5 Is The Magic Number: Website User Testing Simplified

Kenny Jahng —  2011/11/22 — 1 Comment

In the last post, I shared a useability testing secret everybody who has a website should know about.

The quick answer to the question of how much testing you should do is . . . “5 is the magic number.”

The inevitable question now is – how do you go about actually testing the 5 users you can easily round up in a flash?

There are a couple of options, but one of the services I know about and have used is www.openhallway.com — in short, it’s a site that lets you assign a task to a user, who then goes through your site and narrates what they are thinking and doing the entire time so that OpenHallway.com can record the screen, mouse movements and the users’ narration for later review.

(TryMyUI.com is another service that does similar kinds of screen-recording of user sessions with your site.)

OpenHallway.com was birthed from the same idea as what Jakob Nielsen is promoting:

A hallway usability test is where you grab the next person that passes by in the hallway and force them to try to use the code you just wrote. If you do this to five people, you will learn 95% of what there is to learn about usability problems in your code.

Basically, all you have to do is go out and recruit 5 people to test your website.  This should be a no brainer — get on Facebook, Twitter, Email, or literally, go down the hallway and ask the next 5 people you see.

The next part is the fun part. . .

Then have them try to accomplish one task that you set-up with a service like OpenHallway.com.  Perhaps it is to find information about what you do specifically in one area of offerings.  Or it might be to try to find directions to your place.  Or to figure out the schedule for one of your programs.  Think of tasks that any given user would be thinking of accomplishing by going to your website.

Then sit back and wait for the recordings to come in.  Almost every video I’ve reviewed has uncovered an “Really?” or “Ah-Ha. . .They’re right about that.” whether it be small or big.  It’s always something to consider in improving the site experience.

Once you get 5 user tests completed, you’ll see that some of the issues will be repeated by more than one person.  Those are the problems you want to address immediately.  You’ll probably discover some one-off issues too.  Here you can ask 1 or 2 more people to do an OpenHallway test that tries to zero in on that issue to validate the concern or throw it out.

Sometimes the problem can be fixed with better navigation to the final spot on the site.  Other times, it is how you describe or represent the issue or process.  And some times you have to throw out what you have existing on your site and start from scratch.

They guys at OpenHallway.com recommend the book, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.  It’s an easy read, and much of it seems like common sense.  But probably worth you picking it up if you’ve never done anything in the user testing arena.

After you make your quick fixes (or biggies too), it’s time to go back and find 5 more people to test it again.  You’ll crack a big smile if those problems do disappear in the next round of testing.  It means that the testing worked.


QUESTION: What is the ONE area of your site you would want to test this week if you could?  Be specific!  Leave your answer or questions in the comments below and I’ll try to address them (or hopefully others will jump in too).

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