The power of usability testing

In 2014 when we still offered SEO services, we were called to pitch to a client who, in client speak, “needed help on SEO to increase inquiries”. We reviewed their site and our analysis showed that even if we managed to fix their SEO, their site had many more problems than that.

We decided the best approach for the pitch was an SEO vs UX split of about 10% vs 90%. So even though the client asked for “help on SEO”, we put that as a lower priority item and focused on the clear usability issues they had as we knew fixing these would create an immediate impact in terms of conversions.

In the lead up to the pitch, we prepared a usability test. We chose some priority tasks that users should be completing easily on the site and asked 5 people to come in to the office and try to accomplish the tasks. We asked the participants to say what they were thinking or feeling as they tried to complete the tasks and we recorded everything: video of the user’s screen and audio of what they said.

The day of the pitch comes and we’re there wearing our best shirts. We have to wait outside for a while as there are other companies pitching before us.

We walk in and the first thing I notice is this, what I can only describe as, “Ice Queen” sitting there who turns out to be the Head of Marketing. We say “hello” and introduce ourselves and she barely acknowledges us. I’ve had more warm welcomes from brick walls.

So we kick off the pitch and the first few slides are about SEO, conversions and how many leads they’d need to meet their goals. Pretty boring stuff. Ice Queen doesn’t bat an eyelid.

Then we switch tack to the UX slides and start to explain our approach, how even if we fix the SEO, then the usability of the site leaves a lot to be desired etc etc.

And then: “We’ve prepared a usability test of some users using your site, here’s a video of one”.

*Plug in the speakers and press play*

The Ice Queen shifts position in her seat as she strains to hear.

Voice of participant on video trying to perform task: “So I type here what product I want and press search and….*sighs*….nothing happens.”

Voice of test co-ordinator: “How do you feel?”

Participant: “*sighs again*….annoyed….”.

Boom! The Ice Queen melts, smiles at us and gives a dirty look to the incumbent project manager sitting beside her.

Another 3 minutes of the video and we start to feel bad for the project manager. It’s amazing how persuasive it can be showing clients how their website is making their users feel. You can talk all day about how it should be like this or should be like that but when you can show clients a moderated test performed in a controlled environment of someone using their site, when you can show them that their website makes their users sigh, you don’t need to say anything. Just let the test speak for itself.

A week later we hear back from the client: we won the pitch!

Phil Smithson