The Importance of User Testing

In most cases you will spend a great deal of time testing various technical aspects of your site before it is available to the public. You will ensure the navigation functions, forms submit correctly, and the site behaves correctly on all browsers. While this is an excellent start, this approach neglects a critical variable: your users. Do you know the types of users your site attracts? If so, do you understand how these users expect to interact with your site? Too often, companies assume that any usability issues will be addressed once they receive user feedback. Unfortunately, this approach has a fatal flaw. Users that are displeased with your site will most likely never visit again. Not only does this make it impossible to collect feedback from the group but it also translates to missed opportunities.

The best way to ensure your site meets the expectations of your users is to conduct user testing. User testing can be performed at any or all stages of the development lifecycle. Each option presents unique benefits and challenges.

Users can provide direction even before development begins by utilizing tools such as wireframes or other paper based designs. By involving users early you can fix many issues before production even begins, saving development costs and time. However, since the user is involved before a prototype is available they may not be able to fully comprehend the site.

During Development
With this approach users test features and design as the site is being development. Since some work has been completed, users are better able to comprehend the finished product. Users can help identify problem areas before the work is completed saving considerable amounts of time and effort. However, this approach could cause a delay in the completion your site while the users and development team completed the process.

Quality Assurance
User testing can be performed after launch as a way of validating the site. This can be useful for ensuring the development team has met expectations. However, if testing is held to the very end you run the risk of identifying a large issue that requires extensive rework.

Not only does user testing help identify potential problems with your site it also ensure that your site is compatible with the behavioral characteristics of your target market. And don’t forget… users that abandon your site due to poor usability are unlikely to return.