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What is usability testing and when is the right time to do it?

There’s a famous saying that goes: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” Usability testing is no different. Whatever phase of the development you’re in now, it’s not too late.

Ideally, you should start even before deciding on your design — by researching and assessing successful practices from the competition, or by introducing your sketches and wireframes to participants that you’re testing with.

You probably had no idea you needed usability testing when you were building your first website. In most cases, the main focus is on the design and usability testing comes right before the launch.

It’s not always late, as long as you make sure to carry out your website’s usability testing the right way.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to test as soon as possible, the reasoning behind testing in different parts of development and some good ideas to have in mind.

Usability testing is the foundation

There’s no discussion, usability testing is a crucial step before creating a new website or any redesign. It should be used as a guide when creating a design brief.

There’s a lot of ways that you can research and conduct usability testing before anything. Here are a couple of examples that you can learn from:

  • Study your old website and its issues
  • Test your competitor's website and take notes on what works well and what doesn’t
  • Get inspiration from good examples that aren’t in your industry
  • Present clickable prototypes to potential users

Testing your old website can show you which parts have serious issues, so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Also, you can gain valuable insights into user behavior. Using tracking tools and observing their actions might tell you what tasks to focus on.

This is a so-called Discovery phase, which can help you understand what works well, identify users' pain points and how to improve them. Gathering all this information enables you to be more efficient and save valuable time as you won’t need to do your design from scratch.

On the other hand, when you’re starting from scratch, you're in a much better position. Why? There are a few reasons.

For starters, noticing bugs early would save you money by eliminating subsequent corrections to be made by developers or designers. Another important factor is that you would be cutting off wasted time. Not to mention that it can lead to missed opportunities where customers wanted to make a purchase on your site but now can’t since you’re currently fixing all the flaws.

One test is never enough

After the discovery phase, you might feel inclined to wait for the development to complete. Yes, it may seem like performing another test is a waste of time and resources. However, often it’s not the case. Testing the usability of your website while designing and redesigning can actually save more money.

Imagine you’re a few days before officially launching your new eCommerce website. You’ve tested your pages and all possible actions users can take, such as submitting a form, purchasing a product or creating a customer cart list.

At one moment, you remember you didn’t test what happens when a customer removes one out of multiple items from their cart, or purchases the same product twice. You check and it works on desktop devices, but mobile and tablets don’t, no matter what you try.

This is a horror scenario for customer experience. If you launched your high traffic website, this could have cost you a lot of revenue. It’s taking time to find the solution and you having to postpone the launch, again, creates additional problems. That’s why you need usability testing even during the redevelopment process.

Create multiple wireframes and clickable prototypes before deciding on one. Include your test participants here and show them these sketches and let them run through certain tasks. You don’t want to find out that customers have trouble completing a task upon finishing development.

Don’t wait for the project to be completely finished. Test finished parts during the process to prevent possible issues in days before the launch. The results will let you know which solutions might work best. No one wants that last second's stress.

Be confident before you launch

By now, you probably made sure there aren’t any huge issues. It’s time to polish and make sure everything runs perfectly.

Final testing should be done with many different participants and multiple times. Create a to-do list and segment them into groups. Some groups could perform tasks while being recorded, others could be interviewed. You can also use a heatmap tool to get insights into their behavior and record all actions.

It’s important to run a lot of tests before giving a green light. You want to make sure everything works like clockwork. However, these tests also give you valuable information about the customer experience level. Interview your participants and try to find out if they enjoyed using your website.

Sometimes, tasks aren’t complicated to perform, but there were too many steps in between. This could be a problem since by now it’s common knowledge that the attention span of an average user is low. You might miss out on similar insights if you don’t ask.

Keep listening

Finally, the development process came to an end. You’ve got a visually pleasing website, you performed usability testing on every part, tested with different participants. The official launch went as you’ve anticipated and everything flows perfectly, but the truth is — the job isn’t done.

You might think that the lack of issues is an excellent sign, however, you might be missing out on a chance to further improve your website. Collecting customer feedback can help you a lot. Most people won’t hold back, and they’ll give you concrete ideas for future upgrades.

When you invest so much time and effort into the project, sometimes the smallest things can go unnoticed. For instance, it can be something as trivial as the color or the shape of a button.

That’s why you should be proactive about collecting feedback. Initiate it, ask questions, send reviews. If you notice a repeated comment from your customers, it’s likely that they're right. Fix it and see if the results follow.

Wrapping it up

If you’re aiming for success — you need to conduct usability testing. It is the foundation of developing a website. Your design and structure should revolve around the first results. Learn from your previous mistakes and take a look at what works well for other websites.

But this is just the beginning, as you should test all the way throughout the development. It’s the only way to make sure you’ll have a perfect website launch. One test is definitely not enough, so make an effort to have usability testing participants during both the development and upon finishing.

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