Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paying the Price: Why usability testing is not a luxury

A recent issue of Jared Spool’s UIE Tips struck a nerve when he shared that a client’s management team had perceived usability testing as a “nice-to-have luxury.” I’ve heard similar statements from companies large and small that pass on usability testing, believing it’s “not critical,” “will delay our launch,” or that “the site experience is less important than accurately conveying the brand.”

No company with a web site tied to business results can afford to disregard usability testing, and here’s why:

* Your site experience represents your company and brand. Think of the last time you had a frustrating experience on a site – did you ever want to do business with that company again?

* Your investment pays off – in multiples. It costs less to invest in usability testing up front than to overhaul a site in 6 months due to minimal user engagement, poor sales, and/or weak lead generation. Plus, it’s costly to pay for leads that will drive traffic to your site so you need to keep – and engage – customers who are already visiting.

* You’re not a mind reader. Not every web project will produce disastrous results without testing, but, in my experience, testing has repeatedly surfaced opportunities to improve user interactions that, if left unaddressed, would have significantly impact the site’s success.

* Your credibility is at stake. With usability testing, you’re in a position to fix user issues before you launch and guarantee successful user adoption of your new feature(s). And, with a series of successful launches on your side, you’ll build your team’s credibility, making it easier to secure funding for future web projects.

Debunking the Myth
All too often, usability testing is misunderstood as an extremely costly, time consuming, and clinical process administered by social scientists. Unfortunately, many usability shops compound the problem by presenting overly complex theories and methodologies in order to convince clients that:
a) there’s a good reason to pay tens of thousands of dollars for their services; and,
b) they shouldn’t try doing this on their own.

Apply Home-Grown Testing
In my experience, the exact opposite is true. As a site owner/manager, there’s nothing more powerful than having direct contact with your users. Information about your customers is valuable: have you noticed how a colleague can quickly garner support for an idea by citing customer feedback that supports her claim? By presenting customer insights about your web site, your extended team is more likely to support your goals.

If you’re a small business, your only option may be to conduct testing on your own with some assistance and coaching. In the next post, I’ll share more details about usability testing and how you can build this competency in house.

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