I read a post over at our friend Greg Satell’s DigitalTonto site the other day, called 6 Simple Web-Development Tips. The article had some useful advice on website design and is worth your time if you are contemplating renovating or redoing your website. And if this subject has some relevance for you, you will also find a great deal of information on it at the LinkedIn Group called, Holistic Website Performance. Membership is free and the group has some real expertise among its members, many of whom frequently offer advice and opinion.
One of the points which Greg raised on DigitalTonto was that of usability testing. He recommended that you do it and do it often to ensure that the experience you provide your visitors is as good as it can be. And indeed, it is good advice. The only way you really know how your site is actually being used is via usability testing.
Usability testing is…
Let’s loosely define usability testing as the testing of a device (or software element) to ensure that its users find it easy to use. There are other goals, such as specific responses to specific calls to action. Sometimes, performance is the subject of focus, as when a page must load within a critical time period or else the factory or plant stops running or the boiler blows up.
The easier your site is to use for your visitors, the more enjoyable their visits become and the more they return for another visit. So a “usable” site is much more likely to retain your visitor’s interest – to engage them and hold them. In other words, usable websites convert more visitors into leads than ones which are not so friendly.
Until recently, there was only one way to perform usability testing and that was to watch a user interacting with the device or software. Set a task, watch and record the interaction, interview the users to clarify why they acted in the way they did, and ask if there are better approaches from their own personal perspective. This kind of thing gets to be expensive quickly: you have to find people willing to give up their time to do it, pay them to perform the tests (or lose their productivity on what they would normally be doing if you use employees), and then do it all over again with another user. And then another and another and another, because you can’t base your decisions regarding usability on one person’s interactions. You need a cross section to provide real insight. Some people just don’t read things well, or react to instructions well, or… well we are all unique, right? So test and retest becomes the order of the day.
Today you can hire people whose sole reason for existence is The Usability Study. These experts are expensive because they interview you, study your website, application or device, design suitable tests, and then conduct them in a lab with hired guinea-pigs while they video and record the results. And they have to be re-run each time you change your site. There are also web-based usability testing services. These set you back about $50 a test, so each time you change your site, each page you changed is likely to cost you a few hundred dollars to test (for several users, right?)
Automatic Usability Testing with Inbound Marketing Automation
But it dawned on me reading Greg’s post, that there is a much less expensive way to perform usability testing. Free, in fact, provided you have an Inbound Marketing Automation system. Imagine being able to “watch” your visitors in real time as they explore your site. See which pages hold their interest, which ones they bounce off, which Calls spark them into taking Action. With Inbound Marketing Automation you can do all this and have it recorded forever more as your prospect’s digital footprints. Plus, you accumulate data for every visitor individually, every time they interact with your site. So you can monitor their behaviour whenever you wish to. And with multivariate testing (sometimes called Split or A/B testing) built right into the system, you can even experiment with different calls to action and different pages, and chose the one which performs best.
Now it’s not a complete usability test, of course. You can’t see the user’s face grimacing in anguish, hear her mutter about that obscure button or feel the desk bounce as he bangs his fist on it in frustration. Nor can you ask why she landed on the page and left immediately or what you should do to prevent that next time.
But you can tell that she did leave immediately. And looking at that page with that insight often helps you decipher why. This can help you focus in on the pages and issues which most need attention – allowing you to pick the lowest hanging fruit. Watching thousands of people interact with the pages of your site (your Inbound Marketing Automation system tracks every visitor, every day, 24/7, remember), you can build up some real knowledge of which pages work well and which ones don’t. In other words, it’s much better than nothing at all. Used properly, it’s a wonderful substitute for the real thing.
Yet one more good reason to install your Inbound Marketing Automation system today and improve the performance of your website tomorrow.
Bit-by-Bit # 26 from Eric.