If you ask around, most people can understand the important of testing (for the sake of this blog,¬† I’m referring specifically to testing websites/web applications/web designs) before pushing it “live” – yet time and time again, budget for user testing (whether to internal or external clients) is one of the first things to go when costs must be cut or schedules get tight.¬† In part, this is due to the idea that, since web sites can easily be updated or changed, changes can always be made at a later time.¬† Another contributing factor is that people often assume that their point of view is consistent with what a typical user would experience.¬† [Rule #1 of User Experience:¬† You Are Not Your User - but more on that later. ]
In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the value of user testing, which hopefully will help you communicate the importance of testing to your teams and clients.¬† If it’s useful to you (yes, I’ll be testing!), then you may even see a whole series of blog posts on user experience right here on our Allyis blogs.¬† In today’s post, I’m going to focus on Five Great Reasons to Conduct User Testing.¬† ¬†¬†And given that I’m the one writing this, you can rest assured at least one baseball metaphor will sneak its way in here.
Five Great Reasons to Conduct User Testing
5.¬† User Testing Creates Benchmarks
By testing a site or application, and tracking those results, you begin to keep a historical record of the work you’ve created.¬† You can see where you came from and where you’re going, which allows you to begin to improve (or at least maintain) your usability standards.¬† Additionally, you can see how your user’s needs, attitudes, and behaviors (to your site, to your brand) change and develop over time.¬† Amazon is renowned for their user testing, and they have been around since 1995.¬† Do you think the way users shop Amazon has changed in the last 14 years?¬† You bet it has.¬† (Incidentally, if anyone knows anyone who works in Amazon’s usability group, I’d love an introduction – I’m dying to check out their usability labs!J)
4.¬† User Testing Can Provide a Competitive Advantage
While online user testing has been around for several years now, it’s still true that many companies don’t see the value of user testing (see above for more on that).¬† This results in sites which are frustrating to use.¬† And, at least in regards to consumer-facing and e-commerce sites, this can lead to a big advantage (ever heard that saying “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man in king?”)¬† – think of user testing as having a great left-handed reliever sitting in your bullpen.
3.¬† User Testing Can Increase Sales and the Probability of Repeat Sales
Or, for your non-consumer sites, make that “increase customer satisfaction and the probability of successful repeat visits.”¬†¬† This one’s a bit of a no-brainer, really:¬† happy users/happy customers tend to talk about/promote/recommend a good experience to others.¬† For internal sites, happy users are satisfied colleagues/employees who are more productive, because they’re spending less time struggling with trying to figure out how to use your site or application.¬†
2.¬† User Testing Can Save Money
This is a big, big deal.¬† To begin with, the typical web development process goes something like this:¬† plan, build, publish.¬† Collect feedback (usually negative) from users, fix, publish.¬† Lather, rinse, repeat.¬† That’s a lot of cycles for your development team, and in the meantime you’re dealing with less-than-satisfied customers.¬† It really speaks to the old carpenter’s adage of measure twice, cut once.¬†¬† Only in this case, your measuring is your user testing.¬†
But there are other saved costs, too – even if you discount the cost of customers getting annoyed and never returning to your site – that apply equally to internal sites and b-to-b sites as much as it does to consumer sites.¬†¬† Because by testing, you can reduce calls to your customer service or support agency.¬† That’s a huge savings.¬† Or reduce the time spent in having your teams deal with emails or message board postings in which users can’t find what they’re looking for.¬† The list goes on and on.
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† You Are Not Your User (I told you this was the #1 rule of user experience, didn’t I?)
This is less intuitive than you would think, but it’s always, always true.¬† There are many reasons why this is the case:
- You may be more tech-savvy than your user (true both for consumer-focused sites and extranets, and even intranets, because any given organization has lots of people in different roles, some of which are more tech-savvy than others.)
- Since you work for this particular company/team, you know much more about every aspect of the organization/business/application than your user (also true for both consumer-focused and internal sites, because individuals tend to be more focused on their own specific job skills/job requirements.)
- Because this is your project, you’re more motivated than a typical user to understand every facet of how a project works (true for both consumer- and internal-facing sites.)
For all of these reasons, it’s valuable to put egos aside and get some actual users in front of your concept for testing.¬† Hey, in the best-case scenario, you’ll have actual data to prove your theories were right all along! J
Most everyone wants to provide a great user experience for their users, but not everyone stops to consider the value that testing brings.¬† I hope this post has helped clarify why it’s almost always a better idea to push out a schedule by a week and make sure that what you’re developing is going to work for your users, than it is to push out something to make a date and have to re-engineer later.¬† Testing doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take a long time – useful information can be gathered in the most rudimentary of user tests conducted in the simplest ways.¬† The value is in asking the questions.