How to Test Your Website’s Usability Prior to Launch

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

Whether you’re preparing to launch a new ecommerce website, or thinking about revamping an existing site, the experience can be both exhilarating and terrifying.

On one side is the hope that your conversion rate will dramatically increase after the new site–or newly designed site–is launched. On the other side you have the nagging fear of it not working out and you realize you’ve wasted all that time and energy for nothing.

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. 

In this Insight, we’ll be outlining 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 user experience of your new (or newly reconfigured) website before it goes live.

Here’s what we’ll be covering: 

How to employ usability testing to identify friction points

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 is a technique used to evaluate a product (or website) by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice, since it gives direct input on how real users experience a product.

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 predefined 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 learnings that’ll guide how you begin optimizing your website experience. 

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 completely on a third-party to conduct usability 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: This platform is our team’s preferred method for conducting user-testing. The company promises results within 24 hours. With this platform, you’re able to filter user-testers by age, income, gender, country, internet expertise and type of device used to access your site, just for starters.
  • Userlytics: With this platform you can test your websites, applications, mobile apps, prototypes, even competitor assets to help identify strengths and weaknesses in the user experience. Userlytics is a subscription-based service that provides you with an unlimited number of user-tests per month.
  • User Zoom: Get help designing your usability studies, recruiting participants, and conducting data analysis. UserZoom offers extensive usability packages.

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

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.

Run an internal usability test

Dogfooding is the practice of a company using its own product. This can be a way for an organization to test its products in real-world usage for quality control purposes, and eventually a kind of testimonial advertising.

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!

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 user-experience testing session. 

You’ll be surprised by the learnings you’re able to gain from just asking your team to use your products or website. 

Qualitative vs. 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 because the number of testers likely 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. Shortsighted 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, this will help you quickly hone in on potential conversion-blockers that are present in your website user-experience.

It’s time to get testing

One surefire 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.

That’s what conversion rate optimization is all about. An optimized website or landing page will help you and your prospects solve problems and conduct business transactions easier, in greater amounts, and more often. 

About the author: Rudy Klobas regularly works to produce insightful, informative content and copywriting designed to help ecommerce leaders increase conversions.

1 Comment

  • Author’s gravatar

    Nice informative article. One newer online user-testing site I ran into recently is usertestingmarket.com. It’s a bit more flexible than some of the others in that you can specify the number of tests you’d like, how long you’d like the user test video to be, whether you need audio, and even the price you’re willing to pay per test. Prospective testers can view your instructions (and price) and decide whether they want to submit a user test video.

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