Usability Testing for Your MSP Website

Scott Calonico

How many times has this scenario happened to you?

Pulling up the website of a company to find out some scrap of information - their contact number, email address or even how to order their product - and you're completely lost in a world of pop up pages, hard to read text and, worst of all, the dreaded Flash loading screen.

You can't find a damn thing you came looking for and quickly click away in disgust.

This isn't your website, is it?

We've talked about the importance of a website to help drum up business for your IT support company or MSP, but what happens if you go to all the trouble of putting up a website and no one shows up?

That's where usability testing comes to your rescue.

What is Usability Testing?

The idea is simple: you take a group of people you've never met before, sit them down in front of computers with your website pulled up and ask them to do specific tasks. You judge how well they accomplish these tasks and adjust your website accordingly.

Sounds easy, right? Sure, but it's not often that this type of testing takes place. As the owner of a busy MSP or IT company, you've already got your hands full with a new system upgrade for your clients and your website might be the furthest thing from your mind.

Tips for Successful Testing

If you've decided to gather up your own test audience and have them go over your website, here's a few tips that will help you have a successful session.

Choose Your Subjects Wisely

Sure, your mom is going to love your website. And probably your dad, too. But do you really think you're going to get an unbiased opinion from them? Pick people at random. This can be done through a temporary agency, a neighborhood bulletin board, or even Craigslist.

Set Your Goals

You want to give your test audience a specific set of tasks to accomplish during the testing, perhaps signing up for a mailing list, logging into a system status page, or paying a bill.

Create Scenarios

It's easier on testers if they're given a scenario that needs to be resolved, rather than just a given task to accomplish. Instead of saying, "Find the live contact number for the business", give them a scene where they're computer is down and they need to get help immediately.

Don't Get Mad

Seems like this would be a no-brainer, but, conducting user testing on a website that you've designed can be especially frustrating.

"What do you mean you can't find the contact email address? It's RIGHT THERE at the bottom of every page, you idiot?!!"

If your testers can't find it, most likely your other users can't either.

Take it Slow

Let your users work on one task at a time. Any more than that and it could confuse and frighten them.

Take Time to Record Your Data

This is the most important part of your testing. Take the time to sit down with your testers and gather their thoughts about the site. What parts did they like? What didn't they like? What slowed them down? Remember not to try to steer their opinions in one direction or another.

Usability Testing Online

We've gathered a few links below of some more user website testing resources online. Some of these services are paid for and offer a wealth of information, while others are free. These resources can help you gather additional information about your website's usability in addition to live testing sessions.

24 Usability Testing Tools
Just like it says, list of 24 usability testing tools. (Interestingly enough, the site is in the default Wordpress template, but you can't fault his SEO)
The US government's guide to making websites user friendly (insert Democrat/Republican joke here)

Website Usability Checklist
Use this list to ensure that your website can be read and browsed by different categories of users.

12 Website Usability Testing Myths
Don't think you have time to test your site? Think again.

Can You Handle the Truth?

In the end, to make sure your website provides a dynamic user experience you want the unvarnished truth.

It might be painful, but, in the end, it'll make your website better.

And maybe convince you to take down that Flash loading screen.