Google Tips Webmasters for Website User Research and Testing

A December 21, blog post on Google Webmaster Central blog shares some tips to webmasters to help them test and analyze usage of their website. "For example, did you know that on average users scroll down 5.9 times as often as they scroll up, meaning that often once page content is scrolled past, it is […]

A December 21, blog post on Google Webmaster Central blog shares some tips to webmasters to help them test and analyze usage of their website. "For example, did you know that on average users scroll down 5.9 times as often as they scroll up, meaning that often once page content is scrolled past, it is "lost?" (See Jakob Nielsen's findings on scrolling, where he advises that users don't mind scrolling, but within limits.)," blogged Google.

Adding "also, check your analytics--are you curious about high bounce rates from any of your pages, or very short time-on-page metrics?"

Google suggests the following pointers for basic testing to see how your website's functionality is working - per google post:

  • "Sample size: Just five people can be a large enough number of users to find common problems in your layouts and navigation (see why using a small sample size is sufficient).
  • Choosing your testers: A range of different technical ability can be useful, but be sure to only focus on trends--for example, if more than 50% of your testers have the same usability issue, it's likely a real problem--rather than individual issues encountered.
  • Testing location: If possible, visit the user in their home and watch how they use the site--observe how he/she normally navigates the web when relaxed and in their natural environment. Remote testing is also a possibility if you can't make it in person--we've heard that Google+ hangouts can be used effectively for this (find out more about using Google+ hangouts).
  • How to test: Based on your site's goals, define 4 or 5 simple tasks to do on your website, and let the user try to complete the tasks. Ask your testers to speak aloud so you can better understand their experiences and thought processes.
  • What to test: Basic prototypes in clickable image or document format (for example, PDF) or HTML can be used to test the basic interactions, without having to build out a full site for testing. This way, you can test out different options for navigation and layouts to see how they perform before implementing them.
  • What not to test: Focus on functionality rather than graphic design elements; viewpoints are often subjective. You would only get useful feedback on design from quantitative testing with large (200+) numbers of users (unless, for example, the colors you use on your site make the content unreadable, which would be good feedback!). One format for getting some useful feedback on the design can be to offer 5-6 descriptive keywords and ask your user to choose the most representative ones," google explained.

Google also shared their findings with from actual users:

  • "Take care when using layouts that hide/show content: We found when using scripts to expand and collapse long text passages, the user often didn't realize the extra content was available--effectively "hiding" the JavaScript-rendered content when the user searches within the page (for example, using Control + F, which we've seen often).
  • Check your language: Headings, link and button text are what catches the user's eye the most when scanning the page. Avoid using "Learn more…" in link text--users seem averse to clicking on a link which implies they will need to learn something. Instead, just try to use a literal description of what content the user will get behind the link--and make sure link text makes sense and is easy to understand out of context, because that is often how it will be scanned. Be mindful about language and try to make button text descriptive, inviting and interesting.
  • Test pages on a slower connection: Try out your pages using different networks (for example, try browsing your website using the wifi at your local coffee shop or a friend's house), especially if your target users are likely to be viewing your pages from a home connection that's not as fast as your office network. We found a considerable improvement in CTR and time-on-site metrics in some cases when we made scripted animations much simpler and faster (hint: use Google's Page Speed Online to check performance if you don't have access to a slower Internet connection)," Google said.

Wireframe of layout tested, showing "zipped" content on the bottom left:
wireframe of layout tested, showing

Final page design showing anchor links in the top and content laid out in the main body of the page:
final page design showing anchor links in the top