camtasia and Snagit.

Morae captures user interactions, while giving teams the ability to observe and collaborate remotely. Afterwards, you can use the Morae Manager to view and analyse the recording you’ve made. Key metrics are calculated automatically.

The Morae system costs about $2K, and Techsmith provides a fully-functional 30-day trial. Companies often cite security issues as the primary reason for in-house testing. Morae gives you complete control over your data.

Qualitative versus quantitative results

As with all testing protocols, you’ll want to know the numbers and you’ll want to ask the questions.

Quantitative data will tell you 32 percent of users chose to leave the checkout procedure before completing the purchase. Qualitative results will tell you why.

Your pre-launch tests will primarily provide qualitative information. That’s because the number of testers probably won’t be sufficient to collect trustworthy quantitative statistics. That means your focus before and after the site is released will need to change quickly. Myopic testing will limit your take-away potential.

Be sure to make extensive use of multivariate or A/B testing right after the launch. Done correctly, that will help you quickly hone in on conversion rate essentials like the wording (copy) you use for your call-to-action on each page.

Note: Usability testing can deliver both quantitative (number) and qualitative (experience) data. You want a large helping of both.

Resource: Klean Kanteen (Case Study)

Best practices for checking the usability of a website before launch

One sure way to do usability testing wrong is not to test at all. The runner-up way is to force the data to fit your foregone conclusions.

Those aside, whether you start simple and basic or dive right in for full submersion, you’re going to know more about how the site you’re building is perceived by users. And that is valuable information.

  • The best-case scenario is one where visitors to the site can quickly and easily find the information or products they seek and move efficiently along your conversion path.
  • The worst-case scenario produces confusion, frustration, and drop-offs.

And that is what conversion optimization is all about! An optimized website or landing page helps you and your prospects solve problems and conduct business transactions easier, in greater amounts, and more often.


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