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  • A Beginner's Guide to User Testing

    - Janessa Olson
  • This article was originally published on Kongregate's Developer Blog.

    A few years ago, I was baffled by the performance of an email my team was sending to our users. At a glance, the unique open and click-through rates were fantastic by our industry standards, but when the users landed in our app, the bounce rate was uncomfortably high. Paradoxical, indeed. When we looked at the feature activity data, it seemed that users were either bailing seconds after arriving or clicking aimlessly before eventually leaving, missing the feature we told them about entirely. It was almost as if they had no idea what to do once they got there.

    Determined to understand why the email was clearly failing at what we wanted it to do (and under a somewhat intimidating time constraint of the upcoming sprint), I printed it out and took it to the food carts down the street. I had every food cart owner read the email, and in their own words, tell me what the email said. Each and every conversation went something like this:

    Me: "Hi, can you please read this example email?"
    Food Cart Owner: "Sure, okay."
    Me: "Does it make sense to you?"
    Food Cart Owner: "Yep, pretty clear."
    Me: "Great, can you tell me in your own words what it says?"
    Food Cart Owner: "Um... Something about reviews, I think? I'm not actually sure."

    Not a single person understood what the email was trying to tell them. I realized that by putting the call to action button above the text that actually explained the new feature, users were probably clicking on the shiny and enticing button, missing the point entirely.

    "Great, that lady with the emails is back."

    The clouds parted, the sun shone upon me, and a choir of angels sang a mighty song probably titled "Ya Blew It." It was looking like this may have been a factor into the bounce rate being so high. We altered the copy, moved the big shiny button below the key text, user tested it again to a more successful result, made a note that next was user testing the landing page, and sent it back into the wild. After a few weeks, the data funnel became less baffling and more successful. Users were still clicking through, but this time around actually finding and using the feature we were trying to tell them about. My guardian angel that was User Testing had truly shown me the way.

    A lot of my personal experience in user testing comes from reading about it, and then trying it for myself (like in the story above), while being shaped by two factors:

    1. Time: I didn't have much of it! My team needed a super fast turnaround for the feature.
    2. UX Resources: I didn't have a UX team to help or guide me with testing, so a ton of "flying by the seat of my pants" was happening.

    If you are like me and find yourself in a similar situation, do not despair! My goal is that by the end of this article, you will feel like you have the tools you need to get out there and quickly test your product on your own.

    What Is User Testing, and Why Should I Do It?

    At a high level, user testing is putting a product in front of a human (ideally someone who would be a potential user of the product) and watching them interact with it. There are many reasons you should be user testing, but here are a few I'm partial to:

    1. It allows you to quickly evaluate your product: When you put your product in front of a user, it's instant feedback on so many things; design, usability, feature excitement, and so on.

    2. It helps you get to know your users: You'd be surprised how much more you can learn about your users when they're semi-absentmindedly clicking around on stuff. They'll tell you about buying habits, their likes, their dislikes, how they learn about related products, etc. It's a great way to get to know the types of users your product will interact with, which in turn helps you start to generate a better idea of the user personas you're trying to cater to (if this is something that you have not done already).

    3. It offers a new perspective: Someone outside your team who doesn't look at your product every day is more likely to see things that you and your team are missing.

    4. Real talk: It's highly likely that nobody else at your company is doing it. But hey, if they aren't UX, it's probably not within their purview. However, if you're like me and find yourself in a situation where you do not have a User Experience team to help with user testing (or your company does not have the means to hire a consultant/firm/UX designer), then you're next in line to do that, my friend. (Even if you work with a UX team, I implore you to at least participate/observe the testing.)


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