If you’ve read our post on Getting Started with Usability Testing, you know it’s important to get user feedback on your new website or redesign before you make costly mistakes. Running a moderated usability test is one of the best ways to hear directly from your audience members.

Usability testing can be scaled in many ways, but no matter how you decide to run your tests, you’ll need to follow these steps:

1. Decide which part of your website you want to test and define the user’s tasks

Your participants’ tasks should be your users’ most common goals when they interact with the website. This may be making a donation, filling out a contact form, or making a purchase.

Once you know what you’d like to test, come up with a set of goals for your study. A goal can be broad, such as “Can people navigate through the website to find what they need?” Or they can be specific, such as “Do people notice the main call to action in the top right hand corner to apply now?”

2. Write a study plan

A plan for your study is important because it establishes the purpose and goals of your test, as well as how you’ll measure your results. You’ll need to include the following:

  • what you plan to test
  • how you plan to run the test
  • how you will measure what you’ll capture and what metrics you’ll use
  • the number of users you’ll test
  • what scenarios you’ll use as the backbone for the test

Your plan should include the following details:

Where and When: Try to find a quiet space that you can welcome your test participants and make them feel at ease.

Scope: Establishing the scope of your usability test ensures your goals are realistic. Specify what exactly you’ll be testing.

Timing: Running a usability test effectively will take between 30–60 minutes per participant. Depending upon the complexity of what you’re building, this length of time will vary, but an hour is the maximum amount of time it should last—or your participants may get tired.

Equipment: The equipment you use doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it’s important to be able to capture the session in some form, ideally using video. Try to use your own equipment so you can have each test set up and recorded consistently. Consider too that it may make the users more at ease if you provide a Mac and PC option so they can use the operating system they are most comfortable with.

3. Write a script

Your script builds on your plan to help you to facilitate the usability test clearly and consistently. It helps to break the script down into a couple of sections: a section that acts as a preamble, and a section that covers the main body of the test itself.

  • Your preamble is designed to settle the user before the test starts. In it, you cover what you’re testing and why you’re testing it, if you will be recording, some background on the website, and questions to learn about the participants’ current knowledge of the website. If you are recording audio or video, you should have the participants sign a document allowing permission.
  • For the main body of the test, you will focus on the scenarios you have established in your plan. Giving the user a scenario instead of a standalone task will help make them feel more natural. For example, instead of saying, “sign up for a class”, you should say, “You are a mother of a 12 year old and you would like to sign her up for a ballet class on Tuesday nights starting at 6 pm.”

4. Delegate Roles

Running a test will require a number of individuals:

  • The test participants
  • A facilitator
  • Observers and note takers

During your usability study, the facilitator has to remain neutral, carefully guiding the participants through the tasks while strictly following the script. Note-taking during the study is also just as important. If there’s no recorded data, you can’t extract any insights that’ll prove or disprove your hypothesis.

5. Find Your Participants

Screening and recruiting the right participants is the hardest part of usability testing, but it’s a crucial component of a successful user test. It’s important to test more than one person so your results aren’t skewed by too small a sample size—everyone is different, and everyone draws from different experiences. Most usability experts suggest you should only test five participants during each study, but your participants should also closely resemble your actual user base. The ideal process is to test with five users, make improvements, test with five more users, make improvements, and test with five more.

No matter who you’re testing, you’ll want to offer some sort of incentive (such as cash or a gift card) for participants’ time.

6. Conduct the Study

With each participant, welcome them and start with the preamble you have prepared. Outline who’s in the room and why, explaining that while you’re running the test, the others present will be recording their observations.

During the actual study, you should ask your participants to complete one task at a time, without your help or guidance. As you go through the study with participants, remember that it’s your job to be quiet and listen; let the participants do the talking. If the participant asks you how to do something, don’t say anything. You want to see how long it takes users to figure out your interface.

Asking participants to “think out loud” is also an effective tactic. This will allow you to know what’s going through a user’s head when they interact with your website. Be prepared to ask “why?” or say “tell me more about that” to get participants to elaborate on their thoughts.

After they complete each task, ask for their feedback—like if they expected to see what they just saw, if they would recommend your website to a friend, and what they would change about it.

7. Analyze Your Data

A team member that was involved in the usability testing should analyze the data. You’ll collect a ton of qualitative data after your study. Analyzing it will help you discover patterns of problems, gauge the severity of each usability issue, and help the designer provide design recommendations. When you analyze your data, make sure to pay attention to both the users’ performance and their feelings about the website. It’s not unusual for a participant to quickly and successfully achieve your goal but still feel negatively about the website experience.

8. Report Your Findings

After extracting insights from the data, the person that analyzed the data will work with the designer to report the main takeaways and lay out the next steps for improving your website’s design and the enhancements you expect to see during the next round of testing. The way this deliverable looks will depend on the scale of the project, how much testing was done, and who the information is being reported to.

Ready to get started on user testing of your own? Reach out and we’ll help you figure out the best way to move forward.

Cara Tudor headshot

Written by Cara Bow

“No matter who you are, I'll find something I like about you. We're all in this together, friends.”