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12 Website Usability Testing Myths

Posted by Jacob Creech on July 12th, 2011

 
The internet is a wonderful, magical place that is filled with more amazing content than you could shake a stick at; it has an almost unimaginable wealth of resources on a huge array of different topics, and more or less anything you can think of exists on the internet.

The problem though, is not that there is too much content, nor that there are too many sites, it’s just that the vast majority of sites and services suffer from a number of different usability issues that make using them anything from difficult and frustrating to downright unpleasant to use. I’m sure you can think of a number of sites off the top of your head that fit into these categories.

Unfortunately there are a number of different myths floating about saying that improving usability takes too long, costs too much or doesn’t really do anything useful to these sites and services. As someone who works on a website usability testing tool I hear these myths far too often, and I’d like to dispell them permanently.

Read on to see 12 Website Usability Testing Myths, and why they are wrong:

12 Website Usability Testing Myths


Usability testing is pointless because we won’t make changes anyway

Change ahead

I’ve heard this very depressing argument a number of times, and while I understand that you may not have all the development resource at your disposal to implement required changes, you might still find some things that don’t require much time or effort to change, and that could make a substantial difference to your site and user experience.

I’ve encountered people who initially thought that the business wouldn’t see the value of making changes, but upon being presented with testing results saw how a few relatively inexpensive and relatively fast changes could make a big difference to their bottom line. It’s pretty hard to argue when you have results in front of you showing exactly what is wrong.

Even if there is no chance that you can make changes in the near future, at least you have some idea of what is going wrong, and if you ever do get that development resource, you can implement the required changes.

It will just get overruled through ‘design by committee’

Design by committee

This is a myth I’m very happy to dispel. If design by committee is a designers worst nightmare, then usability testing is the solution to it. If you have been told to put this button there and that button here, and you can present results showing why one location is clearly better than another then it’s very difficult for anyone to argue with those results.

If people start suggesting changing you text to comic sans, and using sky blue text on an azure background, then you can provide testing results showing just how laughable this idea is. Of course, the ideas may not seem so ridiculous, but you get the idea.

Present testing results that showcase a few different options, and it’s very difficult to disagree with the one that works best.

It takes too long

A long way to go

This is a very frequent excuse; many people are under the impression that running a usability test requires weeks of time, and a number of dedicated staff members in order to get any results whatsoever.

The truth is that with modern website usability testing tools that you can create and share a test in just a few minutes.

For example, when creating a test with IntuitionHQ, you simply upload some screenshots or designs, write the questions, and you are good to go. Share you test via email, Facebook, Twitter or any other medium you see fit and you get great results in no time. If you can write an email, you can create a usability test. Simple, and very quick.

It costs too much

Usability Testing can be low cost

Many people are under the mistaken impression that running usability testing costs thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The truth is with remote testing tools you can run tests for a pittance.

Tests with IntuitionHQ cost just $9, and include unlimited questions and respondents. There are other tools out there that enable you to capture feedback in different ways and don’t cost much more.

Whatever your budget, there is a tool to suit it.

It’s impossible to convince management to run tests

Convince management to usability test

We were recently working with a local government agency who were very interested in testing, but couldn’t see how they could sell management on the concept. We showed them how cheaply, quickly and easily they could set up a test, and just by testing with internal staff they got over 200 respondents on their test.

Not only were management blown away with the results they received, but by involving staff in the process the enthusiasm levels went through the roof.

If management can see the value that some simple testing can provide, they will be very quick to get on board. Management love metrics; show them some testing metrics, and they will love it.

My site is perfect, there is no need to test

How to build a perfect website

I’ve yet to see a site that couldn’t do with a little tweak here or there, but even if you think your site is perfect, wouldn’t you rather have the evidence to back that up?

Also, as I’ve already mentioned, people change, trends change. Your site may be perfect now, but I can guarantee it won’t remain perfect for long; look at sites made even a few years ago, and I’m sure you will understand what I mean.

The point here is even if it’s perfect now, it may not always be. With a little testing you’ll catch any problems as and when the crop up.

It’s impossible to show the value of testing

Show the value of Usability Testing

Over on UIE.com they have a remarkable story about a $300 million button. The long and short of it was that by forcing users to do something they weren’t interested in, that company was costing itself $300 million. Obviously $300 million is more than most sites can hope to gain but the point is, every little improvement can help.

How can you know what changes you should make and what things will add value for you company? Usability testing. We’ve done some interesting example website usability tests of Gizmodo, TED and the iReddit iPad app and found some very interesting results. Check out our analysis of the Godaddy User Experience for a fantastic example.

Our testing showed some simple changes that each site or app could make that would dramatically improve user experience – a different navigation label, moving around some key social media icons or following design conventions can all make a big difference to your site and your users. In todays competitive environment you simply can’t afford to miss out on these improvements.

Users don’t care about usability

Involve your users

We’ve run tests on a number of different sites, and every time we get feedback from users saying how great it is that that site cares about usability, that they care about their users, and they want to get users involved in developing the site.

It helps users feel involved in the future direction of the site, and builds up passion and community around a site. The more users are involved, the more committed they will feel to your site.

If users feel you are responding to their needs they will keep on coming back, they will recommend you to their friends, and they will be a great advocate for you. In a day when the switching cost of changing from one site to another is so low, building this passion and commitment is what helps you stand out from your competition.

You need an Human Computer Interaction degree to understand usability

HCI Degree

Again, looking at our website usability testing examples you can get an idea of how simple setting up usability tests can be. Think of some important points you would like you users to accomplish on your site, take some screenshots and get ready to go.

When looking at your results, you get a very quick idea of what is going right and wrong. If it takes users 20 or 30 seconds to find your RSS feed subscription button, you know you have a problem. If only 50% of users can find your signup page, you’ve got a problem.

None of this is rocket science, and if you ever do get stuck or have a question, we’d be more than happy to help point you in the right direction. The truth is though, it’s really not (or at least, doesn’t have to be) that hard.

Designers already know what they are doing, they don’t need to run usability tests

Different users and different personas

While I completely agree that there are a number of fantastic designers out there, even the best designer in the world can’t be expected to understand the needs of an entire user base without a little feedback.

Usability testing gives them that feedback, and helps them understand how their users think and what sort of things their users are looking for. If you think Apple released the iPod or iPhone without any kind of testing, then you really need to think again. To make a great site, service or product, you need that feedback.

Remote testing tools enable you get that feedback quickly, easily and effortlessly, and as designers, we can tell you this is something designers understand and appreciate.

I’ve already tested my site in the past, there is no need to test again

Try try try again

Congratulations; you have taken your first step in the right direction, but this logic is the same as saying something like ‘MC Hammer was the height of fashion in the 80′s, therefore my parachute pants are still in fashion’.

The truth is your audience changes, trends and fashion change, even design conventions change. Testing you site on a regular basis ensures that you are always improving your user experience, that you are keeping up with design conventions, and that users will continue to use your site, and come back in increasing numbers.

Steve Krug advocates testing once a month to ensure you are up to date and know and understand how your users are interacting with your site or service.

Testing on a regular basis means there won’t be any nasty surprises further down the track; it’s easy to make a few small changes on a regular basis, than massive changes a little less frequently. Sensible, isn’t it?

It’s too difficult to get started

Getting started with usability testing

While it used to be true that usability testing required a lot of time and effort – recruiting participants, getting them along to usability testing labs, hiring expensive equipment and so on, times have certainly changed.

I’ve set up tests on IntuitionHQ in five minutes flat, and received hundreds of responses in just one or two hours time. All you need to do is write a few questions, upload a few screenshots, and you are really good to to. Send your test to your site stakeholders, put it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and watch the results roll in. It really is that simple.


Where to next?

If your interested in taking your next steps in usability, we’ve got a few posts you might like to check out:

There are also a whole bunch of great sites out there for learning more about usability and user experience that anyone interested in the topic should check out:

If you’ve got any website usability testing myths you’ve heard before, any questions about usability testing, or anything else we can help you with, please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for dropping by!

Don’t forget to sign up for an IntuitionHQ account while you’re here. Signing up is free, and publishing your tests only costs $9.

You can also subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with the latest news in the world of website usability.

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  • http://www.the-triumph.com Web Design Company Mumbai

    Nice Post.

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    Really i had got idea on 12 Website Usability Testing Myths. helpfull to all. Thanks Jacob for sharing your valuable thoughts.

  • Jamie

    I can assure you that design by committee or over ruling by a CEO is, very sadly, still an issue.

    A great article, though.

  • http://twitter.com/paulolyslager Paul Olyslager

    Again a great article and thank you for including me in your list of references.

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    It still happens, but we’ve found showing them testing results really helps convince them otherwise. Always a struggle though, isn’t it?

    Thanks very much for the comment.

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed the post!

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Thanks Paul – always enjoy reading your blog so more than happy to share!

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  • Mark

    I have come up against most of these issues at times, and sadly showing results and how much they improve a site very often meets a stubborn idiot that has authority and refuses to make changes regardless of what is best for the site.

    Good article though.

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    Ha ha, I like “How the business Consultant described it!”

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    It’s pretty good, isn’t it? I can completely imagine the whole process working out like that.

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  • http://www.the-triumph.com Web Design Company Mumbai

    Nice post.

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    Some of the website usability testing really happens. I really thought that website testing costs too much and there is not enough time to start one. But I am really curious on website usability so I am going to check other posts to know more.

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    Nice article,very nice description `

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  • http://www.gettingbackforgood.com/how-to-make-your-ex-boyfriend-miss-you/ Pamela Dickerson

    Testing is one of many ways to to check if your website is friendly user or not. Very useful article and indeed worth reading.

  • Jo

    You’re lucky. It never works like that where we work.