Why User Testing Matters

For many organizations, their website is their business. So if your entire business operates online, better make sure that your customers enjoy using your website. Right?

The realm of e-commerce has expanded far beyond online retailers, with education, personal services, music, banking, entertainment, accommodation, transport, and a host of digital services all now available only online. So what happens if your customers don't like using your website?

Cornelius Boertjens of website conversion specialists Catchi spoke at the 2015 WayPoint Conference about optimal digital UX and what is realistic and achievable for businesses when it comes to usability testing. His talk made us think about how we incorporate user testing into our digital work. We realized that we typically now spend as much time on planning and testing user experience, as we do on designing a website. In fact planning the user experience has become an integral part of our digital design process. This set us wondering if this was typical, or whether the majority of businesses out there in Christchurch and Chicago are yet to embrace the goodness of user testing.

When you built your website did you integrate user testing into the process? Did you review your competitor’s websites from a usability perspective, to see what you could do better? Did you carry out customer research on your current site to find out what your customers wanted improved? Did you test your site over a range of mobile devices? Are you A/B testing your live site right now to ensure it performs as well as it can?

If you’ve answered yes to all these questions, give yourself a high five and go read something else. In fact, please write an article about your user testing journey, because lots of people would love to read it. But if you’re starting to get a sinking feeling, read on…because all is not lost.

What the #%$& is User Testing?

Good question. We just assumed you knew the jargon, and that’s not cool.

User testing allows you to understand how real users interact with your website, how they got there, and what they really think of it.

Often this can be quite different to how you and your team interact with your website.

There are a number of ways to find out what your users really think of your site.


I get very uncomfortable when someone makes a design decision without customer contact.

- Dan Ritzenthaler, Senior Product Designer, HubSpot

Digital User Tracking

You’re already regularly checking your site analytics to find where your readers are coming from, what keywords brought them to your site, and which sites are referring traffic to you.

User tracking goes a step beyond. It shows you what people do once they get to your site. It shows you where people are clicking, and also where they aren’t. It shows you how many people scroll down your pages, and where they lose interest. It shows you where your users are coming from, and (more importantly) which users engage with your site most.

There are a wide range of programs that track user activity. You can install these yourself, or you can ask your digital agency. Your digital agency should already be doing this for you…but just in case they’re not, here’s a handy breakdown of three great digital user tracking tools that can help you identify areas where you can improve your website.


  • Used by 24,959 organizations in 134 countries.
  • Heatmaps visually represent users’ clicks, taps and scrolling behavior.
  • Real-time screen recordings of your users’ mouse activity.
  • Conversion funnels identify when and where users leave your website.
  • Form analytics identify which fields take too long to fill, which are left blank, and can help identify why users abandon your online form.
  • Feedback polls can be used to ask users direct questions.
  • Create, distribute and collect surveys in real-time from any device.
  • Collect profiling information and contact details, offer incentives and recruit for research.


  • Formisimo measures how your users interact with forms on your website; including where they abandon your form or checkout, where they make corrections, what takes the most time to complete, and what they leave blank.
  • Advanced filtering allows you to view all reports for a segment of visitors, including different browsers, devices and languages.

Visual Website Optimizer

  • A/B Testing divides your web traffic between two versions of your web page to discover which has the best conversion rate.
  • Multivariate Testing compares different versions of elements within your web page to discover which specific change impacts on conversions.
  • Split URL Testing directs traffic to two different URL addresses from the same landing page, and measures conversion.
  • A point-and-click interface allows you to load your website and start creating a/b tests and campaigns.

Other user tracking tools include: Crazy Egg, Clicktale, Inspectlet, Lucky Orange, SessionCam, Mouseflow, Heatmap.me, and ClickHeat.

User Testing

Lab User Testing

Typically with usability lab testing, a group of users view your website in a lab environment, and carry out a variety of tasks specified by you. Depending on your service offering, these tasks may include:

  1. “Make a booking for tomorrow at noon”
  2. “Find the price for a family of four on Sundays”
  3. “Submit an online inquiry”
  4. “Place an item in your basket then continue shopping”

The lab environment allows you to film the testing and run a variety of digital user tracking tests. You also get to observe in person how easy or difficult the tasks are to complete. User hesitation and pauses are important to note. You can encourage users to think aloud during the session, and you can interview your users at the end to get their overall impression of your website. You then collate your user insights and make changes to your website to improve the issues identified.

Formal user testing allows you to recruit targeted focus groups for user testing, and observe all details of their interaction with your website. The cons of this approach are that the unusual environment and the tasks specified can create artificial interaction with your website, plus this sort of user testing can be costly.

Crowdsourced User Testing

Crowdsourced user testing is more accessible and affordable. With crowdsourced user testing you digitally submit your website or webpage for a pool of users to test. You can specify tasks to be completed, or simply observe organic user interaction. You get a video back of the users carrying out the tests, as they make a running commentary on their experience. Examples of crowdsourced user testing platforms include User Testing (ditto!) and TryMyUI.

The big plus points of crowdsourced user testing are speed and affordability. Plus your testers are putting your website through its paces in the comfort of their own home, so you can uncover natural behavior which might not manifest in a more controlled lab environment. Another plus is that you can test your site internationally.

Downsides are that you don’t get to target your audience demographically (much) and you don’t get as much user data as you do in a lab environment. Some user testing platforms allow you to segment users to a degree, but you are reliant on the pool of users signed up to the testing platform, and it’s a fair assumption that this audience will skew heavy on students and people who work from home. Perfect if that’s your target market, not so grand if you’re after multinational senior executives.

User Testing and SEO

Before you rush off to start user testing, check you’re up-to-date with Google’s recommendations to ensure that user testing doesn’t impact on your site’s organic search performance. Read this handy article on Website Testing & Google Search for the lowdown.


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