business web design

Why Everyone Should Perform Usability Tests

Written by Kurt Steinbrueck

people-watching-computerI wish I could say “why aren’t you doing usability tests? Everyone else is.” But it’s simply not true. Most companies and organizations don’t do usability testing and they are missing out on a great opportunity. Church staffers and other non-business people you need to read this too. While businesses can certainly benefit from usability testing, so can churches…and anyone else with a website for that matter. So, what is usability testing and why is it so important for you to start doing it?

Note: In this article I’m going to write about usability testing in relation to websites. However, keep in mind that usability testing can be used for just about anything, from products to flyers to church program formats and so on.

What Is Usability Testing?
Usability testing is simply testing a website to see how real people actually use it. How do people interact with the website and are they able to easily complete the intended goal of the website? For example, if you create a new section for your website. A usability test would be to bring people in who are not familiar with the new section and have them go through the section and use it and see how they interact with it. You would have them perform tasks, read information, answer questions, and give their opinions about the section. From watching them do these things and listening to their comments, you can learn what is working on your website and what needs to be changed.

Why Should We Be Doing Usability Testing?
1. Because you want stuff that works.
Most organizations don’t create things just to create them. They intend those things to do something, to accomplish something. If you create a website, you intend it to give information and cause the website visitor to do something, perhaps buy a product or visit your church. But does it? Usability Testing can show you where visitors are getting lost, what visitors don’t understand, what information they wish was on the site but isn’t, and lot more. Usability testing also shows you what is right about your website.

When we did usability testing on the design section of the OurChurch.Com website, we found that most people didn’t know what CMS was and that the term “CMS” was confusing to them. So, we ended up changing the names of our Design packages so they did not include the term “CMS”.

Usability testing tells you if what you have created is actually doing what you want it to and whether it’s doing it well. Without usability testing, you are doing little more than guessing that you’ve created your website well. For all you know, you may have created something entirely useless or very frustrating to visitors.

2. It gets rid of assumptions and insider lingo.
Most of the time, when an organization creates a website, they ask people who are both familiar with that organization and familiar with website design. Since these people are familiar with the organization they may make assumptions about what people know about the organization and what language people use. The example with the OurChurch.Com usability test finding that people weren’t familiar with the term “CMS” is a good example. It made sense to us, but we talk about CMS all the time. We had assumed that others would be familiar enough with the term or would pick up on what it was quick enough, that we could use it (plus it sounded cool). That was a false assumption.

3. It gives you fresh eyes.
Whenever a person or a small group works on a website for a while, they get used to what they are working on. It becomes easy to overlook issues. It is helpful to have a set of fresh eyes take a look at the website and tell you what they see. You may find that there are issues you wouldn’t have thought of or issues that you’ve been staring at for weeks, but didn’t see.

4. It settles arguments.

“People do better with the navigation menu on the left.”
“No, they tend to prefer a navigation menu on the top.”

“The visitors will understand that they need to click here.”
“No, I think the visitors will be confused and need instructions.”
“This expert said that all links should be blue and underlined.”

When you have a group of people working on website, there are bound to be disagreements about aspects of the site. Typically, these disagreements are resolved either by looking online to find an “expert” or by someone using the “Most people prefer…” line. Unfortunately, there are far too many “experts” online that don’t really know what they are talking about and the reality is that there are very few things, if any, that “most people” prefer. These arguments can lead to great frustration and, in the end, it all ends up just being opinion anyway.

So, why not stop arguing about what needs to be done and simply test to see what works best? If you’re not sure whether you want your navigation menu on the top or the left, do a usability test and see which format allows the test subjects to navigate the website the easiest. You can save some hurt feelings and frustrations because you can’t argue with what is working. And, in the end, you will know which option to choose instead of just having an opinion.

There are plenty of other reasons to perform usability tests, but the main reason is simply that you can make your website, or anything else you test, perform better. That means more sales, more signups, more church visitors, more students, or whatever it is that you want to achieve.

Even with so many reasons to do usability tests, most companies and organizations don’t do them because they don’t know how or don’t think they have the time or money.  In part’s 2 and 3 of this series, I’ll explain how you can do usability testing on your site in just a few hours and for almost no money.

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .


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