So You Want to Run a Usability Test?

Usability testing is a great way to determine how an audience uses a website. It helps answer questions like: Can users learn the site efficiently? Is the website memorable? Are there unknown user errors? What’s the level of satisfaction with the site? A usability test will enlighten us Marketers, Designers, and Developers on user experience like none other. Here are some tips on executing a usability test to help answer these questions.

Define the Test Type

First things first: What type of test do you want to run?

  1. Explorative: This type of test is usually used before a site is launched (often at just the wireframe stage) to determine initial design specs and how users interact with them.
  2. Assessment: This type of usability test can be used two ways:
    1. Halfway through product development (e.g., at a site’s beta launch).
    2. To determine the efficacy of the design and functionality of a live site.
  3. Comparative: This type of test can be used to compare one website with another, and determine the strengths/weaknesses of each.

Select a Testing Method

There are a variety of methods to choose from. Be sure to think about the kinds of things you want to test on your website as you’re going through this part of the process so that your method matches what you hope to get out of it.

  • Hallway Testing: Using random people to test the website rather than people who are trained.
  • Remote Usability Testing: Using people in several locations and time zones whose results are then recorded and analyzed.
  • Expert Review: An expert in the field evaluates.
  • Paper Prototype Testing: Involves creating rough (often hand-sketched) drawings of an interface to use as prototypes of a design.
  • Questionnaires and Interviews: Observers can ask questions directly to the testers, either verbally or through a questionnaire.
  • Do-it-Yourself Walkthrough: Setting up a usability test situation by creating realistic scenarios.
  • Controlled Experiments: Similar to scientific experiments; typically involves a comparison of two products, with careful statistical balancing in a laboratory.
  • Automated Usability Evaluation: Who wouldn’t love to run an automated usability test? Various prototypes exist out there at the moment – all with varying degrees of success.

Determine a Usability Testing Vendor

Now that you know what kind of test you want to run, determining your vendor is the next step. Keep these things in mind:

  • Budget – how much are you (or your client) willing to spend?
  • Expectations – Do you want to be able to speak directly to the users while they’re testing? What about feedback; written/verbal/video, etc? What will reporting look like?
  • Targeting – Are demographics of your audience important, or is your website applicable to all?

Outline a brief list of criteria needed for the test that you can easily refer to as you vet vendors. Here’s our Delphic Digital recommended vendor list to get you started:

Create a Plan

This is the single most important thing that you can do. Creating a structured, clear plan allows for everyone to be on the same page before the test begins. Everyone needs to understand the objectives, participant tasks, successful completion criteria, benchmarks, and anticipated results before the test is run to ensure it is testing what it should be testing. Establish a plan beforehand so the usability test is set up to succeed.

Execute and Analyze

Obviously this has to happen, and it’s arguably the most exciting part! You’ll learn things about your audience that you never knew, and discover parts of your site that need a little help from a user experience perspective. That’s great – that’s exactly why you’re doing a usability test. Thoughtfully review and analyze the results and determine what things (good, bad, and ugly) users have told you about your website.


Now that the test has happened, it’s time to put together an outline of what site updates need to be made based on the results. This is why analysis is so important; it will serve as a roadmap to future website updates.

Rinse and Repeat

Depending on the size of your website and the nature of your business, usability testing should be a regular part of the digital marketing mix. Whether you schedule tests annually, twice a year, quarterly, or monthly, use this valuable tool to learn about what is and isn’t working on your site and continually improve – as all of us in the digital marketing world strive to do.

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