Optimization glossary

Usability testing

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a method of evaluating a website's or app’s readiness for release by testing it with real users who are part of the target audience. Usability tests evaluate the overall user experience by measuring the relative ease with which end users can accomplish a set of tasks that a typical user of the app or website would need to accomplish.

Why is usability testing important?

The goal of usability testing is to understand how real users interact with your website and make changes based on the results.

It is important to be sure that your app or website is easy to navigate and that tasks can be completed with ease; otherwise, people will leave and go to a competitor’s site.

The primary purpose of a usability test is to gather the data needed to identify usability issues and improve a website's or app’s design.

Even the best web design and development teams can benefit from usability testing as the tests indicate trouble spots for users and the areas where they are getting stuck or confused.

Components of a usability test

In a usability test, there are two groups: end users and observers. Ideally, the two groups do not know one another, so the observers can gather more objective data.

If you are setting up a usability test, you construct a scenario for users to accomplish a set of tasks – ones that a new visitor to your website would need to accomplish – like signing up or inviting a friend or making a purchase. From there, user researchers will recruit participants to create a focus group compromising users that are ideally in the target market for their product.

The users try to accomplish this set of tasks under controlled conditions.

While the users try to complete tasks, the observers watch and/or measure their overall success in accomplishing those goals and look to identify usability problems. They can either take notes while observing or record the session with audio or video for convenient recall.

The observers take note of where the users succeed and where they have trouble, so they can revisit their designs at a later date and make improvements.

Methods of usability testing

The following are common methods of usability testing:

Card sorting

Often used for testing a taxonomy or navigation structure, users organize sets of items into groups and give names or labels to them. This type of testing is informative for determining what to call various user-interfaces, screens, pages or functions and how to group them.

In-person testing

This type of test is run by one or more observers in a fixed environment such as a conference room, either with small groups or individuals. Users are asked to accomplish a set of tasks and the observer can interact with them at any point to ask questions or to probe further. This type of usability evaluation is often done as part of a larger usability study by the user research team; however, any of these methods can be used in a larger usability study.

Remote testing

In remote testing, moderators will create a test plan and ask users to conduct a series of tasks in their own environment – and their attempts to accomplish tasks are often recorded via a browser webcam. This type of user testing can be done either with a moderator (using webinar or conference call technology) or as a self-guided test.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a type of testing methodology that doesn’t involve simulated experiences or observation; it puts two live variations of a website or app to the test and sends half of the traffic to one and half to the other, tallying the data for which variation had a higher conversion rate.