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March 14
Simple Methods to Discover Usability Issues

Websites are always under the scrutiny of their clientele, no matter what kind of website it is. Because the internet is a place where a multitude of tasks are completed, there are millions of websites that exist to help complete those tasks. In order for individuals to complete tasks such as booking a hotel room, buying a product, or signing up for a membership, these websites have to function correctly, have an easy-to-use interface, and help a user complete their desired task.

Usability covers a wide range of concepts including information architecture, user experience, design, and content strategy. There are many ways to discover issues related to usability on websites. Below are three simple ways to put your website through a usability challenge to see if your website is working to its full potential.
Before beginning any of these tasks, I’d suggest to find your target audience. As the website owner, you probably have a target audience in mind. This can be general such as “users who want to book a hotel room for a vacation” or as specific as “users who want to book a hotel room in Oahu, HI for two weeks and are looking for luxury accommodations.” Depending on your target audience, you will be able to figure out where the weaknesses in your website are and address them quickly after analyzing the results from the following three methods.

1. Nano usability testing – Nano usability testing is a great way to see where your website may have functionality issues for certain users. Nano usability testing involves gathering a group of people (between 5 and 15 individuals) and giving them a task to perform on your website. For example, if you owned a hotel chain, you would ask the users to book a hotel room on the website. Individually, you would watch each user perform the task, taking note of when they “get stuck” or get frustrated. During this testing, you are not allowed to speak to the user. They must perform the task on their own with no assistance for you, as the website owner, to get the best results. After watching the individuals, there is usually a pattern if something is amiss with your site.

2.  Email surveys to current customers with generalized questions about performing tasks on your site. – A lot of companies currently do this, but they are not asking the right questions in the surveys to get responses that have meaningful knowledge behind them. Instead of asking questions like “What is your age range?” or “What is your average yearly income?” try to be more specific to the website itself. For example, if you own a website that markets and sells bicycles, ask the customers about the purchasing process. What makes them click on the image of a certain bicycle? When they begin the purchasing process, what stops them from clicking the “submit” button to purchase the bicycle? Questions that are more direct will get you better responses that you can truly use to make your website work better for your customers.

When targeting customers to email, do not overload them with a lot of emails asking them to compete a survey. Email customers that have a long-standing relationship with the company (multiple purchases, continuing memberships) and offer an incentive for completing the survey.

3. Competitor Analysis – Competitor analysis is a great way to see how your website stacks up to your competitors. It’s also a faster and less costly method for a usability study. Competitor analysis can be done in one of two ways: internally with a few employees in your own company, or externally, by using your customer base and trusting them to use a competitor’s website. The former of the two has no cost (except a few hours of your employee’s time) and can be done fairly quickly. The latter can be a little more time consuming because you will need to find the right customers to complete this task and sometimes a reward is needed for having the customer assist you. In both cases, you must have the individuals browse both your site and a competitor site while taking notes on what they like and dislike about both sites. To keep their thoughts on the website and not on pricing or product, you can give them a list of things to look for on both sites such as design, ease of completing tasks, or if they encounter errors. By giving guidelines, you will help your employees or customers stay on task while learning how your competitors are stacking up against your website.

All three of these methods are excellent ways to build a better website and to gain the trust of your users. Once you have the appropriate data, you can utilize that to design a site that works for YOUR customer base as well as potential customers. Usability studies allow companies to think ahead and create new opportunities to expand their customer base to allow for better growth.

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