5 Surprising Lessons Learned by User Testing

by Bradley on August 30, 2010

‘It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.’ -Frank Luntz

Last week they were running a deal at AppSumo that made the cost of user testing low enough that it would be silly not to try it.  So I decided to give it a go and I learned a lot about how people use my websites as a result. I’m going to share the 5 most intriguing with you today.

As an SEO, I’m usually way more focused on just getting traffic than what happens to that traffic when it hits the site. But even rough ‘back-of-the-napkin’ math can convince the most skeptical that user testing is cheaper and more effective than trying to get more traffic to a poorly-designed site.

For that reason, I encourage everyone to try user testing on their own sites.  Yes, this means you.  Try it.  You’ll be amazed what you find.

Without further ado, let’s dive in…

5 Things I Learned With User Testing

Quick Links:

  1. It’s all above the fold, baby.
  2. Common sense won’t help you here
  3. 400% Changes are Possible
  4. Make everything clickable
  5. Simplify

1.  It’s all above the fold, baby.

Software Used: Crazyegg makes software that you can add to your site to see where people click.  Here is what the heatmap looks like for my site:

Click to Enlarge

Crazy Egg data can also be viewed a couple of other (really cool) ways:

Confetti View. Click to enlarge.

This is called the confetti view and gives a more granular look at where people are clicking.

List View. Click to enlarge.

And this is the list view which gives even more refined data about your user’s click path.

The Lesson: If you want someone to see something, put it above the fold.

This lesson sounds so simple, but it’s so easy to forget.  People don’t tend to go below the fold unless they are really interested in what they are reading.  And how do they get interested?  Something above the fold grabs their attention.

2.  Common sense won’t help you here.

The Software: Visual Website Optimizer is a fantastic web application that allows you to split-test different versions of a page and see which one does best.  Of course, you get to decide what ‘does best’ means, and exactly what you want to test too.  So it’s a very versatile tool.

For my first test, I set-up a test to see how the ‘Secure’ image in the sidebar (screenshots below) of a coupon site worked.  We tested to see what effect the ‘Secure’ image had on people clicking on the coupon button.

With the secure image... Click to enlarge

The thumbnail above HAS the secure image.  The thumbnail below does NOT have the secure image.

This does NOT have the secure image. Click to enlarge.

Visual Website Optimizer gave half of the visitors one version, and half the other version and then keeps track of who clicked on the coupon button.  Ready for the results?

The Lesson: Can you guess which version won?  It was the version without the secure button.  And the difference between the two versions is HUGE.  (I’ll tell you exactly how big the difference once in Lesson #3.)

So with the knowledge that a small change can make a huge difference, I’m trying tests on many sites.  In fact, I’m currently running a test to see if having my photo in the sidebar of this very site makes people stick around longer.

Studies say that it should keep people on site longer (they feel like you are a real person if they see your photo), but maybe for this site (and this face… haha) it won’t help.  We’ll just have to see!

3.  400% Changes are Possible

The Software: Used Visual Website Optimizer and the testing conditions as described in Lesson #2 above…

The Lesson: If you think that user testing is a matter of very small changes over a long time, you might be surprised to learn that I had a 400% increase in conversions in 3 days.

By simply removing the ‘Secure’ button in the sidebar of the coupon site described above, a whopping 40% more people clicked on the coupon link.  It seems possible that almost every site has a few elements that, if added or removed, would make equally as large a difference.  What does your site have that is stopping it from converting 4x more users?

4.  Make everything clickable

The Software: I used CrazyEgg as described in Lesson #1 (above) to learn this lesson.

The Lesson: People click on everything that interests them.  Header images, titles, pictures, everything.  If you can, make something happen when they click on it or hover over it.  Give the user some interaction to show that they CAN click it.

A site that does this really well without sacraficing simplicity is Daring Fireball.  When you roll around the screen, the background color of the links changes.  It’s subtle and elegant.  And you never are wondering if something is a link or not.

5.  Simplify

The Software: We used UserTesting.com to learn this lesson.  UserTesting.com will take your website and a set of questions you create about your website and send a real-live user through your website.  They user is equipped with a microphone and screen recording software and ‘talks’ their way through your site.  It was a huge eye-opener.

The Lesson: Every site can benefit from simplicity.  99% of users are on your site to learn something, get some info, or maybe check something off of their todo list.  People don’t want to learn a new design when they come to your site. So make it easy as hell to use your site.

Additional Resources:

If user testing sounds like it might help your site, I would really suggest you check out these resources:

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  • Tony Goins

    I read once that the “secure” button can actually scare people off by making them think about security. I think that was a Jakob Nielsen insight.

  • http://www.johnraymondonline.com john

    Excellent post Brad! I did not get a chance to purchase the software for the deal but it seems like it brought great results for you. Another theory on how removing the green icon helped:

    The icon is rather large and has a a darker color which would tend to draw the eye away from the graphic that you want to have the attention (coupon). I would be interested in seeing split test results between a use coupon graphic that has a yellow background (as is) and a deeper burnt orange color that drew the eye.

    Great stuff! Keep up the good work

    • Bradley

      Thanks, John. I think you are right about the dark colors. The secure button was certainly the most prominent thing on the screen.

  • http://www.reedge.com Dennis van der Heijden

    Thanx for sharing, very interesting. Above the fold and test test test!

  • http://thriftview.blogspot.com/ Van

    Lovely blog, just found it doing a little marketing research. I’ll be back for more tips!

  • http://www.seosoutheastasia.com/ Tom Aikins

    Great info. Especially interesting was the part about the Secure button.

  • http://briancray.com Brian Cray

    Hey Brad,

    I’m honored to be mentioned in this post. And you’re on target with all these points. Never. Stop. Testing. =)

  • http://qtmama.wordpress.com QTMama

    Dude. GREAT Post. You’re nerdy.

    That’s hot.

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