How To Conduct A Dirt Cheap Usability Test

The best way to improve website conversions is to improve usability, and the best way to do that is to conduct ongoing website usability tests. But who has the time or budget to do that? In this post I’ll show you how easy it is to create and conduct dirt cheap usability tests on a regular basis.

Reiterate Your Site’s Goals

Successful usability testing is really more about investing quality time evaluating your website vs. spending a lot of cash. Before you start it’s critical to get clear about your site’s goals. What is the purpose of your website? What does it need to do for your business? What does it need to do for your users? These two fundamental questions form the core of your website strategy. Your usability test should test whether or not you are achieving these goals and identify opportunities for improvement.

Create User Profiles

First, create a set of user profiles representing the different types of users that might come to your site. These are short descriptions that help you visualize actual people trying to do things on your site. According to the usability experts at Nielsen Norman Group, you only need a maximum of 5 testers to get the information necessary to identify usability problems. After five users the same issues tend to start popping up, so it’s most efficient to keep the number of testers to five or less.

Brainstorm User Tasks

Once you have created your user profiles, create a list of tasks that will form the foundation of your test. This list can be relatively short, since the actual test shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes for each person. Some example tasks could include:

* Signup for a free newsletter
* Place an order
* Find an address and phone number
* Search for a European location
* Recruit Family and Friends

Here’s where the dirt cheap part comes in. When your task list is ready, ask family and friends to volunteer to test your site. Ideally you want to match up your volunteers to the 5 user profiles you created earlier. If your immediate inner circle doesn’t match up, reach out to people you know on Facebook or Twitter.

Test Time

Once you’ve identified your testers, schedule 1-1 testing sessions with them in person or by phone. On the day of the test, let them know you are testing the website, not them, and that their responses will help you make improvements to your site.

As you conduct each test, ask your testers to think out loud as they use the site. Remain quiet during the test, really listen to what they are experiencing and take careful notes. You can talk as much as you want after the test, but try to keep test time free of distractions. You will be amazed at your findings.

Call In The Pros

If you don’t have time to do your own testing, is it still possible to do dirt cheap usability testing using professionals? Absolutely. is a great service that provides written and video test results from pre-screened 24/7 testers in your target audience. For $39 you can get a video of a visitor speaking their thoughts as they use their site along with a written summary describing any problems they encountered. It’s a great alternative if you need to outsource usability testing.

But whether or not you do it yourself, usability testing is far too important not to do. Make time for it and you’ll see great improvements to your site conversions. More importantly, your audience will get more value from your site.

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