Assessing how usable your site is crucial to its success. Is it easy to use? Does it have the right content? Are people hanging around or clicking away in their droves? All these questions help you to gauge exactly how good your website is.
The concept of doing all this though is a daunting one, and many believe that real thorough testing is an expensive process. It can be, but as we saw in our previous article there are many tools around that can keep the cost of usability testing to a minimum. As we know about five more tools that are cheap and easy to use, here is a rundown of them.
Google Website Optimiser. This is a free to use tool and is a more advanced method of the A/B testing, where two web different web pages with the same purpose are ran simultaneously to different users to see how they convert. The results are recorded for analysis.
The service Google offers is known as multivariate testing, and takes the A/B testing idea further by testing a multitude of variables in the same way as A/B testing. This gives more accurate and precise data on a web page than just A/B testing.
To use it you submit different elements you want to Google, and they randomise them and present them to users. They record the results so you know which element works best with users.
Click Heat is a free to use service which shows a heat map of clicks made on a website. It works in the same way as heat maps used in eye tracking studies, but instead charts where a site was clicked.
It does have certain system requirements to use though, like PHP support and must be installed on a server.
Chalkmark, is a currently in beta format and is free to use. It works by asking users to perform tasks that are set by you. So you might ask for a user to register with the site. The clicks a user performs are tracked and from this it is possible to gauge how easy it is for a user to complete them, and subsequently how good the navigation is on your site.
The only downside is that you have to find users to complete the tasks. This should not be too difficult though, as all the tests are completed online.
Simple mouse tracking is another free tool and does exactly what it says on the tin and tracks mouse clicks on your site. Like Click Heat it needs to run on a server and requires PHP support.
Silverback is an application for Mac users, and is a very good piece of usability testing software. It requires no video equipment just an iSight camera, and the user is asked to say their thoughts out loud while performing certain tasks. Everything that happens on the screen is recorded, and there is a feature which allows chapters to be inserted via a remote. There is also space for note taking, which can also prove useful for when presenting results.
The whole thing costs $49.99 which is a fraction of the cost of creating a usability testing environment.
The tools and tips here have shown us that usability is not a scary concept, or an expensive one. It has also shown, that unlike many web design concepts, you do not get what you pay for, and many good usability tools are free to use.
The trick is to choose the right tool for what you are hoping to discover, this way your site will be as good as it can be from a navigational perspective.