Improve your web store with usability testing

person stressed on a computer

May 2, 2016 | by Emma Kobylenski

You've spent a lot of money and time on your web store.  But did you remember to do usability testing?

To build trust and loyalty for your brand, customers should be able to interact easily with your website. It is your store front, the first impression you give your customers.  If your website is frustrating your customers, it will have a real and negative effect. So usability testing is essential.

Here are some tips to increase your visitor and customer retention by improving the usability of your website.


Identify the problem

In the present scenario, it is not enough if customers find your website cool. Novelty inevitably wears off. They are there for a reason and if they don't find the information or product they are looking for, they will get frustrated and leave, no matter how 'cool' your website design might be. Usability testing can help you determine if your customers are finding the information they want quickly and easily.  Common types of usability testing includes: 

  • In-person observation - Have someone fitting your target consumer profile carry out a series of tasks and observe their behavior. You may ask them to narrate their thoughts, observe their eye movements and mouse location...etc
  • Moderated remote observation - Similar to the last, except this time you are watching them via screen sharing and/or web cam.
  • Unmoderated remote observation - Where with the previous methods you could interact with the user, using unmoderated remote observation you will only get a recording or the data of the interaction with your web store.
  • Consultant/Expert testing - This is always an option, and really something you can apply to the previous 3 methods: hire a professional and get an expert diagnosis of your usability.

Also consider the metrics. You cannot measure usability by conversions. Sometimes users will stick it out through a crappy user experience in order to get what they want. Usability is based on things like error rate, the system usability scale (SUS), time on task, and task success rate. When doing usability testing, do not be blinded by your bottom line and end up using metrics that don't make sense for your purpose.


Chart a path for your customers

You want the customer to follow a certain information funnel. But in the end, they are going to do what they want to, or what makes the most sense to them. Sometimes the "curse of knowledge" gets in the way of seeing things through the eyes of our consumers. Usability testing can tell you how to optimize information funnels and direct customers where you want them to go...even if it means changing your original plan to fit the natural flow of your visitors. Consider things like: 

  • Where they came from
  • What device and operating system they are using
  • Where they go
  • Where they end up

Imagine a user may want to find a specific product from a specific brand. but instead of using the search feature you so nicely laid out for them, they click on the first product they see with that brand name, hoping to eventually be lead to a product page where all their products are.  You may find this confounding, but it happens. (I....actually did it the other day...) Consider multiple, but clear, navigation options that are flexible depending on what your consumers might be thinking, expecting, or doing.

Once you have charted a path for your customers, it is not over. You must continually revise and improve upon their experience on your website, especially as you make updates or add complexity to your offerings. Which brings me to....


Get rid of confusing navigation

Most websites go overboard with their navigation. Most websites give directions on the landing pages, the top of the page, the bottom and side. It seems logical but it can have the opposite effect if your wording or location is not what or where the user expects it to be. Usability testing can assist you to analyze your site navigation and get rid of confusing signposts.

Let's say for a moment your consumers want to contact you. So you add a part to your menu that says "Reach out!" You chose this phrase because you felt that the simple "Contact us" is so boring. However, you neglected to take into account that most of your consumers are not native English speakers or associate the phrase "reach out" with charity, support, or some other connotation you did not consider. What might make all the sense in the world to you, could be colossally confusing to others.

If you have a reason for changing standard navigation procedure or lexicon, you need to make sure that the purpose is clear, or at least it is an easy process to learn. And remember, when in doubt (or not!) : test, test, test!


Make the checkout process easy

Cart abandonment is a big problem in the e-commerce world. A complicated checkout process is the main culprit. In e-commerce, the checkout process must be simple and straight forward. Usability testing can help you identify the problem areas in your check out process so that you can nip them in the bud. 

In this case, you may need to take a long hard look at yourself and ask yourself some hard questions.

  • Are my checkout forms easy to fill out?
  • Am I annoyed by being asked to register or make an account?
  • Is it easy to go back and add items to the cart, or even remove items?
  • Do my customers know how long this process will take?
  • Is any part of the process wholly unnecessary?
  • Are all the navigational features clearly defined and easy to use?

It might be that you could improve conversions by 23% if you simply allow customers to pay without making an account. You might even be shooting yourself in the foot by creating too much noise and content around the checkout process.  Your users may simply be distracted by the rest of your website.

I have found myself going down the product rabbit hole with recommended products in the footer of a check out page. I end up getting spooked by how many things I want to buy but shouldn't.

You won't know until you test.


Reduce the time it takes to load a page

On an average, customers expect web pages to load in 2 second or less. Think of all the times you have given up on a website because it did not load fast enough for you. Now think of how frustrated you were because you wanted the content, or the product, or the information ASAP. Perhaps you went somewhere else to get it. You do not want this scenario to play out with your own customers.

The biggest part of usability is actually getting to use the website, and if your users are jumping ship before they even see the content of your store, there is a big problem. 

The good news is, page load time is an important part of usability testing. There are many free tools on the market to analyze page load speed like: 

There are many, actually. So check it out sooner rather than later. You do not want something as simple as this to end up ruining your customers' experience. 

So, long story short - don't neglect usability testing. It challenges your assumptions and gives you better insight into your consumers. Continually test, revise, and improve to keep your web store visitors happy and your conversions high! 

Emma Kobylenski

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