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User Testing: Why You Should Be Testing Your Website And How to Start (ASAP)

The best way to see if your business is actually viable: show it to your target audience and see how they react. Their reaction can reveal unexpected insights or offer helpful guidance to the seller.

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When we talk about testing in conversion optimization, we’re talking about testing hypotheses: “If we change X, we think Y will happen.”

However, there’s another type of testing involved in conversion rate optimization that gets far less press: user testing.

What is user testing?

The best way to see if your business is actually viable: show it to your target audience and see how they react. 

Their reaction can reveal unexpected insights or offer helpful guidance to the seller.

(It’s why developers release “beta” editions of software before launching their product, so real users can catch the bugs before the product hits the marketplace.)

‍Websites are no different. Designing a website always involves making assumptions about what visitors expect to see.

‍Websites are no different. Designing a website always involves making assumptions about what visitors will expect to see. And no matter the amount of research and experience, it's impossible to predict every action and expectation. 

‍Only real users can pinpoint potential issues, friction spots, and other problems with a website.  A trial audience comes up with issues you didn’t even realize your site had!

And that's actually a good thing.

By observing how visitors navigate your website, you can:

  • Validate or invalidate your initial assumptions.
  • Uncover new benefits of your products or new ways to approach your content.
  • Find flaws and issues that interfere with visitors’ use and enjoyment of the site.

User testing can save you from costly mistakes

Imagine your ecommerce site is adopting new shopping cart software. Any hiccup in the shopping cart checkout will hurt conversions, which makes any change well worth testing.

‍Before you roll out the new cart for your entire audience, you’ll want to make sure that it works on a small scale, and iron out any technical or other difficulties. This way, you can uncover bugs and glitches, remove or add features to reduce friction and improve usability, and generally improve the experience before it is deployed as complete – all without risking your income.

User testing also comes in especially handy when you’re designing a product category menu (a common feature of most ecommerce sites). Since website owners and designers are familiar with the products they’re selling, they often organize products into what *they* think are logical product categories.

Then visitors arrive and get completely lost trying to find what they’re looking for. Conversion rates drop, and the owners are left wondering why!

To avoid poor outcomes in situations like these, submit your changes to tests by real users.

Pros and cons of different user testing methods

Websites can be user-tested in multiple ways. 

One way is to set up a few computers in an office and invite random people to navigate a given website or page, while you record their experiences. This is known as lab-based testing.

‍A researcher will directly observe users’ behavior, record it, and make their own notes. Often, participants will also be interviewed about their experiences, impressions, and opinions after the session ends. The results are then analyzed and used to craft hypotheses for improving the site’s user experience (and its ability to convert).

‍However, there are a few problems with this technique. It’s expensive, complicated, and people simply behave differently when they’re observed. 

Another approach is remote user testing. This method records users’ actions, ranging from simple mouse movement recordings to eye-tracking and heatmapping.

‍Remote user testing tends to be cheaper and more effective than lab-based testing. It doesn’t involve the physical presence of another person, so testers can behave more freely.

There are numerous tools and web services that offer this type of user testing. Most services allow you to select or specify users who match your target audience. This way, so your test results realistically align with what you’ll see on your live site.

How many users do you need?

When user testing, you only need between five to 15 test participants for accurate results. Just 10 testers will likely uncover 90% of your site’s issues.

In fact, for every additional user above 5, the number of additional issues identified drops off sharply. Plus, the more testers you recruit, the more data-intensive the analysis process will be and the longer it will take.

The best practice is to employ several batches of user testers and test sequentially. For example: test with 5 users, then solve the issues they identify. Next, you’ll repeat the process with another 5 users. Do this until you get to the point where users can’t identify any issues.

Select your testers from the audience most likely to understand and appreciate your content –  your target audience. Recruiting a random web surfer as a tester won’t serve you well:. You’ll get meaningless observations and “find” issues that don’t even exist for your target audience.

Run effective user tests with the process below

Truly informative tests don’t happen by accident. They begin with a plan.

Once you’ve chosen your testing method and testers, it’s time to form a plan for the most effective way to run your test. This is your test protocol, and it consists of the tasks you’ll assign your users to do. 

‍Prioritize testing the most important areas of your site – those that make you money!

Your tasks should typically involve product pages, buying products, or signing up for your demo or newsletter (the big conversions). The most useful tests will always be those that require the tester to go all the way through the conversion funnel. 

‍To create your protocol:

  • ‍Design tasks around a specific objective, such as “Find and buy the most popular product in [Category Name].” Or, “Find a product that you like.” Or even, “Buy something from the site.”
  • Avoid asking abstract questions, like “Do you feel secure enough to buy something here?” The point of this exercise is to observe people as they behave naturally.
  • Ask your testers to comment out loud as they go through the site, and make sure not to put words in their mouths. If they mention that something is an issue, take them at their word. If they don’t mention an issue you think is there, don’t suggest it to them! (It’s probably not as big an issue as you think.)

Finally, to test every part of the shopping experience, your test protocol must include payment. Most payment services allow the use of dummy credit card numbers for test purposes. Inserting dummy numbers enables testers to complete the purchase so you can see if and how everything works.

User testing pitfalls to watch out for

User testing is far from foolproof. Here are the four most common pitfalls to be aware of, and how to avoid them:

  • Always select your testers to match your target audience.
  • Don’t forget to include mobile audience testing! Ensuring that mobile users enjoy an optimal experience future-proofs your website (and increases conversions).
  • Observation alters the behavior of anyone. Take user testing with a grain of salt, and always confirm your qualitative results with quantitative data.
  • Inaccurate representation of risk: the best way to see this is by user-testing a website that offers high-value goods or services. Real visitors will often have issues paying $500 for a product, while testers won’t, since they’re not risking their own money.

In no way do these limitations make user testing pointless. Far from it!. User testing is the only way you can directly observe and hear visitors’ opinions as they navigate your site.

‍The user-testing experience can be eye-opening for precisely that reason. What you may think of as the “best” user interface design may turn out to be clunky and difficult to navigate. Without the raw input of humans, it’s too easy to assume that your “perfect” design isn’t the problem – it’s your users! 

(Hint: it’s probably your design.)

The result is a user-centric design that even brand-new users can easily understand and navigate.

Straight talk is invaluable

​​There’s nothing like insights from actual users to reveal and remove obstacles standing in the way of conversion! When you’re optimizing your ecommerce website for conversion, user testing isn’t optional. 

By providing real-time feedback as they navigate your site happens and complete assigned tasks, your users will provide you with countless insights.

Make sure you are listening to them.

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