How To Perform Web Usability Tests More Effectively?

Posted on July 9, 2013 by

Web usability tests involve observing users whilst they are in a website. Web developers often think differently with end users, so usability tests can make sure that they are actually using websites as intended by developers. The best feedback web developers can get is by asking a group of users to try out the website before the official launch. Developers should regularly ask users for their opinion and watch them using the interface. Compared to software usability testing, tests for web usability have more focus on navigations, which can make websites meet expectations better.

Unfortunately, usability tests are not as easy as they seem. Although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to perform one, developers should consider a number of intricacies that can make significant differences in the end. It is important to consider a few things that can help prevent a typical web usability test, into something that’s particularly frustrating for everyone. It’s a good thing that web professionals can learn through their own mistakes, although they may not always have the luxury.

When planning a usability tests, web developers can’t just pick out specific tasks and ask people to complete them. We may get some useful insights by taking a random approach, but it is more appropriate to prioritize. Web developers should talk to project stakeholders and ask about critical issues they need to solve. Often, developers end up getting many questions, so they need to prioritize and work out the best way to answer them. Some questions may sound too vague and developers don’t have the clue why stakeholders ask them to do something in the first place. To understand real reason behind these questions, it is necessary to get clarifications. This helps web developers to get themselves better equipped in performing the test. When users turn up and join a web usability tests, they are not sure what they should do and what to expect. They could act rather nervously and wonder, whether they’ll do things correctly on the computer screen. Participants typically ask for guidance and if web developers are too controlling very early at the test, they may have reinforced assumptions that it is necessary get permissions before doing anything.

Here are a few things Web Professionals should do during a Web Usability Test:

Let Users Behave Naturally

The real meaning of web usability tests is to let users show their natural and instinctive behaviors when using the website, Web developers can start off their test sessions by providing tasks with broader scopes to allow users explore and go off in any direction they wish. Some effective pre-test questions can uncover hidden problems and to achieve this, users should perform and answer to questions as naturally as they can. As an example, when testing a news-publication website, among the first questions is about the type of information users want to get on daily basis. This allows web professionals get more realistic views on how people can get better benefits from the website and set a stronger context for subsequent tasks in the usability test.

Give users more Flexibility to Complete Specific Tasks

In many cases, web professionals set out tasks in usability tests using long tests scripts. Whenever participants start to stray off the designated paths, web professionals would rein them in and ask users to repeat the test. Not only this is a very controlling way to perform a test, sometimes we can lose rapport with users. This can deny ourselves the opportunity to learn many things that we expect to find. It is important to leave room for participants to roam around the website freely and even go off the pre-designated path a little. Sometimes, web professionals may feel that they are losing the control of the test and that users have misunderstood the tasks. However, they should resist the temptations and wait just a little bit longer, since it can be rather interesting to find out why users choose to do such a thing. We may try pull users back on track only if they can’t seem to find their own way back.

Observe and Be more Passive

It is easy to be controlling or rigid when we see people use our websites. Web developers shouldn’t focus only on what they need users do for them. When participants do something unexpected, it’s very important to ask them why. But if we do this too often, there’s a chance they would miss out on spotting natural behaviors. The more interruption users experience the less likely they will complete unaided tasks confidently. Asking them about something every minute can make them lose the flow and we won’t see the occurrence of natural behaviors. At the end of the test sessions, we can always interview them and make early reviews.

Create Tasks that Match Users

Some web developers tend to do things rigidly during usability test sessions because they want to control all the variables. But, as they gain more experience and confidence, developers would learn to relinquish part of the control to users, They may be compelled initially to write down exact scenarios that they are going to give to participants. They set a “perfect” scene for the tasks, but soon learn that users don’t engage with the tasks as expected. As an example, developers can’t ask a mother of three to use the website like a 17 year-old boy. When setting overall tasks for participants, web developers should try to be more generic and tailor scenarios that can be performed by as many as participants.

Let Participants use Competing Websites

Spending a full hour on one website can be particularly tedious for users. Limiting participants on a single website would make results look more like an isolated case. It would be more difficult for users to judge the website accurately, since they can’t compare it with anything. Just scrutinizing at one website won’t give users and participants realistic pictures. Web professionals should allocate time in the test to allow participants look at competing websites. A good way to do this is by asking beforehand what websites participants are currently using in their daily life and why they choose these websites over others. This way, web professionals would quickly learn what have worked well on competing websites and the information can become a valuable source of inspiration needed to solve specific usability issues on their own websites.

Don’t Let users Know About the Test Subject

Many professionals made mistake by making it very clear the name of the website that participant would need to test. It could be initially difficult to prevent participants from finding out, but it is highly advisable to keep this a secret. In some cases, web developers need to remove the logo and any information that reveal the identity of the website. This is particularly useful when participants are employees of the clients, since it can be very difficult for them to be completely honest about the website. During a usability test, it’s important to emphasize on independence and get honest feedback from users. It is more effective if participants can compare the website with competitors. Unavoidably, as they spend more time with website, they would be aware about its true identity; but developers should already able to get more honest first impressions.


If developers want to make their websites more usable, there’s no substitute for performing usability tests. During a test session, developers should fully understand how participants interact with the website, since this can significantly affect the outcome of their researches. Developers should design their test sessions to focus on crucial research issues. A good starting point is by being more flexible and giving participants more freedom. To achieve more accurate and objective results, participants should have the opportunity to use competing websites and have no knowledge on the real identity of the website used as test subject.

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  • Editor