Rather than making design decisions based on internal assumptions and hunches, wouldn’t it be great if we could ask our customers what they actually prefer before starting development? There’s a myriad of online tools to analyze your site’s behavior once it’s launched. For example, you can find out what pages have higher bounce rates, where customers fallout of your order path, and where customers click or don’t click, then optimize the experience. Yet, even these metrics lack the qualitative insights to help explain why a customer left your web page or why one design may be converting better than another. Is it because your messaging wasn’t clear, a feature wasn’t intuitive, or simply because they didn’t like the colors? We spend hours of development time building out new features that our customers may never use because of these reasons. So what are the options?
Focus groups and usability studies can be helpful depending on the research objectives, but require more time, planning and budget. The participants of these types of studies are also often local residents, whom may not share the same interests, behaviors, and attitudes as your target audience. Therefore, your findings may not be as accurate. Since it’s unrealistic for most companies to fly out to meet their customers, I recommend online remote testing. You can recruit existing customers, create a test with screenshots or mockups, and analyze results all within a week.
One online tool that enables you to do this effectively is called Verify, from Zurb who offers a suite of nifty user experience products. For as low as $9/month, you get access to Verify’s nine test types including: click, memory, mood, preference, annotate, label, multi-page click, and linked. You can put together a test within three minutes; share it via a private or public URL, Twitter or Facebook; and get actionable results immediately. Verify even makes it easy to analyze test results with visual reports. For example, click tests show a heatmap of clicks, preference tests show which version customers preferred and why, while the annotation test lets customers make notes directly on the screenshot. Reports can also be viewed by individual or specific demographics.
I recently used Verify to test a new category page design. My design team developed two layouts for a faceted navigation – one vertical, one horizontal. We debated internally on whether our visitors would prefer one over the other. One camp believed the left nav would be more user-friendly for our audience since it’s a common and expected design pattern. We also weren’t sure if we should default to the list view or grid view for displaying the product results. Before investing development time in building out the two layouts to A/B test, we wanted to collect feedback quickly and directly from our highly-valued, loyal customers. Verify was the perfect solution. (In case you’re wondering what the results were, we found that over 70% of our customers preferred the horizontal nav and list view. Our assumptions were half right.)
Verify’s user-interface is clean, simple, and easy to use for both the tester and participant. Even though the tests are un-moderated, the tool guides the user with instructional dialogues making it easy to follow along. This is a key differentiator from other remote tools like Usabilla (which also happens to be more costly), and I believe an important factor when deciding on which tool to use. If participants don’t understand how to use the testing tool, your data can become skewed and inadequate.
Properly crafting a remote test is just as critical as conducting a high-end lab usability study. While Verify takes only a few minutes to set up, I highly recommend taking a day to think through the questions that you’d like answered and write up a test plan. How you ask a question or frame a task can make all the difference. Here’s a general outline that I use:
Once you’ve defined and set up the test, be sure to also do a practice run with a few co-workers. This will help verify (no pun intended) that the test is error-free, understandable, and will produce the results you’re looking for.
A user-centered design approach can be powerful if integrated into your development cycles. And new technologies such as Verify are making it even easier for designers, marketers, and product owners to get customer insights rapidly. Check out Verify for yourself. They offer a free 30-day trial so you can evaluate whether it’s the tool for you or not. For additional user experience tools, see this article.