Why Do I Need a Usability Site Audit?

Why Do I Need a Usability Site Audit?

Kim Krause Berg  

If you have ever used a website and become frustrated with it, you know first hand why a usability site audit is necessary. And, because there are so many websites that are difficult to use, you may not be surprised to learn it was never tested to begin with.

Every website has a short shelf life.

During the 1990’s when website design was in the exploratory stages the common mantra was “build it and they will come”. They did because there was no other place to go and if you were lucky to be the first website, you could get away with imperfections. This is no longer the case.

For the past 20 years web designers, programmers and marketers have watched how people search for and interact with web pages. We learned that everyone wants in. That means making web pages accessible regardless of age, handicap, or device. Competition brought on brand challenges. Where there were once hundreds of thousands of directories and search engines, today Google dominates the search engine space; so much so that when they declared they wanted to index only mobile-ready web pages, everybody ran back to the drawing board for redesigns.

With each new programming language comes new opportunities for developers.

We are long past HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. There are so many ways to build a web site or internet application that picking one requires serious consideration.

Small businesses with tiny budgets learn the harsh realities of web site ownership in a playing field where companies with more money can pay for better built web sites that rank well in search engines and perform well for their visitors.

It is website performance for people that counts most of all.

We know from years of studies in human factors and neurosciences that when someone arrives at a web page or mobile application, for example, their need must be met in under 5 seconds. The most basic need is “Do they have what I came for?” If that question requires page scrolling, clicking links, browsing menus and searching for content, that experience has to be pain free and effortless.

Companies are sometimes less informed about their target market.

They have a limited perspective, ideas based on hope, and they rarely ever consider human behavior, special needs, country cultural differences, or thought to watch anyone use their website in various environments.

Usability website testing should be set up and ready to go during the development stage and after the site goes live.

It should be part of ongoing maintenance during the life of the website property. There are web design standards and guidelines established by the World Wide Web Consortium that provide unity and cohesiveness for the Internet experience, but those standards are constantly re-visited and revised.   In several countries, including the US and UK, there are laws pertaining to doing business online with special needs people. There is a lack of knowledge of what a special needs user is. The definition includes people who wear corrective eye wear, are ADD or ADHD, are colorblind and those who use special computer devices that do not come with a mouse.

Certain countries do not use desktop or lap top computers. Their populations rely on cell phones. Language, terminology and grammar are not universally understood. This makes the role of an information architect vitally important for web design and digital marketing.

A website usability audit should be performed when:

  1. The data indicates traffic declined after a redesign.
  2. The data indicates traffic bounces after landing on the site.
  3. Revenue is not meeting expectations.
  4. Revenue tanked.
  5. Pages rank well but conversions are poor.
  6. There was a redesign and all hell broke loose after that.
  7. The site is a few years old and no longer meeting user or business expectations.
  8. A professional SEO insists that one is needed to provide support for their marketing strategies.
  9. The site was never tested to begin with.

A usability site audit helps to determine the success or failure of the website users’ experience.

You should be concerned if your website is not tested by an expert in the usability field.

Companies are not hiring the right website designers.  It takes a team of people to build, test, maintain and promote a website. One person can not do it all, despite every possible attempt by people to do it this way. A graphic designer is not a performance engineer. An SEO is not an accessibility specialist.  A user interface designer is not a data analyst.  Someone needs to be trained in programming, mobile design, information architecture, human behavior, persuasive design, functional testing and content writing.

The smart website owner leaves nothing to chance. Their investment must be competitive. A usability audit may result in a strong recommendation to redesign the website. An official report with documented findings provides proof and actionable recommendations, mockups, sketches, resources and data to be used for the new design. It may recommend user testing, mobile device testing, accessibility testing, performance testing and search engine optimization enhancements.

What Do I Need in My Website Usability Audit?

A full website audit for a large website may be expensive when performed by trained usability specialists. If a site owner has a good idea where an issue is located, that area can be the focus. Sometimes the audit is to test for mobile user experience only. What is not recommended is when a site has a global target market and an ecommerce section, and the site owner wants under 5 pages audited.  Those 5 pages will not represent the performance or user experience of an enterprise website that targets customers from many countries. They can be, however, proof of concept or examples of a larger audit or used for discussions with stakeholders who may need convincing that a full site audit is warranted.

What is The Value of Getting a Website Usability Audit?

Your brand. Your reputation. Sales. Conversions. Search engine rankings. Your customers’ satisfaction.  You value those things. It makes sense to do whatever it takes to properly support them.

A website audit and site testing are worth the investment if you want your online business to be successful and risk-free for a long time.

 

 

Web and Software Developers: Step Away From the Keyboard and Watch UX

Web and Software Developers: Step Away From the Keyboard and Watch UX

Kim Krause Berg  

I propose a new job description called “Real Life User Experience Testing”, whose role is to assist  software and website developers by luring them away from the white board and drop them into reality.

I think about real life user experiences because I watch your software in use and wonder why you didn’t.

Every company that plans, designs, builds and markets products associated with computers relies on tools and specific methodologies for testing performed in-house. From the day ideas are born and scribbled on white boards or napkins at the bar after a few beers, the journey begins. Investors are contacted, or at least fantasized about. Overtime is demanded by everybody. Test plans are written. User personas are developed. Salespeople write press releases. Business analysis, requirements gathering, content writing, and that hefty investment in digital marketing are all part of the routine. A great deal of time, money and after hours drinking goes into the final product.

What is not on the list is real life testing with people in their native habitat.

People in bar
From the day ideas are born and scribbled on white boards or napkins at the bar after a few beers, the journey begins.

Please consider performing tasks in real life during development and before releasing to production.

Because when that brilliant product, redesign, enhancement, rebuilt for mobile, awesome offering to the world rolls out and doesn’t work, all hell breaks loose.  Managers point fingers. Programmers insist they were simply doing as they were told.  (They are not instructed to think.  Just code.) Reputation management experts are called in to repair the damage. Marketing and accounting personnel are banging their heads on the wall. It’s chaos. It’s a scenario happening on a regular basis.

 

If you are a programmer, the stories you could tell would be perfect for Dead Men Walking plots. Because you were asked to be zombies who code.  You were even paid good money to be Dead Dev Walking.

In 2013 when Healthcare.gov launched, it was a total usability flop. It was so dreadful that my before and after screenshots of the testing I performed after its launch provided comic relief in my talks at conferences on website usability. Clearly, nobody was properly managing the project. Its failure to work without torturing users was catastrophic and yet one company sounded the alarm and were ignored.

“On Tuesday The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration knew there would be problems with Healthcare.Gov website as far back as March when they were presented with an analysis by McKinsey & Co.”

The article  went on to say that “flags were definitely raised throughout the development of the Web site … But nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site launched.”

Wait. Nobody anticipated? Did nobody TEST it first?

How many millions of dollars were invested in a product that ignored user testing, usability guidelines and in the case of a .gov site, Section 508 compliance? It was handed off to another company and 3 years later the website remains confusing to use for the people who need the help the most. Who are they and why are they ignored from the design?

How is it that the practices and disciplines performed by software developers and website designers have remained unchanged, while computer devices and user habits do?

Extreme demands placed on software engineers to learn more programming languages, rewrite code, and deal with illogical deadlines contributes to the disasters we have all experienced online. How we use stuff is not factored in because project managers are not taught or encouraged to go beyond mental models and user personas. The general public is unaware that their real life, individual, unique experiences are not designed for. Instead, a user persona is written up and used to act out your role to help developers and designers map out the user interface and functionality or representative data is gathered into a use case for the sake of laying down code.

It’s improv.

User Personas On Stage

A dozen years ago I created user personas as part of my usability testing methodology. I developed a fun way to teach clients the value of testing and considering real people by creating “user characters” that acted in specific situations so that the client could see how their website or shopping cart was actually used out in the wild.  I decided on this method because companies weren’t investing in user testing and their heads were wrapped around search engine marketing rather than user experience.  Most had never heard of user personas or mental models.  I stopped offering this service when it was replaced with SEO tools, Google Analytics, heat maps and click tracking to study performance.

It is easier and cheaper to automate and guess what people will do.

Research Drops Clues But We Are Unique and Unpredictable

Men click there on an image for an automobile, while women click here. Therefore, ALL men click there and ALL women here. End of story.

Person using laptop in a resturant
Companies are not looking for user testing in real life.

Neuroscience and behavioral studies contribute data, providing more metrics to help guide decisions such as where to place a call to action button or what color to choose. However, how do you account for the person unable to see colors or who just forgot where they were and where you placed the call to action button?

There are sheer mountains of research on the user experience of things done on desktops and older operating systems.  The same is true for search engine marketing and the algorithm chasers who stalk search engines for changes.

I applied for a user interface position with a company I was willing to give up consulting to work for and when I asked them what they use for user experience requirements was told, “We follow Jakob Nielsen’s 10 guidelines.”  Those 10 guidelines were introduced in 1995.  I replied, “He has said he has over 2000 usability heuristics and that was a dozen or more years ago.”  I didn’t get the job.

There is no job description real life user experience testing, planning, requirements and heuristics. Companies are not looking for user testing in real life, with actual people performing tasks in various environments using the tools and applications they need to accomplish the stuff they want and need to do.

An article by the Ministry of Testing, called What Do Software Testers Do? contains a list of what testers do. Accessibility testing is not there. If you are a human who can’t use a mouse, has short term memory loss, does not see with 20–20 vision, or has a disease that creates hand tremors, who is testing for you?

Under the category called “They Do Testing Type Activities”, not a single activity exists called, “Take it outside and use it”, or “Use it with real people”.  And here’s my favorite activity from the article, “Putting myself in our user’s shoes to test products”.

Pretending to Be UX

How does an off-shore programmer know what it’s like for anyone to use software created for use outside their country? I shared an article on my Facebook page recently that described how people in India use mobile devices because American software developers and ecommerce companies don’t even think about things like that and yet they claim to reach a global market.

How do software testers, most of whom continue to be men, have any idea what it’s like to perform tasks that women do? We don’t even think the same, let alone use software the same way. I think about real world user experiences because I watch your software in use and wonder why you didn’t.

I think about crazy things like where the user’s gaze goes when they are attempting to purchase from an online store from a mobile device on a noisy packed train surrounded by a rowdy, “I’m not home in front of my parents” Girl Scout team taking selfies.

I think about your nifty cool tools that claim to work on mobile devices and how well they perform at a conference with spotty Internet connections and your customer has a client emergency.  They are likely stressed.  There’s the hunt for a connection, a quiet place to think, the rush to solve a problem because the party on the other end is freaking out and they had 2 glasses of wine.

This is never on a whiteboard.  The whiteboard version has complicated navigation, ads, slow loading images, confusing tasks, hidden calls to action and the mobile version is still in the Director’s office whiteboard sketched in black ink with smiley faces.

Does your company include software functional or web front end design requirements created for human conditions such as pain, addiction, short term memory loss, color blind, hand tremors, extreme stress, poor lighting and noise?Most clients provide me with their target user demographics and analytics, but never explain the situations for use.

How we use computers every day is categorized and based on assumptions or old data. User testing, whether by video or survey questions, is not performed in real world situations.  Testing environments are quiet and controlled. Nobody thinks about my realtor friend who conducts business sitting at a rustic wooden table on the outside porch of a Starbucks in a small town using just his cellphone distracted by people watching and the occasional young person who stops by to chat.  He sells houses and land.  Have you ever seen realtor software?

I sometimes meet with clients outside the office. Whoever designs things like changing DNS, installing WordPress and purchasing server space is missing out on the joys of using their services and products in the vast wilderness of the local Panera Bread with public free Wi-Fi.

Do you send your employees to conferences or seminars and expect them to work from the conference venue or hotel? Please know that the software your employees must use was not built to work in these environments. A real life user experience tester would be like a travel scout who goes out and tests every hotel, conference venue, plane, airport, taxi and train and bar to performance test.

What a value proposition to be able to claim your product or service passed!

You Are Paid To Build For Failure

How many times have you been to a medical facility where the doctor, nurses and receptionists are drumming their fingers, rolling their eyes, and tapping their feet waiting for their healthcare software to load? Or they say, “We just got this new software and I have no idea how to use it.”

Every time the user experience changes requires re-testing outside in the real world with the people who use your software or website. If you are a mobile application developer, you already know abandonment rates are risingEvery time new technology is introduced means it’s also an opportunity for watching people learn to use it. For example, the computer chips they are putting into credit cards creates an entirely new user experience and change in habits that create embarrassing experiences for customers.

Like when I used a department store card with the new computer chip. The store installed new card swipe machines, creating a new set of steps. First you stick the card into the slot and leave it there, but first you have to hit “O”. Which I did. Twice. I got an error each time. It turns out they really mean they want you to push the green enter button with the “O” on it, not the letter “O”. And then, after it accepts your payment, it beeps loudly as if to scold you for paying the store.

The Real Life User Tester would be a hero.

Google Mobile Friendly Does Not Mean User Friendly

Google Mobile Friendly Does Not Mean User Friendly

Kim Krause Berg  

Apple iPhone 5Google’s announcement that websites must pass its mobile device test has everyone in a panic. However, in the effort to redesign websites to meet this new criteria, user experience is not improving.

In fact, some companies are destroying the usability of their desktop layouts while trying to adapt to Responsive design specifications.  And worse, basing mobile tests on what Google says passes its mobile readiness does not automatically translate to a better user experience on all mobile devices.

Do I Need to Be Mobile Friendly?

For small businesses and organizations such as churches, non-profits and hobby sites, this news from Google presents a dilemma. The cost of owning a successful website is high enough, when you factor in keeping the content fresh, marketing strategies and basic maintenance.  These costs are often under estimated.  Many websites are made by volunteers with limited experience or by hiring people who are not skilled in user centered design, SEO, mobile design and accessibility.

While most website owners know they want their pages found in search engines, they are less likely to be thinking about the people searching and the types of computer they use.  Google didn’t just decide one day to force the mobile requirement.  They have known for years the direction computer use is heading into.  Their usability department tests, tracks and analyzes user behavior and trends.  You don’t get to be a monolith like Google by ignoring how people use computers.

And yet user testing by marketers and website designers is not routinely performed.  Research into trends such as human computer behavior, persuasive design, and mobile device statistics are not an exercise many website owners are interested in.  So for example, they are not thinking about how their workshop schedule displays on an iPad, or if someone is able watch a 20 minute marketing video from their Android smart phone.

Another reason many site owners are not jumping into redesigns is because they can see the desktop on their smart phones and tablets.  For them, forcing visitors to magnify content is not a big deal.  Many design fads that work in desktop layouts present user obstacles on mobile devices because there is no mouse to point and click mega-menus and sliders don’t load.  Forms with tiny font sizes need to be magnified to be used on smart phones, creating user frustration.  Images that are not instructed to resize on smaller screens become a page load disaster.  One local organization site I know has a monthly calendar that has to be magnified to be seen on my cell phone.

Does your website need to work on mobile devices? Yes. Why?  Because computer technology is changing.  The devices we use are smaller.  Software applications we depend upon in our homes, cars, workplaces and even hiking mountain trails are built for various environments and uses such as wearable devices, cell phone journals and automobile dashboard maps.

If you are not thinking and planning ahead, your website, contact form, software application and photo gallery will be obsolete and no longer usable.

Are Meeting Google’s Requirements Good Enough?

In a word, no.  My tests show that even though Google’s Webmaster Tools indicate a passing grade, manual testing proves otherwise.  This is because user experience cannot be automated.

Android ScreenshotMobile testing tools are programmed to check for specific standards for mobile design.  They do not test to see if your business and conversion goals are met.

For example, one of my clients has a website that is technically built for mobile devices.  The users are expected to register to use the software if they are new or log in if they are regular users.  The site relies heavily on its search function too.  The call to action prompts to register/log in and search are hidden from view in the header on all mobile devices.  In fact, if you were not familiar with the site from a desktop experience, and seeing it for the first time on a tablet or smart phone, it would be extremely difficult to figure out how to use it.

I elevated this concern not only because of the mobile experience but because the target users are as young as Middle School age students and old enough to be retired persons with limited vision and cognitive abilities.  Just because Google accepted the site into its mobile search would not automatically mean it could be used on mobile devices.

Another website I tested is a marketing website that has a blog.  The site passed Google’s test but not my manual testing.  The blog has posts with images used to help illustrate the content that ran off the right side of the screen.

Mobile Ready May Not Mean Universally Mobile Ready

CNN recently redesigned their news website.  I ran it through Google’s mobile test validator and it passed.  I found this curious because my personal experience with the site on my Kindle is not desirable.

One of the myths going around is that if your website is not Responsive, Google will drop its rank.  This is where the panic comes from.   If you investigate deeper, you read there is a mobile index for Google.  So what is that?

Google now knows what version of your website to show your users based on the type of device they are using.  The CNN website pages are displayed in Google on my desktop computer with no “mobile-friendly” label in the description because that is not the index of results I’m pulling from.  Google will show me the desktop version.

When I ask Google to show me CNN pages from my Android device, Google displays the results from its mobile-index with the label “mobile-friendly” appearing at the beginning of the site description.  The Android layout stacks the content into one column, shrinks the lead video into a hero image, hides the pop-ups, hides the auto-play video ads and presents an organized reading experience with very little distractions.

Google does not recognize my Kindle as a tablet device and the search engine displays the desktop search index results.  Nevertheless, what renders is not a pure desktop version, but rather it is slightly modified.  The page instructs Kindle to stuff the header into a “hamburger” style navigation, but it continues to render all three columns.  More distractions appear in the margins. Where ads or videos are hidden, empty space remains in the column, making it look awkward.  This is an improvement however.  A few weeks ago my Kindle was unable to render the CNN homepage without attempting to scroll two of the 3 columns on top of each other.

Another clue that Google is sending out different crawlers appears when a new post is made in Cre8asiteforums.  The “isitors that appear include Google and Google Mobile.  The forums passes Google’s mobile testing but anyone who uses forums on small devices knows the experiences vary, especially when logging in.

What Can I Do to Make My Website Ready for Google’s Mobile Index?

The deadline for having your website ready is April 21.  The best place to start is by making sure your website is tracked by Google Analytics and Google’s Webmaster Tools.  The tools are there to help you test your website’s performance.  Google is emailing website owners when their websites are failing their mobile test.  Don’t be surprised if you receive one for a Responsive website.  I’ve seen this happen.  Google will explain the issue it has found.

The best decision you can make is to test your web pages on all types of devices and especially, in many different environments.  This is something that the majority of companies do not do.  They don’t ask their programmers to beta test new software on moving trains packed with commuters or even in the environments their applications are used in, such as hospitals, schools, daycare centers, automobiles, horseback riding, and situations where people multi-task.

If you want people to use your website or software application on all devices, don’t rely on automated testing tools.  Manual testing and investing in user testing, as well as performance and software QA testing are vital for successful websites that wish to keep up with advances in technology or simply to keep Google happily ranking and displaying your pages.


Notes:

April 21 – Google Deadline

W3C Mobile Web Best Practices

W3C Mobile Validator

W3C Mobile Best Practices

Google’s Mobile Validator (Test your site here)

Google Developers Mobile Guide

Google Webmaster Fundamentals

User Testing Provides Specific Insight and Data

User Testing Provides Specific Insight and Data

Kim Krause Berg  

Finding user testing to be out of the question for most companies, I decided to find a way to make an affordable user testing option for any website owner curious about their website visitors’ experience.

Google Analytics tells one side of the story.  Heatmaps and click track studies provide more clues, such as where visitors are looking on a page and what buttons and links they follow.  Page load times, page abandonment rates, time on site, top keywords and top pages are noted in software testing and search engine marketing tools, but there is no human voice explaining what they are thinking or what type of environment they may be in while visiting your site.

While it is easy to put up polls and surveys, the responses vary because many visitors are not interested in taking a few minutes or seconds to fill one out.  If they have a complaint, you are more likely to hear from them.  If they came from a search engine query and did not find what they came for, it is more likely they will return to a search engine to keep searching rather than fill out a survey explaining why they left.
User testing helps in finding great feedback.
User testing enhances a usability audit because it includes real feedback from participants paid for their time on your site.  Their responses are often detailed, making the input highly valuable to your team.

I’ve found that participants have never before seen the site they are testing and respond by saying they will recommend it to friends and family and bookmark it for their own use.  By inviting them to conduct tasks or rate their experiences, you indicate that your company is customer service oriented.  This is a value proposition that your competitors may claim but are unable to prove.

How Can User Testing Be Affordable?

I tested a variety of user testing services and was dismayed at their pricing and quality of results.  It’s often critical to obtain participants that you can choose rather than random people who are not your target customer.  For example, certain types of web sites in the financial verticals specialize and utilize user terminology not understood by the mainstream public.  Those participants will not understand what to do, or why.

Sometimes testing to see if your website theme and product is understandable is the actual test.  User testing in these cases is enlightening because participants respond differently to websites for products or services they have never heard of as opposed to those who are familiar with your company.

At Creative Vision Web Consulting, LLC, the affordable approach to user testing is done by asking participants to conduct a series of tasks and answering questions such as ratings or multiple choice.  They are invited to explain how they might improve the site or what might make it easier for them to use.  In addition, they are asked to describe anything that bothered them.

This is something you don’t get from software tools.

Once your test is setup and run, the raw data belongs to you.  I compile it into a coherent report and if you have a usability audit performed by me, user testing feedback is inserted into sections to help illustrate or highlight areas of concern or success.

One user test consisting of up to 3 tasks and 5 additional questions with 125 participants starts at $1250 and includes setup, implementation, data, and analysis.  Order your user testing service today.

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Photo credit – https://unsplash.com/andrekerygma