Testing Your Website

How can you test your website, and why would you want to?

The “why” is simple: you need to know what people are inclined to do when they get to your website. You know what you are inclined to do, of course, but that’s not enough. While most people tend to do much the same thing when faced with a website, we all have our own little idiosyncrasies. It is very easy to build your website to cater to your own particular idiosyncrasies, on the assumption that you are normal and representative of all the right-thinking people in the world.

It’s also true that many people have an idea of what they do that’s different from what they really do.

In order to overcome these perfectly natural human foibles, you can easily test your site.

Basic steps for testing

  • Find naive subjects. “Naive subjects” means quite simply that you don’t tell people what you’re doing, explain things to them, or choose a bunch of web designers. Just find some random people who are willing to sit down in front of a computer and let you watch them. Cameras are fine, but you can also just hang out with them and watch. I find that people — random people at my home, in the office, in the classroom — will gladly do this. I haven’t asked strangers in coffee shops yet, but I bet they’d do it, too. It only takes a couple of minutes, and it’s painless.
  • Observe, don’t interact. Say the same thing to everyone. I like to say, “Please navigate to [URL].” Then I just watch and make notes of what they do. For example, with the website below, I found that almost half of the 25 people I tested went to the video first. About a quarter became concerned about the “login code” on the left. They dropped their hands from the keyboard, stopped interacting with the website, and asked, “Am I supposed to have a login code?” in alarmed voices.


  • Take notes. You won’t remember accurately. Trust me on this. Ideally, you’ll stand there with your notebook and timepiece and write “Subject #1 looked at the screen for 5 seconds, then clicked on the video. After 12 seconds, subject said, ‘Oh, I see what this is’ and clicked on…”

Once you have the data, you can do some analysis. You can compare what you’ve observed with what your Analytics tell you, and with how you feel and the feedback you get. If only 12% of your testers are watching your entire video, for example, then you can’t have information in the video that isn’t elsewhere on the page, and think that your visitors are all getting that information.

Pay particular attention to the surprises

For example, visitors to the page in this example did not click on the buttons in the navigation bar, from left to right, as people often do. No one did that. That’s an interesting thing to know.

Even if you’re not doing any redesign or updating, you might like to try a little testing on your website. You never know what you might learn.





2 responses to “Testing Your Website”

  1. Joe Avatar

    Good stuff. I really think this is valuable when people have said “I think that customers want …” in the design phase.

    I wish all my clients would read Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” before starting their project. That would be wonderful.

  2. Rebecca Haden Avatar
    Rebecca Haden

    Oh, I agree. Krug has a lot of good detail on the testing process, too.

    If nothing else, either testing or reading that book will help people give up the idea that their visitors will carefully read every word, look at every picture, watch all their flash and videos, and then make up their minds. Or that they’ll admire the design as though they were in a gallery, and shop based on their abstract admiration for the cool stuff there.

    Seeing how little people look at before they decide whether to stay or go is a revelation to most clients.

    Then of course you want to bring them back so they’ll explore all your cool stuff.

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