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Should I Do My Own Website Usability Testing?

Can_I_Do_My_Own_User_Research.jpgEvery day At WSOL, we work on designing websites that provide a good experience for their users. One of the key parts of that process is performing usability testing that helps us understand what a website’s users are trying to accomplish, what pain points they have, and how the website can best meet their needs.

However, one question that our clients occasionally ask us is whether they can do this type of user research on their own. Since you know your own company and understand how your products or services meet your customers’ needs, can you extend this knowledge to the way people use your website?

While we believe in giving our clients the tools for success in their digital strategy, there are some pros and cons to the idea of performing this type of user research testing on your own. We wanted to look at the benefits and drawbacks of taking this approach:

THE PROBLEMS WITH DIY USABILITY TESTING

While we like the idea of our clients being able to collect their own insights about how people use their sites, it can be hard to get the best understanding out of this type of testing, since they don’t necessarily have the knowledge of User Experience (UX) principles and best practices. Performing this type of testing on your own is similar to a person doing their own health check-up or diagnosing why their car won’t start. You might be able to get some valuable information, but a professional is better able to provide a diagnosis and solution. 

Here are a few of the reasons why you might not be able to get the best insights when performing your own user research:

  • You notice the symptoms, not the disease. Similar to the health analogy above, when you perform your own user reasearch, you will often find that pain points exist, but you won’t necessarily be able to pinpoint or address the underlying problems.
  • The methods we employ require a fair amount of skill and training. Often, the best advice we can give to our clients is “talk to your customers.” However, knowing what to ask and how to interpret the responses is a critical part of understanding their pain points and what can be done to address them. Along those lines…  
  • Information collected from users cannot always be taken at face value. In addition to asking questions, an important part of user research is observing what users do when they interact with a website. Our ability to observe when there is a discrepancy between what users say and what they actually do is a huge part of the value of the services we provide. We have seen many cases where clients are misled by following users’ feedback too literally, and looking at the results of user research with a trained eye can help avoid these issues. 

OPTIONS FOR DIY USABILITY TESTING AND USER RESEARCH

While we do recognize that there are concerns with clients performing their own user research, we feel that there are still some options available for clients who want to be involved in the process. Here are a few ways that we can work with you to help gather valuable, actionable information:

  • Conducting remote or automated usability testing. This type of testing, which can be done using automated tools, is less intensive than a full on-site Discovery process, and it can provide some valuable insights while saving on costs.
  • Developing a test script that you can use to conduct your own remote usability tests or competitive analysis. This helps us provide you with a way to gather valuable insights, and after you've completed these tests, we can help you interpret the results.
  • Providing some basic UX heuristics you can use to evaluate your site. When we talk about heuristics, we are referring to usability best practices and benchmarks, such as those listed in this article by Jakob Nielsen. While this won’t provide insights about how people use your site, it can help you identify some issues in your site’s user interface (UI) that could be improved.
  • Recommending that you postpone user research until you've determined your objectives. Sometimes, it’s best to wait to perform a UX review until you are able to nail down your objectives and figure out what the desired user behavior is that you want to change. You can then figure out what you need to measure related to this behavior and specify how to track and analyze these metrics. Once you've done all that, you will be more equipped to do some serious UX work. 

Delivering an improved user experience that ensures people are able to use your website to find the information they are looking for and complete their tasks is an essential part of a successful digital strategy. If you’re interested in how we can help you work with your users to find and address any pain points they may have and ensure that you are meeting their needs, please contact us. Whether you’re looking to perform an intensive UX analysis or want to learn more about the tools you can use to determine how to address your users’ needs, we can provide you with the insights you need. We look forward to working with you!

About the Author

Dennis Kardys
Dennis Kardys
As WSOL’s Design Director, Dennis focuses on helping clients realize the importance of user-centered design and developing elegant and intuitive websites. He is responsible for collaborating with clients to flesh out the vision for their project, running UX and discovery workshops, and working between teams to ensure that visually, conceptually, and functionally, each project lives up to its potential. Dennis has over 12 years of combined experience in visual design, user experience, and web development. He is a recognized speaker, writer, and contributor within the UX and web design communities, and is obsessed with topics like responsive design, the mobile web, and design ethics.