designAugust 23, 2018

A Guide to Usability Testing for Websites

Nikita Roy

Jakob Nielsen couldn’t have been more correct when he said: “pay attention to what users do, not what they say.” Knowing what your users are doing is the underlying aspect of developing a product and creating a positive user experience. Usability testing helps you do precisely that.

So, let’s begin by defining what usability testing is. As is clear from the nomenclature, usability testing is a part of UX design procedure to assess a product by letting real time users test it.

When it comes to usability testing for websites, it is a means to determine how easy or difficult a website is to use. A website, or any product for that matter, is designed and developed with a purpose in mind. Usability testing seeks to evaluate whether the website possesses the capacity to meet its intended purpose for the users.

The soul of usability testing for websites or for any product is the involvement of real users or potential customers of that product. This means that usability testing differs in its process from other traditional forms of quality testing.

Some traditional forms of QA involve the in-house team who test the product design. The team might be a dedicated testing team or sometimes it might just have the design team or development team who assess the product between themselves.

Actual users or customers are NOT involved in the picture.

Under usability testing, the process typically consists of a bunch of actual and real time customers completing a task on the website while being observed by a moderator or researcher. These users are generally first-time users of the website and all their actions are intuitive.

The researcher observes the user actions on the website carefully during the usability testing process and checks whether the experience involves any problems or confusion. The gist is that if more users encounter a similar type of problem, changes will be recommended and the website can be updated to overcome the user experience issues.

This is the primary goal of usability testing.

Now that we have a fair idea of what constitutes the usability testing for websites, let us delve a bit deeper into the process.

So, usability testing can be done during all phases of website design and development. Based on this, there are majorly 3 categories of usability testing:

  • Exploratory

    In the exploratory phase, the testing is performed on the initial design or prototype of the website. This phase is concerned with understanding the user’s insights on the different aspects of the website like ease of navigation, intuitive actions etc. Exploratory usability testing seeks to determine how useful and practical the website design is.

  • Assessment

    In the assessment phase, usability trials are conducted at the intermediate phase of the website development. In the assessment phase, the aim is to understand the usability and satisfaction of the user.

  • Comparative

    In comparative usability testing, as the name suggests, multiple designs or prototypes are put under test to the users in order to compare the usability, pros and cons of each.

Usability testing for websites also has multiple types based on how your potential or target users experience your website. Let’s look into the various types of usability testing:

Moderated In-Person

In this type of usability test, a moderator is present in person with the select group of users. The moderator oversees the users’ actions and is responsible for answering any questions and responding to feedback.

Moderated Remote

Similar to moderated in-person, in moderated remote type of usability testing, the moderator and users are present at different locations and connected through a screen sharing application. The moderator is responsible for observing the task flow of the users and note any issues.

Unmoderated Remote

In unmoderated remote type, the moderator assigns some tests for the users who are interacting with the website from multiple locations. This way a lot of user interaction data can be collected and even recordings can be viewed to understand user issues.

Now that you are thorough with what usability testing is and its categories and types, the next obvious question is what are the benefits of the process?

The necessity of usability testing in the UX design process cannot be stressed enough. If you have carefully read everything I have said up till here, you probably already have a fair idea why every UX design process for a website absolutely needs usability testing.

Let us jot down a few of the benefits here.

Benefits of Usability Testing for websites

  • Potential issues are highlighted before the website is live.
  • A better resolution to internal team conflicts by testing the issue to see how users react to the different options being discussed.
  • Direct feedback from the target customer.
  • Reduces the risk of the project failing.
  • It increases the likelihood of your website being actually used and liked.


Usability test results affect the design of the product. Real potential users of your website or product can help you gauge important information about your product.

You understand your user behavior towards your product better.

You get to know how engaging or annoying experience your website provides to the user. You understand the potential hurdles and how to solve them.

You observe actual customers in action, as they navigate through your product, you listen to their cases and concerns. Usability testing lets you know whether your customers are satisfied with your product, even before you’ve actually launched the product. You receive an idea of whether your product is meeting its business goals. And through all of this, you understand how to better design your product to provide a positive user experience. Because in the end, it is the user experience that will determine whether your users will come back to your website for a second time or not!













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