Website measurement is now firmly planted in the business lexicon, thanks to Google. “Google Analytics” has become a generic term among companies, meaning that lots of stuff on a website is trackable. It’s true: I was told by Omniture that its premium analytics toolkit, Site Catalyst, has over 100,000 report variations! So, the problem is not measuring your customers’ site engagement, it’s understanding that measurement data to create improvement in the experience. Technologies continue to emerge and evolve that are intended to help us understand what web customers are doing, but sometimes you just have to look them in the eyes and ask them.
Online usability testing is just starting to gain a greater appreciation despite being around from the late ’’90s, and with decades-old off-line roots in advertising focus group testing. Where Web analytics can tell you the, “what people are doing” on the site, it lacks the intuition of the, “why people are doing that” on your site. For example, analytics tools can report that 32% of visitors to a product page are returning to the homepage rather than purchasing, but it’s a darned mystery in that data of why they go that direction. If you want to know, why not ask them?
The discipline of online usability testing involves selecting a representative sample of customers, bringing them into a face-to-face test environment (this can be as simple as a computer and an activity-recording device in a boardroom), and moderating them through a user scenario with a set of associated tasks. The process can be both simple and challenging. As the guru of web usability Jacob Nielsen stated a decade ago, you only need five testers to determine 80% of the usability problems in a particular scenario. This means learning can occur very rapidly, to provide the foundation for some very significant improvements in your site architecture. The challenge comes in recruiting a representative sample of your customers, in effectively moderating sessions to minimize bias and maximize insights, and in collating the opinions into actionable documentation that roadmaps both business and technology improvements for the site.
Technology is even trying to simplify the online usability testing discipline. Usertesting.com is a service where you can just throw in your own site scenarios, define a tester group by selecting ready-and-waiting web surfers with some basic demographics filtering, and ta-da… instant insight! There’s just no substitute, however, for a trained expert to work with you on defining and executing a successful, strategic, testing program that works in concert with your web analytics insights, and can even guide much more effective Google Optimizer multi-variant test programs.
Talk to us, if you’re ready to stare your online customers in the eyes.