Usability testing – some free tools

Having just started in my new role as Digital Media Officer for the School of Health Studies, I am keen to contribute to The Web Team blog, and thought I’d start by signposting some free tools that can be used to improve the user experience of a website.

One site I have found useful when deciding between different site design proposals is UsabilityHub. This site allows you to test your designs and site navigation on real people, and provides some invaluable feedback when in the planning stages of a web project.

Types of test in UsabilityHub


You simply upload a screenshot of your page(s) and decide what type of test you want to set. The first option is the Five Second Test, where users get to see your screenshot for five seconds and are then asked questions about what they have seen.

This is useful for judging first impressions of your layout, and users often provide suggestions for improvement. You can ask up to five questions, but I recommend only setting one or two, so as not to overburden the user and risk them skipping through the questions or providing incomplete responses.

An example of a UsabilityHub Five Second Test question
The next type of test is the Click Test. This allows you to set a question, such as ‘Where would you click to find out more about our new course’, and provides a heat map of where the user clicks. This can be used to test if your layout is intuitive, and if users are easily able to access the information they need. It can also be used to see which design or logo users prefer, to help inform your design decisions.

An example of a UsabilityHub Click Test question

The final option is the Nav Flow Test, which allows you to upload multiple screenshots from pages on your site, and ask users to complete a journey through the site to a defined goal (e.g. proceed from the Homepage, to a product page, and finally to the Checkout on an e-commerce site). This allows you to see how effective your navigation system is, and where users are getting confused while interacting with your site.

An example of a UsabilityHub Nav Test question

UsabilityHub is free to use – there is a subscription package that allows you to purchase the credits needed to conduct a test (one user response = one credit) and set private tests, however, as a free ‘Community User’ you can earn credits by taking tests. Doing the tests actually becomes slightly addictive, and is a good insight into the kinds of questions other designers and developers are asking of their projects.

Bear in mind that as a free ‘Community User’ you can only set public tests, so if your project is strictly confidential until launch, consider upgrading.

Google provide a range of tools to test, measure and improve your site usability and performance. From Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics, Google provide many ways to assess how your site performs in search, with web traffic and user experience, as well as offering suggestions for improvement.

One such tool is PageSpeed Insights.

A screenshot of the Google PageSpeed Insights interface

Simply enter your site URL to generate a report which scores the site out of 100 for speed of loading and user experience, for both mobile and desktop versions of the site (as a guide, 85 or above indicates your site is performing well).

It also provides technical suggestions on how to improve your score, and thus improve site loading times and user experience.

Finally, I would like to briefly touch upon Content Experiments in Google Analytics – I will let their video explain the concept!

Basically, it allows you to test variations of a page on a defined percentage of site visitors. This can show how an alternate version of a page performs against your Google Analytics Goals in comparison to the existing page, allowing you to make a data-driven decision when altering site pages to improve site conversion rates.

I hope you have found my first post useful – please leave a comment if you test any of these tools letting me know how you got on.

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