Published in Techvibes by Lee Dale, August 13, 2015.

It’s the question that all tech startups dread and try to avoid answering for as long as possible, but it’s also one of the most important questions you can ask about your digital product: “What if my users don’t like it?”

I’m not talking about your users not finding your product useful or if there’s even a market for your product. In fact, if you’re testing an in-market product without having an answer to those questions, you’re asking those questions too late. So let’s assume you’ve found a market ripe for your product or the services described on your website. You understand the pain points of your users and have developed a product that solves those market needs. Your next step is to ensure your product meets those needs intuitively and elegantly.

As a business owner or designer of a digital product, you can always gain new insight by understanding the behaviour of your actual users, which is why user testing has become increasingly important in how a product or website is shaped.

Luckily, there are a number of tools and techniques that are available to nearly everyone these days which can help you find out where your users succeeding and struggling with your product.

 

The Free Way: Google Analytics

The tool that every website should be using; Google Analytics is a free source of complex analytical data for your website. Typically, Google Analytics is seen as a marketing resource, but what many business owners may not know is that Google Analytics can also be used to aid in understanding user behaviour.

How you can start: Some key elements of Google Analytics which relate to user behaviour are goal tracking and funnel tracking. These are a little more advanced to set up and analyze, but just about everyone can get started by looking at Exit Pages.

As a website owner, you should be looking for pages with a high exit rate as this may be indicative of an issue with that page. By using Google Analytics to measure the exit percentage of each of your pages, you’re letting your users speak to you through their actions. If a high percentage of users are leaving your website through a specific page, you want to be sure that there’s an appropriate call to action on that page or that this exit behaviour isn’t otherwise detrimental.

 

The Hard Way: In Person or Remote Testing

One of the oldest ways to conduct user testing, having one of your target customers test out your product in-person or with a remote testing tool such as usertesting.com.

Pro tip: you can get a free, quick test of your website here.

How you can start: One of the biggest things to keep in mind when user testing is that your tester should be as close to your ideal user as possible. Not a close friend who has no connection to your target market. And not anyone involved in the design or development of your product as they’ll be unable to provide unbiased feedback.

The next biggest challenge is in the test questions you ask these users. What most people don’t realize is that the questions you ask and the way you interact with users can greatly influence the outcome of a usability test.

The best approach is to provide your users with tasks to perform within your product and first observe how they choose to accomplish these tasks. This includes how they react to the language on the screen, the calls to action, the menus and navigation requirements, and the flow from screen to screen as they look to complete these tasks that have been set out before them.

The Best Way: Screen Recordings

The best solution for a business to begin learning how to conduct user testing is through screen recordings. As a relatively new technology, this wonderful addition to the user testing toolkit may not be top of mind. Luckily providers such as Hotjar and MouseFlow have made this technology much more accessible to website owners—as simple as adding Google Analytics with a reasonable monthly fee for a whole lot of added insight.

How you can start: The first thing you should do is start looking at screen recordings around the most important parts of your website. How are people interacting with your most important content? Your calls to action? Your forms?

Pro tip: consider those exit pages you saw in Google Analytics. Pick one of those exit pages and watch the recordings which all ended on that page. What patterns can you see? Are people missing your call to action? Skipping over your most important content?

Consider what can you do to provide more value on this page and better suit it to the stage of the buying funnel your customers are in, or the task your customer is trying to perform in your product.

In the end, using screen recordings combines the ease of Google Analytics with much of the insight of in-person user testing, while helping you gain new insight by unobtrusively letting the user show you what works and where they’re getting stuck.

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