Usability Testing or Web Analytics? Either or Both?

by Louellen Coker on February 20, 2009

When developing a website, your developer will likely guide you in considering two very important aspects of website development: usability testing and web analytics. You’ll be asked to determine if you should employ either one of them as you develop your websites. While these terms may be new to you, they are very important. And even if they aren’t new to you, it never hurts to be reminded of their importance in creating a positive user experience and ultimately increasing conversions.

We recently invited you come hear Jim Machajewski speak to the Lone Star Community about Usability Testing and Web Analytics. If you weren’t able to make the meeting, you missed a great discussion about these two terms and how they work together and are key in reaching your ultimate goals:

  • Adoption (you know, your users rely on your site and refer others to it)
  • Conversion (you know, they find what they’re looking for and do something)

Jim answered the questions you may be asking yourself.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing in a nut shell is a test focused on determining how usable your site is. Specifically, Jim told us, usability testing

  • is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users
  • gives direct input on how real users use the system
  • is a qualitative measure of a product’s capacity ot meet its intended purpose
  • focuses on what and why questions
  • helps identify user motivation

And as with just about anything, usability testing has it limitations. Testing helps you determine if a user can complete a certain task but gives no indication if they actually will. And, while you may learn of usability problems with your proposed site, it doesn’t fix them. Ultimately, usability testing can answer some questions, it is not a crystal ball and it can not guarantee a successful product.

Why Conduct Usability Testing?

You may be asking, if there are limitations, why bother? Well, usability testing has some very important benefits. Taking the time to do this step when developing your website can

  • lead to valuable enhancements before development
  • guide design decisions that are often subjective
  • validate navigation and overall information architecture
  • set priorities for future enhancements
  • identify gaps between user requirements, business requirements, and technical requirements.

Whether on a large scale or a small scale, usability testing has a place in web development. But as we like to tell our clients, web development isn’t like a baseball diamond carved out of the Nebraska cornfields. You can build it, but it doesn’t men they’ll come.

If users aren’t coming to your website or using your application as you would like them to, web analytics and give you some insight into why. Analytics also has a key role in the success of your website.

What is Web Analytics?

If you’re scratching your head, don’t worry. Most people do. Getting your head around the process is similar to learning how to snowboard. There’s a steep learning curve, but if you put the effort into it, you’ll be able to get around pretty well. With more effort, you’ll be able to navigate the intricacies of the results you’ll find (and like a mountain, each site is very different!)

Jim defined web analytics:

  • the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web site usage.
  • an accurate and objective measure of how individuals interact with a site
  • focus on “where and when” questions
  • quantitative (be ready for LOTS of information to digest!)
  • sometimes hard to define (Jim sent us to Wikipedia for a good high-level definition.)

Why Study Web Analytics?

The benefits are clear. The numbers

  • provide a look at how everyone navigates your site
  • provide true validation of user interface and information architecture design decisions
  • show (clearly) the path of least resistance
  • are scalable across small sites, large sites, or multiple sites within a system
  • provides quantitative data reporting (those of you who love charts will LOVE this!

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Pretty much. Usability testing focuses on your target audience while web analytics studies your actual audience. You’ll find yourself bouncing between the two throughout the life of your web site. And just like the coin in your pocket, you have to have both sides to profit from it.

Thanks for sharing about these important topics, Jim!

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