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5-Step Usability Testing Approach Anyone Can Follow

By May 22, 2018 2 Comments
usability testing approach

Have you ever watched a prospect use your website? Likely, the answer is “no” (if you have, great job!). Watching how someone navigates your website and how they make decisions can help you identify which areas of your site excel and which areas may need some adjustments. A simple usability testing approach will show you what users actually need, so you don’t have to guess. This way you can make the changes that will have the greatest impact on user experience.

This 5-step usability testing approach is a super simple way to to test your website.

Start The 5-Step Usability Testing Approach

Step 1: Choose Your Goals

The first step in this simple usability testing approach is deciding which tasks to have your participants attempt to complete. Make a list of the 3-5 most important actions a person can take on your site. This might be buying a product, requesting a quote, downloading a PDF, or navigating to a specific page.

Example:

We’ll use an company that makes e-accounting software as an example. E-accounting is an accounting software product for small businesses. The top 3 most important actions a visitor to the website can take are:

  • Request a demo
  • Create a trial account
  • View the pricing page

Step 2: Set Up a Story

Next, think of the types of people who will be using your website (if you already have personas created, you can use these as a starting point.) For this usability testing approach, and for most other approaches as well, it’s essential to understand your average users. For each type of person, identify who they are, what problem they have that you can solve, and the step(s) you want them to take on your website to solve that problem.

Example:

Jane is the CEO of a small business and is looking into E-accounting. She wants to know how the features of our E-accounting software compare to the features of Quickbooks.

We would like Jane to navigate from the homepage to the Features page, and then click on “Watch a Demo.”

Step 3: Find Participants

Preferably, you’ll want to conduct this usability testing approach with participants to have little to no familiarity with your website. Someone who interacts with a website every day will behave completely differently than someone on a website for the first time. Your participants can be anyone who is willing; a variety of backgrounds and comfort with technology is a good thing.

Step 4: Run The Test

Once you have identified your goals, set up a few different personas, and gathered participants, you’re ready to run your test. There are a few steps within this part of the usability testing approach:

Record the Session

You’ll want to watch your participant and take notes in real time while they complete the tasks, but having a recording can be helpful if you need to go back later. If you’re on a Mac, Quicktime is a great screen-recording option. If you’re on a PC, OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is a free and open-source option. For mobile tests, you can use an audio recording.

Set Up The User Testing Environment

Each user test should take place in a quiet, private room, one participant at a time. Other than the participant, there should be no more than 1-2 other people in the room. Too many bystanders could make the participant uncomfortable.

Brief The Participant

To begin, brief the participant on what will occur during the user test. The most important part of this is to tell them to talk out loud as they go, so that you, the researcher, can better understand their thought process.

Once you are ready to begin, tell the participant their scenario. It is important to not give the participant the answer to the problem.

Example:

Say this: “You are Jane, the CEO of a small business. You want more time to focus on growing your business and are researching e-accounting options. You arrived on this website after clicking a link from Google and would would like to know more about the product and how it compares to QuickBooks. How would you proceed?”

Not this: “You are Jane, the CEO of a small business. You want more time to focus on growing your business and are researching e-accounting options. You would like to watch a product demo. How would you proceed?”

Complete Tasks

As mentioned above, having the user testing participant talk aloud as they navigate your website is a very useful part of this usability testing approach. However, this can be awkward for the participant, so you may need to give them a nudge. As the researcher, you want to look out for phrases like “huh,” “that was weird,” “hmm,” and so on. These will clue you in that something has confused the participant, and you can ask a follow-up question to get more detail.

Test on Multiple Devices

Be sure to test on multiple devices types; a laptop computer, iPad or tablet, and mobile phone. If possible, have the participant use their own device to avoid unnecessary confusion due to technology. Ideally, you want the participant to use the website as they would were they by themselves.

Step 5: Repeat

Using this usability testing approach repeatedly will enable you to see patterns in people’s behavior. Each person navigates information and websites in a different way. What might seem obvious to some people will take others completely by surprise. Seeing where people struggle and succeed the most can help prioritize future updates.


When you take the time to do a user testing session, you’re investing in the usability of your website and making it a better experience for your clients. Ultimately, this will help you reach your business goals by providing a seamless experience for your current and potential clients.

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