One of the controversies that tends to arise during the building of a website is when to test it — and indeed, when to let anyone look at it.
It’s completely reasonable for someone who’s building a website not to want to let people see it. It may sound unreasonable if you’re the person who wants to see it — and maybe even the one paying for it — but it’s a desire based on experience. The experience may include things like what The Oatmeal described in How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell. It may just include things like people getting fixated on punctuation before anyone has proofread.
This is why it’s essential to distinguish between testing and asking peoples’ opinions.
Asking people’s opinions sounds like this:
- Do you like it?
- How do you feel about the colors?
- Do you love this Contact form as much as we do?
Testing sounds like this:
- Please navigate to www.URL.com.
- What does this company do?
- I notice that you became frustrated at one point. If you had really been trying to make an appointment, what would you have done at that point?
Testing should begin early in the web design process, preferably before the designer falls in love with the design.
Ideally, it should start with the old website, if there’s a redesign. Checking the analytics can give you a lot of information about how people interact with the old site, and help to track down any confusions or problems. This information should be taken into account while planning the site architecture.
More testing should take place with the mockup. Random viewers who are not web designers or regular customers of the company should be asked things like, “What does this company do?” and “How could you buy from this company if you wanted to?” Again, any confusions or problems should be handled before going any further.
Certainly, the client’s opinion should be asked at the mock up stage. However, it should be clear that you’re taking about design. This is not the time to fine-tune content or debate details of the shopping cart.
Testing should take place at the development site, preferably before the client sees it. If there is a check out process, someone should try it out and make sure that it works. Points at which the people building the site want to say, “No, you’re doing it wrong!” should be carefully noted. Everything should again be fixed.
Only when all the testing is complete and you’re sure that the website really works should you begin asking people’s opinions. If big changes are made, it’s time to test again before you launch.
We also like to look at the analytics a couple of weeks after launch and make sure that we don’t see signs of confusion.
So the answer to, “When should we test our website?” is easy: early and often. The picture at the top of this post? That’s roughly how we look when we test websites. However, we have people and computers rather than dials and danger symbols. That possible point of confusion would definitely have come out in testing.