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Web Usability Testing is an iterative process. It involves feeding back key improvements to the web development team regarding user requirements. Lots of business decision makers have their own opinion about how they want their company website to look, feel and work. Based on these business requirements it is then the appointed web design company or department’s job to realise these requirements. What is sometimes missed out is what the users require. The aim of this article is to explain the importance of involving the user, iteratively, throughout the website design process and, indeed, throughout the whole lifecycle of the website even after it has gone live!
By iterative I mean redesign or even return to the requirements stage if there are any improvements required after user testing takes place. Many developers, software and web, see testing as an end stage which takes place just before project delivery but if we use a spiral development methodology we are more likely to be able to deliver a more user centred web design solution at a lower cost. This is because, by nature, a waterfall style process requires signing off and documentation at the end of each stage which makes revisiting a given stage costly.
We all develop some type of process but some design processes can become too rigid and leave little room for redesign. It seems inevitable that requirements will change, especially during a long project, this is why flexibility is important.
Web Usability Testing can be carried out either as part of a new web design project, as part of the ongoing online strategy or on an existing website which did not previously have a testing strategy planned for it. A typical application of user testing is a pay per click ad campaign. Lots of traffic may be being driven to a landing page but conversion may be unexpectedly low. Conversion may mean purchasing a product or service, submitting an online contact form, making a phone call or sending an email. Even when good practice design guidelines are followed by website designers user testing is necessary. This is because every website is different. Website visitors have certain expectations which are based upon their own experience of how a website should work.
A visitors experience is determined by every over website they have ever visited or, at least, those that they can remember. Your website must work the same as other websites that your target market use. Website developers can follow best practices but the user experience will ultimately depend upon usage by your visitors over a given period of time.