How do you really know what things are most important to your audience, and what will be the easiest and most appealing for them to use? You can find out about this through user testing. Testing will let you know what does and doesn’t work about your website, and what is distracting or misleading for your visitors.
Usability testing consists of showing your website to possible users and asking them to perform some common tasks while noting where they run into trouble.
From there, it is your task to try and fix the problems that testing demonstrated without creating any more—which can become quite the juggling act! For this and other reasons, testing needs to be an integrated part of your website planning and design. It is definitely not a last minute operation to try and eliminate all the usability issues that a website has. It is important to note that although things may seem perfectly obvious and navigable to you, you have been working on it since its inception. Your high level of familiarity with the site will make you a biased observer.
How do you test? There are a lot of different ways. With time and available funds, you can hire a professional to design and run tests for you. This is, of course, the best way to use testing to its fullest potential. However, oftentimes you may not have the resources available for this sort of testing. This is where quick and dirty form of user testing shines. It is a lot less thorough and precise than traditional testing, but it will work to identify the major usability problems present in your site.
Most of what testing takes is time and patience. You need to be able to watch someone attempt to use your website without interfering or giving directions. The entire point is to find out where they get stuck or confused, not to get them through the task of locating a product info page. You can feel free to avoid fixing minor problems that only cause a momentary pause in site usage; what you need to focus on are the big problems. These range from problems in navigation to something so basic as being able to tell from a glance what the site is all about.
User testing is an essential task of designing a website that is user-friendly, which avoids making anyone think.
Two very helpful websites, where you can learn more about usability, are: