A New Approach to Usability Testing Gives Marketers More Confidence in Website Design Decisions

Organizations spend critical resources to ensure their website is easy to use, helps customers, drives sales and shapes their brand image.   One-on-one usability testing is often conducted with users to provide insight into how elements of the layout, terminology, content, navigation and other factors affect experiences on the site.  Because these studies tend to be qualitative in nature, they can leave questions as to whether the opinions and experiences of a small group of users represent the opinions of the broader population and therefore warrant changes to the site design.

Where uncertainty exists, Rockbridge has utilized a quantitative approach to usability testing that gives management the data it needs to validate design decisions. With the ability to embed screen shots or prototypes of web pages within an online survey or link surveys to live web pages, it is possible to replicate the key elements of traditional usability testing in a survey format.  The survey can be completed by a larger sample of potential users for more conclusive results.

For instance, Rockbridge tests navigational elements by presenting respondents with a series of tasks and asking them where they would click on the web page to complete each task. The outcome of each task provides a measure of effectiveness for the various navigational elements of the site.  An example of the result of this task is shown below using Rockbridge’s website as an example.  Potential users are asked where they would go to get more information about one of Rockbridge’s products, OpinionPond™, and 58% say they would go to the section titled “Services & Solutions”, but another 27% would go to “Case Studies and Articles”, which shows that “Services & Solutions” may not be the best name for this section for users to find that important information.

Usability Output Example

Reactions to site changes can be measured by embedding screen shots and asking questions focused on expectations and preference for the various elements.  In some cases different iterations of a web page can be presented.  This technique is especially effective if responses to direct questions about a topic are likely to be misleading.  For example, users may express negative opinions about advertising on a site if asked outright, but may not notice the advertising in a controlled experiment that presents alternative designs with different levels of adverting.

A survey-based approach to usability testing is an effective methodology to use when the goals of the research include gathering conclusive data to justify site design decisions.  It can also be effective in tracking the results of site changes over time in an effort to measure the effectiveness of implementation.  While one-on-one usability testing is useful for exploring the user experience in depth, we have found that the results of usability testing surveys provide our clients a clear path for creating user-friendly websites that serve to enhance their overall brand image and sales process, and ultimately, their bottom-line.

Written by: Robert Devall, Senior Director, Client Services