Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, March 8, 2010

Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Free Tools And Services

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Website usability testing identifies a precise methodology devoted to uncover specific bugs, idiosyncrasies and ambiguities in the way that website design impacts the effective use, legibility, navigation, and user experience of your website. In this MasterNewMedia guide you can find the best free website usability testing tools available out there.

Heat map of MasterNewMedia homepage created with Feng-GUI

Website usability testing is indeed a critical component of any effective online publishing strategy. When properly utilized, usability testing allows you to effectively scan and rapidly identify which are the critical issues to be addressed in your web publication that can improve legibility, the time visitors spend on your website or the ability to turn offers for products and services into actual conversions.

In fact, what's the point of having valuable content under your hood if your readers cannot easily discover it, share it and put it to effective use?

To be of immediate "use", let me share first with you a simple set of basic tasks you can follow to start testing and reviewing the usability of your own website:

  1. Identify a critical goal: Likely, you have multiple goals for your website. The first step is to focus on the most critical. Is it sales? Is it traffic? Is it help people find something?
  2. Use Personas: Create typical users profiles to best focus on potential needs and expectations of a fictional target group. Is your website addressed to experts in the filed or to a general audience? Do you want to attract loyal readers or occasional stumblers? Which age / sex / location are your users?
  3. Carry on critical tasks: After identifying your goals and creating typical users profiles (Personas), you want some friends, readers or volunteers, to carry on critical tasks on your website to identify areas for improvement and weaknesses. Is the sale process straightforward? Can people download your content easily? Are your blog posts easily shareable on social media?
  4. Collect the data: While your users go through a set of pre-determined tasks and perform specific actions on your website, you need to closely observe and report where they hesitate, step back, or remain confused by what they see on your site. Better yet, you can use a dedicated usability tool that collects absolute or relative data that can help you characterize the behavior of your testers.
  5. Review your analysis: Once you gather this data, you need to group it in clear-labeled groups (i.e. navigation, layout, functional flow, error handling, etc.), so that you can easily review and analyze all of this information and then find the ideal strategy to make your improvements.

Now that you know what are the key steps needed to start a website usability test, what you really need is knowing which tools or services are available out there that you can immediately put to use to support, speed up and professionally organize those very tasks.

But how can you identify and select which is the most appropriate website usability testing tool for your specific needs, competence level and budget?

To help you get started right away, this guide provides you with a set of individual reviews, a comparative table and a comprehensive mindmap to help you select your ideal free website usability testing tool.

Please note that these free usability testing tools have a limited range of features. For example, they do not allow you to record the screen of your testers or engage them in screen-sharing sessions unlike professional usability testing solutions like TechSmith Morae, which will be covered in a separate upcoming MasterNewMedia guide.

Now that I have warned you about the limitations of these free website usability testing tools, here below are the specific selection criteria that I have used to compare these different services:

  • Testing approach: a) Test the usability of your website by inviting specific users to share their feedback, b) analyze analytic and statistical data.
  • Analytics: Generate automatic analytical data from each website usability testing tool to evaluate the the quality of your website design and user interface.
  • Visualization of user behavior: Visualize the behavior of your visitors by analyzing where they click or look (via mouse tracking) on your website and which path they follow to carry on specific tasks.
  • Usability report: Generate a comprehensive report that contains all the analytical data gathered by the usability test.



Free Website Usability Testing Tools - Comparative Table

*Google Website Optimizer, Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics are not proper website usability testing tools. However, I decided to include also these tools in my comparison because you can use them for free and gather valuable insights on your user behavior.


Free Website Usability Testing Tools

  1. Usabilla

    Usabilla is a free usability testing tool that helps you analyze and improve the design of your website, mockup, sketch or image. With Usabilla you can track and visualize users clicks and also perform qualitative analysis asking single users specific questions like: "Which element of this page attracts you the most?". Throughout the whole process, your users can provide you written feedback on specific content components they find ambiguous or difficult to utilize. At the end of the test, you get a detailed report which collects all the data and insights gathered. Usabilla is available in 16 different languages.

  2. Loop11

    Loop11 is a usability testing tool that involves actual users to analyze and review your website. Loop11 is free for one website usability test; you just need to provide a simple task to a user and then let Loop11 start tracking and visualizing user interaction. At the end of the usability testing session, you can access comprehensive reports that show task completion rate, time spent on each task, common fail pages, paths and a detailed analysis displaying the path followed by the user.

  3. Fivesecondstest

    Fivesecondstest is a free tool to run usability tests on your website so that you can identify design ambiguities or interface issues. You can upload a screenshot of your web pages and then ask users which part of your design they liked most or ask them to click on specific parts of your design and share their feedback. You can either rely on invited guests or make your design public for random user evaluation. Once you get you are finished with your usability test, you get a detailed report to review the results. No live annotation.

  4. MouseFlow

    MouseFlow is a website usability testing tool that allows you to identify design ambiguities or interface issues in your site layout. You can automatically record your visitors and see where they click and how they behave on your pages only by copying one line of JavaScript code to your website. Detailed analytics are also available to analyze clicks and conversions. No usability report, nor live annotation.

  5. Google Analytics

    Google Analytics is a free web analytics solution that you can also use to test the usability of your website. By gaining automated insights and data about your users and their browsing behavior you can generate custom reports that will help you evaluate if your website is really useful and easy to navigate. You can even enhance all data charts and graphs on Google Analytics by using written notes that will help you focusing on specific items or sets of data. Google Analytics requires a Google account.

  6. Google Website Optimizer

    Google Website Optimizer is a free website testing and optimization tool that can help you improve the design and usability of your site. Google Website Optimizer can help you compare and test different website layouts by showing each one to a separate group of visitors. This way, you can analyze which design and specific elements inside your pages lead to higher conversion rates and need to be improved. Google Website Optimizer requires you to sign-up for a Google account. No analytics.

  7. Yahoo! Web Analytics

    Yahoo! Web Analytics is a free online analytics service that you can also use for website usability testing purposes. With Yahoo! Web Analytics you can gather insights on the demographics of your users and their interests, and then leverage this data to improve the design and interface of your website. You can also measure website conversions by visualizing users behavior on specific actions performed on your web pages and then generate custom reports to collect and review the data. Interactive notes can also be added to your graphs and statistics. The service requires a Yahoo! account.

Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 8th, 2010 as "Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Free Tools And Services".

Daniele Bazzano -
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Monday, March 8 2010, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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