Why You Should User Test Your Blog

Why You Should User Test Your BlogI ran some user tests on my blog this week. I know, I know. Some of you will be saying “But it’s a blog. What is there to test?” Rest assured, others will be saying “What the hell is user testing?”

I’ll answer these in reverse order, and I’ll tell you what my user testing uncovered – and why you should do user testing on your own blog.

So What is User Testing?

In a nutshell, user testing is getting real users to interact with your website or application. The most common methodology involves capturing the screen as your users attempt to complete a series of predefined tasks. You record audio and, if possible, video of the users themselves at the same time. The users narrate their actions, saying out loud what they are thinking as they look at your site and try to meet the goals you’ve set for them. (This is called, poetically, the think aloud method. I wish I was kidding.)

What do you gain from this? An astonishing amount, as it turns out.

“The users narrate their actions, saying out loud what they are thinking as they look at your site and try to meet the goals you’ve set for them.”

We all imagine how people are going to read our posts or explore our website. When you see what really happens it can be a rude awakening. Why are they clicking there? Why don’t they just scroll down? No, no! Not that button! What seems perfectly obvious and intuitive to you isn’t necessarily clear to somebody else as they try to navigate your site. If you watch a screen-capture video and keep wanting to tell the user where to click, you have a usability problem.

Web usability is a growing field in its own right. If you’re interested in digging a little deeper I’d recommend the book Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug.

But Why User Test a Blog?

Surely a blog is just a blog, right? It doesn’t get any simpler than that. What could you possibly learn from user testing? Well, I learned a lot.

I used a free service called Peek by UserTesting. You can run three tests a month, and for each one they send you a five minute screen-capture clip of somebody using your site.

There are limitations to the service – it is free after all. You don’t get to set the tasks, or choose the demographics or occupation of your users. But if you want to run a more targeted user testing campaign, where you select the types of users you want and set the tasks yourself, you can take up one of the paid services.

“If you don’t see something in the first few seconds letting you know you’re in the right place, you hit the Back button.”

When user testers arrive at your website they are asked to describe their impression of the site and what they think it’s all about. This is where I got my first surprise.

For years I had my blog set up so the home page displayed the most recent post. I had a brief bio tucked away on an About page, but that was basically it. But my first two users spent a good thirty or forty seconds just figuring out that they’d landed on a blog.

You may say the test wasn’t a realistic scenario. But think about it. If you follow a link from Google you don’t necessarily know where you’re going to end up. And if you don’t see something in the first few seconds letting you know you’re in the right place, you hit the Back button and try the next link. Hello, bounce rate.

The next task for the users is to decide what they’d most like to do on the website, and try to do that. In the case of my first two users it was to figure out what the hell my blog was about! Eventually they found the About page and things fell into place for them. But I know if they’d been real users I’d have lost them before they made it that far.

“My first two users spent a good thirty or forty seconds just figuring out that they’d landed on a blog.”

The third task is to describe what they liked about the site and what they found frustrating. It’s always good to know where the friction points on your website are – those things that rub people the wrong way.

I redesigned my site, adding a static text homepage that gives an idea of the kinds of things I blog about. I moved the posts to a menu item labelled Blog. Then I sent off the request for my third user tester.

End result? A much smoother experience for that user. It was immediately apparent to her that she’d landed on a blog, so she spent more time engaging with the content and less time scrolling around trying to figure out where she was.

So there you have it. Even something as ubiquitous and straightforward as a blog can benefit from user testing. If you’re not convinced, why not give Peek a try? You may just be surprised at what real users want from your site.