User Testing Your WordPress Site or Product on a Budget
Usability testing is a hot topic for web design and SEO, and for good reason. Bad usability impacts how a person uses your website, which can affect conversions and, ultimately, rankings on the search engine results page for your target keywords.
Good usability should be the goal of every website and ought to be an important step in the launch of any new website, as well as periodically testing an existing online property.
In an attempt to appease humans (first), and search engines (second), here’s some practical advice on how to conduct usability testing on a budget. With the right structure and tools, you can glean useful insights from usability testing without spending thousands of dollars in the process.
How to Pick User Testers
When it comes to picking the actual users for your usability tests, there are a few different strategies to employ to keep costs low.
For maximum affordability, consider starting with your own colleagues, friends, and even family members. These people want you to find success, and will likely be willing to conduct a short usability test without the expectation of compensation.
Of course, the caveat here is that this group of people is inherently biased. Your colleagues may be too close to the project to be able to provide any truly useful insight. Family and friends are removed from what you do at work, but their responses will likely reflect the bias of wanting to please you. If you do usability testing with the people closest to you, they’ll have a hard time providing truly useful feedback, focusing specifically on only positive things.
As such, it’s infinitely more useful to work with people who are not connected to you or your project. For the most actionable results, you should opt to work with an audience similar to the one you’re targeting as customers. That said, a mix of your ideal target audience, and people who wouldn’t be considered as a part of your target audience, can be useful. When it comes to usability, intuitiveness should be a goal for either type of person.
Once you’ve decided who to include in your user testing, the next obvious question relates to how many people to test for the best results. While there are no hard and fast numbers to answer this question, one is better than none, and you should scale up according to what makes sense for your budget.
On that note, it’s best to involve a larger quantity of user testers earlier on in a project, and you can get away with less as it’s coming to a close. Though dated, Jakob Neilsen’s column Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users provides a compelling argument for a total of five testers at each stage.
How to Design a Usability Test
The design of the test itself will depend on the specific platform you use to run it, as well as the nature of your business and the industry it operates in.
The following insights can provide a general template for how to design your usability test, specifically in terms of the questions you’ll ask participants:
- Questions about the tester and how they interact with the internet. This will help you to profile the tester while also allowing them to relax a bit before the test really starts.
- For each individual page. Home, about, services, contact, etc. What do you think this is? What strikes you about it? What would you click on first?
- For an unknown concept. Describe what you think it might be.
- What do you make of (specific element)?
- Define a specific action for the user to take. Then ask how they’d go about it. Ask them to explain each step.
The more you can dig into each specific action a user takes, the more detailed insight you’ll get as to how they’re actually using your website. When designing specific questions, the following tips can help to improve their effectiveness:
- Avoid web development/industry-specific jargon in the questions you ask. The average internet user should be able to understand what you’re asking without further explanation.
- Break up complicated questions into simpler ones. It’s ok to ask a few questions to get to the bottom of a complex topic.
- Be as specific as possible when asking questions in order to get the most useful responses.
Many of these questions were adapted from usability expert Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think. For further guidance on running a usability test, the author’s user testing script may be useful.
How to Run a Usability Test
There are many different types of tools for measuring how people are using your website. Some allow you to directly interact with users mid-test, while others will result in a final output that might end up all over the place. In any case, being able to see how actual users interact with your website can provide insightful feedback to make it even better.
The following tools can be helpful specifically when usability testing on a budget.
- 100 recorded sessions per month for free.
- The next level is $39/month for 500 recorded sessions (and scales up from there).
- Shows you exactly what visitors are doing on your site.
- No biases, because visitors don’t necessarily know they’re being recorded.
- Not actual usability testing, so you only get data as far as what’s happening on the screen.
- You can’t actually hear that person narrate their experience.
UserTesting is an industry standard solution for usability testing. You can specify certain tasks you want users to complete, and questions for them to answer. Users narrate the process they go through until the test is complete. Because of their large user base, you can pick specific testers based on demographic information.
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- The platform was built specifically for user testing, and incremental improvements are constantly being made.
- You can provide specific question prompts.
- You get access to a large pool of users, making it easy to target precisely exactly who you want on your usability test.
- Higher budget than most of the options on this list. According to their website, you can run up to 15 video sessions per year and get your first 10 videos for $49 each.
Like the idea of UserTesting, but not the price? You’re in luck, as they also offer a free “peek” at their usability testing tools and users. Peek is completely free to use, with the main limitations having to do with the inability to designate your own prompt, and no control over who executes your usability test.
- Absolutely free to use.
- Based on the same user base as UserTesting.
- Limited amount of tests (1/desktop, 1/mobile).
- Limited amount of time in the test – 5 minutes total.
- Inability to designate specific users or questions for the test.
Fiverr is a marketplace made up by freelancers offering services starting at $5. We’ve previously discussed it as a solution for growing your freelance WordPress business, but you can also use it to solicit people to help with your usability test.
- Category dedicated to usability testing, representing a large number of potential testers.
- Ability to sort users by age, education, language, platform, and additional service options
- The price is right – most gigs start at $5.
- Difficult to standardize usability testing completely, as each seller will have their own process. For best results, provide a detailed brief with expected deliverables.
- Impossible to ensure the quality of a tester, except by public star ratings.
In-Person Usability Testing
In-person usability testing provides the most control over the process when compared with the other options on this list. Being able to meet with testers makes it possible to dig deeper into your basic questions than you would otherwise be able to with more limited access to online testers.
In-Person Usability Testing Pros:
- You control every aspect of the process.
- You have the ability to dig deeper into basic questions based on how a user is responding to various prompts.
In-Person Usability Testing Cons:
- Expensive to recruit in-person users when compared with the other options on this list.
- Testers may feel compelled to answer the way they think you want them to if you’re close by (or next to them).
Conducting Usability Testing on a Budget
With a number of free and budget-friendly tools for conducting usability tests, there’s no excuse to ignore how people are actually using your website. Once you have this information, it’s important to actually do something with it. Usability testing is merely the start of the process, but continued testing and website improvements are necessary for doing right by your visitors.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide on the subject, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug has been updated multiple times to keep with the ever-changing online world. Though each edition provides additional insight as to usability best practices, the basic principles detailed within its pages stay the same. Usability is all about making things easier. The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman, is another essential guide when it comes to getting your mind around the concept of usability.