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Katelyn Goerke

UX Research Lead

Katelyn leads the Northwoods UX research and strategy teams and genuinely enjoys helping clients, professionals, and students better understand the value of a data-backed marketing approach. She’s a skilled marketing strategist, certified in Google Analytics and Google Ads, and she shares her extensive knowledge as an Adjunct Instructor in Information Science and Technology at UW-Milwaukee. Katelyn appreciates a good puzzle and finds the fun in using data to solve a client’s unique set of challenges. When she’s not at Northwoods, she loves to travel and enjoys board games and all things Harry Potter.

User Testing Matters; Make Sure to Do it Well

March 20, 2023 | Katelyn Goerke, UX Research Lead

5 Minute Read

Experienced digital marketers at organizations with long marketing histories tend to believe that they understand their website users well. But even the most sophisticated organizations may not fully understand what users need from them online.

No market is static. User needs change. Your organization changes. And your digital marketing strategy should also adapt to changing conditions.

To gain the insights you need, it’s critical to turn to your users. User testing tells you how people interact with your website, and that knowledge guides the ongoing evolution of your marketing strategy and your website.

What Is User Testing?

User testing is the process of asking users to complete tasks on your website and observing how they complete them. A moderator can pose follow-up questions for further insight, or you can simply observe unmoderated behavior through a website or other software program.

The test should mimic real-world conditions as much as possible. Focus it on tasks average users would regularly complete on your site and let them complete those tasks without interference. This will reveal your user-experience successes and expose your failures.

Why Conduct User Testing?

Test Page Layouts, Navigation, and Content

User testing is especially revealing when applied to page layouts, navigation, and content. How friendly is your navigation? Do specific page layouts help your customer more than others? User testing can answer those questions.

Just keep in mind, user testing doesn’t tell you much about the why. You may observe a user take a non-optimal path through your website. That’s great information to know! What you don’t know, is why that user took the path that they did. Did they not see the button that would have easily brought them to their goal page in a single click? Did they think that page title wasn’t a fit for what they were looking for?

User testing only shows you what they did, not why they did it. If you’re interested in learning more about why a user does what they are doing on your site, then focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or even surveys may be a better way of gaining insight from your audience.

Gain Unbiased Feedback from Users

Testing isn’t the only way to gather feedback. You can send out a survey or host focus groups to talk to users directly about their experiences. These techniques can yield useful information, but they are subject to bias. If you ask a user about that path to the lawn mower blade product page, that user might have no idea – or might not want to admit to 15 minutes of perusing shrubbery options.

User testing without interference allows you to watch how someone completes specific tasks of interest on your website without bias.

When to Conduct User Testing?

When Redesigning Your Website

A redesign is a great time to evaluate user experience. Before jumping into your new design,  test your current design and find successes to build on and flaws to avoid as you develop your site.

When Testing New Functionality

If you’re substantially changing the functionality of your website, make sure you’re actually improving functionality. User testing can identify flaws in the current functionality and make sure that the new functionality works as you hope it will.

After Creating Prototypes

User testing can help validate new website designs and prototypes. Before you expend the effort of developing your new designs, test the prototypes with users. Make sure that you’re building the best fit.

User Testing Best Practices

Conduct Testing Through a Third Party

You’re less likely to get straight answers if users think they’re talking to the person responsible for the website. Third-party or unmoderated testing tamps down biased feedback.

Clearly Define your Goals and Questions

Have a goal in mind for every test. Have a clear idea of what you’d like to learn from observing a user’s given task completion. Your questions and goals should be actionable and simple. A few examples may include: “Download a PDF of specifications for product ABC,” or “Find a plan that fits within X budget.” The tasks should be straightforward and relatable to the audience.

Don’t Interfere

Your overarching goal? Unbiased results.

Do not interfere if you see a user do something unexpected or react strangely. Let the user finish the task. Provide answers only to questions about the mechanics of participating in the test.

For example: You observe a user take a non-optimal path through your website to get to your product page. To maintain neutrality, you can’t interfere or ask the user the reason for taking the scenic route, at least not right away. Maybe the user missed a button or mistook a navigation icon. Or simply detoured toward a distracted interest in something on your site that doesn’t relate to the initial goal.

Another example: Say you’re running a test – find the lawn mower replacement blade page – for a big-box garden store. You see the tester land on and linger at the garden shrub page. Intervening in the moment would halt the momentum of the test. A post-testing conversation is a good idea but might not give you much insight. People often forget what, why and how they did what they did on websites.

Don’t Include Too Many Tasks

The average user spends less than two minutes on most websites. Keep your test simple and brief; don’t wear out your testers. Make your tests mimic normal visits to your website.

Ensure That Testers Represent Your Audience

Rely on the website personas you created and other audience data when selecting users as test subjects. The users should be representative of your audience demographics, and they should be familiar with your organization. Testing is all about finding ways to serve those near-and-dear users even better.

Final Thoughts

Even if you think you know your users well, user testing can validate those assumptions (or surprise you!) and help ensure that you’re truly meeting your users’ needs. When you do embark on user testing, make sure to follow best practices to get the best, unbiased insights.

If you need help with user testing or aren’t sure where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out! Our digital strategists can work with you to develop and execute a comprehensive user testing plan.