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Website Usability Testing: A Beginner’s Guide

Shreya Bose, Technical Content Writer at BrowserStack -

Table of Contents

To start with the obvious question…

What is Website Usability?

The term is self-explanatory. Quite simply, usability refers to how easy or hard something is to use. Website usability refers to the ease with which the average user can navigate and operate a website, meet their goals, and get what they are looking for.

A few key qualities to judge website usability are:

  • Learnability: How easily can a new visitor maneuver through the site and get work done?
  • Efficiency: How quickly and smoothly can users complete tasks on the site?
  • Satisfaction: How happy are users with the website’s design, functionality, and offerings?
  • Errors: How many errors are showing up in usability testing? How severe are the errors? Can the errors be resolved quickly and with minimum effort?

Determining website usability requires the execution of website usability testing, which is what this article will discuss.

Website Usability Testing: A Beginner’s Guide

How does Website Usability Testing work?

In website usability testing, sometimes termed web usability testing, QAs put the website through a number of scenarios users are likely to encounter when using the website in question. Basically, QAs will perform several user actions that first-time visitors generally enact on the site.

While user actions are being executed, another QA monitors the same in order to judge how usable the site is. Feedback is immediate, as the observer can immediately notice and note any difficulties that may reveal themselves in the test process.

Note that web usability testing must be conducted by individuals not connected to that particular website’s development. Ideally, this should include actual users who would potentially use the site when it goes public. However, if that is not feasible, usability tests can be conducted by QAs from another team in the same organization.

Types of Website Usability Testing

Website usability testing can be executed in numerous ways, three of which are most common.

  1. Comparative: This method compares multiple versions of the same website (different designs, features, functions, etc.) and evaluates the pros and cons of each.
  2. Explorative: This method judges the usability and efficacy of early-stage designs or prototypes. It pays particular attention to users’ intentions, inclinations, needs, and preferences early on so that the site is aligned with customer expectations from the beginning. Do you know everything you need to know about Exploratory Testing?
  3. Assessment: This method checks overall usability, usually at specific points during development. Think of these as milestones that periodically check how the website is faring as it is being designed, coded, and consolidated. Generally, real-time trials are helpful in this regard.

Recommended Read: UI Testing: A Detailed Guide

Benefits of Website Usability Testing

Fundamentally, website usability analysis is used to detect issues that people familiar with the website are unlikely to identify – generally, the in-depth knowledge of developers, designers, marketers, and product owners miss out on issues that could bother the everyday user.

Some specific benefits of web usability testing are:

  • Prototype Validation: When checking for usability from the early stages of the sprint development process, web usability testing helps validate the concept itself. This allows devs, designers, and QAs to plan out features and layout for maximum usability, which cuts down on extra work later on.
  • Meeting Customer Expectations: After development is complete, another thorough usability test is necessary to check if all aspects of the site work as expected. This is mandatory to ensure complete customer satisfaction.
  • Identify and Reimagine Complex Workflows: Think of the checkout process on an e-commerce site. It usually requires users to follow a number of steps to get to what they want. Usability tests are needed to verify that these steps are easy to follow and accomplish. It also helps developers rethink if they could simplify the process as far as possible.
  • Detect Errors: This is a rather obvious benefit, but other forms of testing can overlook certain minor errors (broken links, site errors, grammatical issues). However, website usability analysis tends to catch these because it is being conducted by one or more new pairs of eyes. Allowing such errors to escape to production can damage users’ perception of the site’s professionalism or credibility.Identify and troubleshoot errors before your users have to deal with them by testing on real browsers and devices. BrowserStack provides 2000+ real browsers and devices (latest and legacy) for manual and automated testing. It also provides a range of powerful debugging tools to quickly and extensively document errors so they can be solved early in the process.

Best Practices for Website Usability Testing

  • Try to find friends or volunteers (who are not QAs or developers) to take the usability tests first. Since the target audience will primarily be composed of people without too much technical knowledge, it is best to find similar individuals for testing purposes. However, if this is not feasible, find individuals in other teams who have little to no knowledge about the project at hand. They should be able to approach the site with the mindset of a complete first-time user.
  • Give testers specific tasks they have to accomplish and observe how they go about it. Instead of asking them to file detailed reports, just observe as they navigate the website to gauge usability levels. Additionally, ask them to narrate out loud so you can follow their intellectual process.
  • Try to keep tasks as vague as possible. For example, ask them, “If you wanted to buy coffee mugs from this website, how would you do it?” Don’t give them too many hints with “Select a set of coffee mugs from the “Crockery” section on the Navigation Bar.” This approach will help identify more usability bugs and obstacles.
  • Use real browsers and devices. It doesn’t matter what emulator or simulator is being used; they will not offer 100% accurate results. That is because emulators and simulators simply are not capable of replicating real user conditions.Additionally, given the extent of browser and device fragmentation in the digital world, every website will be accessed via multiple browser-device combinationsFor website user experience testing, leverage a cloud-based testing platform like BrowserStack that offers access to the latest and legacy devices, browsers, and operating systems. Users can access 2000+ real devices and browsers for manual testing, automated Selenium testing, and Cypress testing. For example, tests can be run on Chrome operating on a Samsung Galaxy S20, Firefox operating on Galaxy S20+, and the like. There are thousands of combinations to choose from.

Test on Real Browsers & Devices

  • Remember that website usability testing is an iterative process. It needs to be run at multiple stages in the development pipeline. Run usability tests on the initial concept and on every subsequent prototype. Use feedback from every test to refine and restructure development operations that follow.

Website usability testing is an essential step in the website development pipeline. Use it to ensure that website users can get exactly what they want with minimal effort. This form of testing is integral to the development of an intuitive UI that does not confuse visitors or waste their time with easily avoidable complications. Since the customer is always right, ensure that the website is one that will inspire them to approve of it by virtue of the best possible customer experience.

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