New Year’s Resolution: Usability Testing Your Website

Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year when everyone has made personal resolutions, usually about losing weight, but it’s also an excellent time to make work-related resolutions too. This is one that every library should consider: conducting monthly usability testing of your website. Why do usability testing? Usability testing gives you a chance to interact with users of your website, get their honest feedback, and use their input to make your website better.

You can coRocket Surgerynduct usability testing without buying any extra equipment, but I do recommend getting your hands on a copy of Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. It contains useful information and a script that you can tailor to your needs. If you do have money to spend, I recommend getting a screen recording program such as Camtasia, which records what is happening on the screen and the participants’ voices. This allows you to concentrate on what the patron is doing and saying instead of taking notes.

Since launching our redesigned website in 2013, Eisenhower Public Library District has tried to do regular usability testing to catch any problems that might occur and to test our iterative design changes. We began testing our site before it went live and it helped us to catch a few things before launch. We also test the site whenever we made changes to make sure that what we had done made the site easier for patrons to use.

It is actually fairly easy to get people to participate. We set up a table in our lobby with a sign asking them to “Help Us Improve Our Website!” Some people stopped by; some we stopped and asked to participate. We offered inexpensive incentives ($5 gift certificates to our café or a library t-shirt) to motivate people to help us. We also assured them that it would take no more than 15 minutes of their time. We began by asking some simple questions: where they lived, if they had a library card, how often they came to the library, and if they had used our website before. Next we had them take a look at the homepage of our site and tell us what they thought of it. Then we had them attempt to use the website to do three assigned tasks.

Here are a few examples of scenarios we asked participants to try and what we found out from each.

On your last library visit you checked out five books. You only had time to read three of them and would like to renew the other two. How do you sign into your account to renew your books?

This was one of the first scenarios we tried out before launch. What we found was that people looked to the top right corner of a website for an account login and that we had failed to put an account log-in box anywhere on the homepage when we were designing our site. This was corrected before launch and the scenario was run again.

You just got home from the library and were impressed with how helpful one of the staff members in the Answers (Adult Reference) Department was when you were there. You would like to let their manager know about the excellent service you received. How do you find the contact information for the department manager?

We found out that contact information for our departments was very difficult to find and we moved where it was located on our site based on where we saw patrons looking for it.

You are new to the area and would like to apply for a library card online. How would you go about doing this?

This scenario was created because our Library Services department had indicated that online library card applications had dropped since the launch of our redesigned website. Everyone we asked easily found where the information was. What we realized was that our clear instructions on that page of our site had cut down on applications from non-local residents. We kept the online application information as is.

You just heard the Library has interactive electronic books for kids called Tumblebooks. Find Tumblebooks.

Where we had the link to Tumblebooks was not where our patrons were looking for it, so we added the link to those pages.

You are interested in volunteering and becoming part of the Friends of the Library group. Find out information on the group and when their next meeting will take place.

Our Friends group was concerned that people couldn’t easily find the information on their group now that they were not listed on the homepage as they had been on our old site. Every patron we asked to do this could easily find the information, so we left things as they were and reassured our Friends group that people knew where to look for them.

We have also run usability testing with kids and plan to do some with teens in the future. Conducting regular usability testing costs very little in terms of time and money, but can make a big difference in how well your website functions. I highly recommend adding a resolution to do usability testing to your plans for the new year.

Julie Stam is the Marketing Specialist for Eisenhower Public Library District.

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2 Responses to New Year’s Resolution: Usability Testing Your Website

  1. Elizabeth S Neill says:

    It’s so kind of you to share your experience.

  2. Lucy Tarabour says:

    Great article, Julie! Thank you.

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