Most websites work in the way they were intended to work by their programmers, but does that mean your visitors will have the experience you want them to have? You can't be sure unless you give it a thorough road test in real life conditions. Road testing a website doesn't have to be expensive, nor does it need to be conducted by highly specialised researchers. You can do it yourself and find out quickly where any problems exist. Here's a seven step process that you can use.
- Identify the functions that visitors want. Ask yourself this question: "Why would someone visit my website?" There are many possible reasons why people might visit your website and you need to prepare a list of every one of them.
- How will people get what they want? When you know what people want from your website you then have to work out how they'll get it. Prepare an outline for each kind of function that your site now offers that shows step-by-step how it can be done. Later you'll compare this with test results and see if this is really the best way to do it.
- Select your road testers. You will need between five and ten people for your road testing. Although anybody can road test your site for functionality the best results will be obtained if you recruit a group from your current customers who are likely to be representative of those who will visit your website in terms of characteristics like age, product preferences and economic circumstances.
- Set up your road testing facility. The testing facility doesn't have to be anything fancy. Most people visiting your site will just have a desk with a PC and Internet access so set these up in a quiet location where the road testers won't be interrupted. You'll need enough room for your road tester and yourself. Each test should take no more than an hour or so.
- Write the scripts for your testing. Prepare a simple script for every activity you want to test, both for those functions your site now offers and those you think visitors might want it to offer. If you want to see how someone makes a purchase from your site ask them to "...select a product you might want to purchase and buy it from the website". Have a script for each activity that is based on functionality only - don't give them any how-to instructions.
- Conduct the road tests. Tell the road testers in brief what the test is all about and what you hope to accomplish. Encourage them to say whatever they want to say about your website, both good and bad. You want to see what works and what doesn't. Go through all the scripts relating to existing functions first and see how each participant handles each function. Don't help them do anything; if something isn't easy to do you need to know about it. Note in detail every step in their actions, even if you know what they're doing won't give them the desired result. When the existing functions are completed take them through the functions that you think might be wanted. First find out if they want that function to be available, and then ask them how they think it would be delivered. Get them to take you through a process of using that functionality - how they "see" it being done.
- Analyse your road test outcomes. Review your notes and analyse the test results function by function. Identify which existing functions worked as intended and which need attention. Evaluate the answers you received on functions you think might be wanted and for those that are in demand which is the best procedure to use for delivering them.