Howdy ho, SEO folks! Welcome back to another Search Engine Academy post on Information Architecture (IA) and search engine optimization (SEO). We do this every Wednesday.

We’ve been going over how to implement IA, and this week, we are going to talk about user testing on our websites.

User testing goes by several names – human factors, usability, usability engineering, etc. What you’re trying to accomplish when doing user testing is having people use your system – in this case, your web site –  to give you feedback on how well it works for her.

Your user tester is going to tell if your site has the right information in the right place, if it’s easy to navigate, if it makes sense to her. If your site requires actions, she’ll go through those and tell you how easy or hard those actions are to do.

Get the tester to talk out loud as she’s going through your site. Take notes. If it makes sense, time how long it takes to do the action. At the same time, observe how the site is operating. Is it loading fast?

Be sure you give the tester clear guidance or direction on what you want her to do. Have a clear goal in mind. Is she testing the buy function? Do you want her to wring out building a customized laptop?

You can video tape each test session, or just capture the audio. It’s up to you. Be sure you select users that range from first time visitors to experienced users. Develop a set of tasks that range from no-brainer easy to functions that require prior knowledge or information to accomplish the task.

It’s perfectly fine to develop scenarios and ask your testers to role-play.

What is user testing going to tell you?

It’s going to show you the weaknesses in your site you may not have thought about when you did the initial design or re-design. You’ll understand what’s intuitive and what needs more fleshing out in terms of the functions, tasks and content.

Probably the most important thing you’ll discover is common mistakes that would plague everyone. As you observe user testing, you’ll start creating solutions. This is exciting stuff, because you’re doing this BEFORE you launch the site and discover how expensive your design weakness is.

This is a great creative exercise as you talk to the testers, design team and content developers. You may end up going in directions you didn’t consider prior to user testing.

I’m keeping this one really short. Next week, I’ll go over why conducting research on what to do with your website is critical for your successful IA efforts. In the meantime, do you think you can set up and conduct user testing on your site? It doesn’t have to be long, involved and complicated. Just invite a few friends over for drinks and plop them down in front of the screen. See what they do and say when interacting on your site.

Until next week, keep it between the ditches!

All the best to you,