Knowing what works and what doesn’t before going “all-in” on a project means reducing risk and it can save you both time and money. This is why a growing number of businesses are taking the time to implement what is known as “usability testing” before launching a product, a design, or content.
Time and time again businesses make assumptions about what they think people will find useful, educational, and entertaining. With a level of market research under their belts, they believe that they understand the wants, needs, and pain points of their customers.
The problem with this approach is that these “best guesses” are often wrong. Usability testing eliminates these incorrect assumptions by providing you with accurate input on how real users will interact and engage with your material.
Why content usability testing matters
Usability testing is commonplace in many industries and for a variety of products. One area which is often left by the wayside, however, is content.
Content is crucial when it comes to understanding the purpose and use of a product. It may show up in various forms including:
- User support content
- User guides
- Training materials
- Social media websites
- Landing pages
No matter how amazing a product or how beautiful your interface may be, ultimately your content is what will either make or break your user’s experience.
When to run a content usability test
Testing is most effective if performed before you kick off any new strategy or design work. This way you can quickly uncover areas of opportunity while reducing the number of assumptions you or your team may make about what your user wants.
How to conduct your own content usability testing
Content usability testing doesn’t need to be extensive to be insightful. Here is what you’ll need to conduct your own test:
1. Develop a test plan
The goal of your test plan is to discuss the who, what, and how of the test. You will want to cover critical aspects like:
- How you will carry out the test? Will you be conducting in-depth interviews? Will you be recording the actions of the participants?
- How long each test will take.
- What determines the success of your test? Did they reach point “B” from point “A”? Were they able to successfully answer a questionnaire at the end of the test?
- Who you will include on the test (segments based on gender, location, literacy, industry knowledge, etc.).
Who you will recruit to participate in your test will largely depend on your target audience and your content goals. Wanting to encourage a user to subscribe to a newsletter through a landing page, for example, may feature content and require testing that is very different from the testing you would use to verify that a user understands a user guide.
2. Recruit the right people
Give yourself time to recruit the right people for your usability testing. You will want a sample size of at least a few participants for each “group” you want to test. One piece of research suggests that it only takes five participants to uncover the majority of usability issues!
Friends, family and groups of individuals online are often more than happy to provide you with feedback. If you have difficulties recruiting people, put out a “casting call” online outlining who your ideal participant is, or you can enlist the help of a professional recruitment organisation.
3. Set your test into action
When it comes to content, you will want to be immediately present so that you can observe how your participants interact with it. Direct observations like watching where they click, how quickly they scroll, where the mouse moves, and their facial expressions while they engage with your content, will uncover loads of insight within a few short moments about how effective your content and its layout is for your users.
4. Get feedback
Your users are content experts, so take their complaints and recommendations seriously. When receiving feedback, get information about:
- What the user did
- What they saw and heard
- If they have any recommendations about the design of the page and content layout
- Their recommendations on how to improve the content
Depending on your business goals, you will want answers to questions like:
“Is the content engaging? Does it drive deeper engagement? Is it building brand equity?”
“Can the user interact with the content easily?”
“Does the user understand the purpose of the content?”
5. Re-test at a later time
Content usability testing is something that should be done on a regular basis. How your users are interacting with your content will help you plot out how to better command your users’ reactions, activity, and behaviour when on your website or engaging with your materials.
Content usability testing doesn’t have to be expensive
A common misconception about content usability is that it is an expensive endeavour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The best way to test content usability is through observation. But you can gather additional in-depth data and information from a variety of sources:
- Free online surveys
- Free analytical software (Google Analytics is a favourite, though there are other cost-effective “heat mapping” options out there)
- Inexpensive screen mirroring/recording solutions
- A/B testing products (also free or inexpensive)
UXPlanet has put together this really useful infograph that offers many different options for testing and measuring user experience:
Content usability testing means uncovered gains and opportunity
Dollar for dollar, the cost of failure is almost always more expensive than the cost of content testing. By performing “test runs” of your content before launch, you will create more value, increase lead and customer conversions, and ultimately increase your chances of success both online and in the real world.