Photo: rogue2408 via Flickr
Whether your company is an ecommerce business or if you sell a product or service offline, your Web presence is crucial. If people can’t find and navigate your website, you are significantly limiting your reach, leads and sales. After all, it is 2011 and Web access is everywhere. But how do you know if you are effectively communicating the right message on your website?The answer to this question is quintessential to the conversion success of your website. As I explored ways to best answer this question, the issue of cost seemed to resonate at the top of my mind. Now I know that you may be asking, why can’t I just ask all my friends and family to check out my website and give me feedback? As this is an option, it is probably not the most effective one. Why, because your family and friends are probably bias, whether they intend to be or not. Chances are that they already have a preconception of your business and will not provide the value that a stranger could. Therefore, this isn’t the best solution.
There are countless services available online that allow you to get people to view and test your website, based on specific tasks and questions. Some of the more reputable sites, like UserTesting.com, works really great and get you results fast. Testers use a screen-sharing and voice recording software to answer all your questions and tasks that you outline so that you can view accordingly. However, there are two major flaws with this method, the first of which is that they often utilise the same testers, who inevitably become bias and not-your-average website viewer from repetitive testing, which results inadequate test results. The second flaw is that this method can be very costly. Such sites typically charge upwards of $40 or more for each website tester. To get enough quantifiable results, you would need tens of dozens of testers. For startups and small businesses, this may be too costly. Enter Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
I came across a great Mixergy video with Dan Shapiro of SparkBuy, in which Dan disclosed how he accomplished a series of necessary tasks in building his business, without breaking the bank. It should be noted that Dan’s company is venture-backed, so money isn’t an issue. However, like any good entrepreneur, he knows that every dollar counts so getting a real bang for your buck is critical. He used Mechanical Turk to get large amounts of people to view his website and expose problems based on the design, layout, functionality and content.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, it is a crowdsourcing marketplace that allows you to establish particular tasks for individuals to complete for very small amounts, often as low as pennies. The site allows you to get dozens, hundreds or thousands of people to perform short and easy tasks for you for quick payments. So here is how you can utilise this to get qualitative feedback on your website: Post a project on Mechanical Turk that requires a user answer 4-5 questions about the usability of your website. It will take less than 2 minutes to answer these questions. The key factor is to utilise free screen-recording software, like Screencast-o-matic.com. Upon completion, have them send you’re the video or upload the file. By having your testers record their screen as they navigate through your tasks, you can see what they do and how your Web design directs and influences their actions. This entire process can be completed in a very short time period.
Now, you have the same utility as these premium user-testing websites, at a fraction of the cost. Gather all the results from all your testers and find common problems that you may have overlooked. Another unintended benefit is that you may discover that issues that you may have viewed as problems aren’t problems at all. For instance, if you all of your testers expose problems that you are unaware and don’t mention any of the problems that you are aware of, you may learn that what you perceived as a problem isn’t a problem at all. This occurred in the instance of Dan Shapiro while testing SparkBuy.
After using this testing strategy, you will be able to determine where the issues exist in your design and how to improve them. Upon making the changes, I would recommend performing the test again and again. The best way to optimise is by constant improvement. As your company products and services change, so should your design. Take the tools that you have learned here and execute. Best of luck.