A real eye-opener: Website usability testing

An important part of website design is testing the concepts to find out whether the design and content communicate the messages the site owner intends to send. The tester creates a series of tasks website visitors should be able to perform – find a person’s contact information, RSVP for an event, make a donation – and then asks people to perform the tasks. The tester watches what they do, measures how long it takes to complete a task – or whether subjects complete a task at all – and asks how they feel about the experience.

At a recent conference on website content strategy, a presentation on testing the usability of website content used Johns Hopkins’ Digestive Weight Loss Center page as an example. The video of test subjects trying to find certain information and their comments on what they’re seeing and doing is very enlightening.

The presentation begins by describing the goals for the micro-site, characteristics of the test subjects, the tasks they are asked to perform, and questions they will be asked during testing. If you’d like to jump ahead, the first video begins on slide 29.

Later, the presentation demonstrates A/B testing, where two different versions of a page are tested and adjustments made, depending on the results; it concludes with recommendations for designing the page to maximize the chances of accomplishing the objectives of the site owner.

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