Early testing of your site is always a good idea.
At this stage you should have the content of most of your pages written. It is actually a good idea not to have written the homepage at this stage. If you have written the home page, hide it by locking it. Don't forget that you test on the published version of your site.
What to test at this point in time
Take another look at the list of questions you generated in the first step.
You should be able to list the typical questions a user will have in mind when arriving on your site, but now is a good time to see if you can find any other questions that your site visitors may arrive with. New questions may arise as you write the site.
This is a very good reason to test early.
Testing your site yourself
Testing your site by yourself is a good start but if you only test yourself you are not doing it properly. You will need to test your site with actual users.
To test well, try to put yourself in the mindset of your reader. Try to actually ask the questions they will be asking. For example:
- Where is this business located?
- How much are the products or services they are selling?
- Do they have other clients, have people been happy with their product?
However this is not a good solution for real testing because you already know where things are and you will have a hard time seeing partial or incomplete answers because your mind will have a tendency to fill in any missing information.
Testing with readers
There is not a single definitive way to test. The methods really depend on the content of your site. But we would like to give you a few guide lines on how to proceed.
Should you tell them they are part of a test?
- Sometimes it is better not to let them know that you are mentally noting what they do and how they do it. Sometimes it is possible to witness them visiting your website without thinking they are being watched.
- If you have to assign them a task, for example finding the business address or the cost of a service, then you may want to let them know that it is for testing and that you are trying to improve this site.
- When users know they are testing a site, they often ask a lot of questions. They become unsure whether they are navigating your site correctly. It is important to impart on them the knowledge that there is no correct or incorrect way of navigating the site. Make them know that it is the site that is being tested and not them.
- The more you appear to be just a "neutral observer", the greater the chances are that you will be able to collect important information.
- You should refrain from explaining or showing anything. You might be tempted to just grab the mouse, or point at the screen. Sometimes you may even want to lose your temper. It is normal. Just don't do it. ;-)
- Let them use the site by themselves. Let them read the site or not read it. Click links or not click them. Remember this is how your users will use your site.
- Encourage them to comment / think out loud as they navigate the site.
- Don't take things personally. One of the problems managing this by yourself, is that you are also the person who has made an important investment building the site. If you feel you can't be objective, you may want to put someone else in charge of this process.
- At the end of the test, ask them: what they liked and didn't like. Listen to and note their remarks, you don't need to defend yourself. Don't explain. Don't argue. All this is to make your site better for your readers. Their criticism is here to help you.
Repeat the process with different people
Try to have a broad base of your readers testing your site, different groups of readers will naturally perceive your site very differently.
- Ask a child to look at your site and try to find the answers.
- Elderly people make wonderful testers.
- Testers should be connected to the activity you present though, the opinion of people who do not participate in your activity is not exactly helpful.
- It also does not hurt, at one point, to hire a Pro to give you feedback.
Repeat this process multiple times to make sure that you have encountered most of the typical behaviors of people browsing your site, answer all the questions that your readers could be asking. New questions may arise during this process and you may find the need to add or modify pages to respond to these questions.
Observe how they find (or can't find) answers
Testing can be hard work, but remember that this website is not for you, it is for your readers.
At this stage you should ensure:
- That the organization and the labels of your tabs will allow testers to know exactly where to look for the information they are trying to find.
- For each question there is an obvious tab to click on.
- That your block titles, will allow them to fly through a page and go directly to the relevant chapter.
- Check that you don't have buried subjects. These are answers that are hidden under the wrong title, or on the wrong page.
- That in places where readers want to naturally move between pages, there are clever links within the text to make this process as easy for them as possible.
Applying what you have learned in these tests.
With what you learn in these tests you will be able to:
- Review the titles of the chapters and pages making sure that they accurately reflect the content that is presented under them.
- Tweak your links to highlight the corresponding keywords.
- Improve the circulation between pages, an important factor in the comfort of users.
- Regroup your tabs so that they follow a natural hierarchy. Establish an organisation that your readers will easily understand and follow.