You can spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars building a new web application, but if you don’t test it, user adoption and satisfaction could be a challenge.
A testing phase before launch, focusing on both functionality and usability, can make all the difference. Plus, it’s a lot easier, and cheaper, to be proactive rather than reactive.
Know your audience
If you are redesigning your website, or adding a new tool, check past web analytics to learn more about your users before testing. Which browsers do they use? Which devices or platforms are most common? Are there other demographics that could give you insight into how they might use your website or application – age, gender, location? For a new website, think about the audiences you are targeting, their main interactions (get the latest news, contact a representative, get product specifications, or build and export a presentation), and how they will access the site (on the go, or at home in the evening).
Make a plan
First, draft a testing document. Testing documents can vary greatly in structure and content depending on the website or web application. Whether you use a shared spreadsheet or more linear, narrative text, find a format that works for you and your team. Think of it as a checklist or step-by-step guide to testing and be specific:
- Outline key workflows. This could include finding product specifications via site search, or filling out a contact form to request additional information.
- Within each workflow, note the specific tasks your users will complete. For example, “enter search term, click Go, find Product ABC, click to view product page, expand specifications section.”
- Specify assumptions or dependencies. Example: “If a product is available in Canada, you should see the Canadian product number. If it is US only, the Canadian product number should be hidden.”
- Accommodate testing across multiple browsers and platforms, based on your audience. If you know your users typically access your application on their phone, make sure you test there. Or, if 80% of your website’s traffic is in Google Chrome, make it your top priority.
- Also, it is important to distinguish testing for functionality vs. testing for usability. Functionality testing answers the question “Does this application perform per the specifications?” whereas usability testing answers questions like “Will users be able to quickly and easily complete their desired tasks?” Both are key to the success and longevity of a web application and should be included in your plan.
Then, lay some ground rules:
- Assign tasks to your project team to divide and conquer. Split responsibilities by browser or platform, or by workflow or site feature. And, if you can, invite a few potential users to click around before launch.
- Communicate timing. Determine when to test and make sure everyone knows key dates and deadlines.
- Establish a chain of command. Who makes the final decisions for what to do or not to do after testing is complete?
Pay attention to the details
A phone number in your footer or ‘no results found’ message may not seem critical, but details can be damning. In addition to testing key workflows and tasks, make sure you check all the nooks and crannies of your web application. A few tips:
- Check all internal and external links, phone numbers, and spelling.
- Test form validation. What is required vs. optional? Can you enter anything in the email address or zip code field? If the application stops you from advancing, is there clear direction?
- Click through all navigation, including breadcrumbs
- Keep visual consistency in mind as you’re testing. For example, look at how buttons and links are styled, compare from page to page or tool to tool.
- Test atypical scenarios and for error checking. For example, what happens if you don’t enter a search term and click Go?
- Ask yourself questions like, “Is this intuitive?” or “How much do I need to read or remember to move forward?”
Document your findings
As you test, take note of any errors, dead-ends, inconsistencies, or bugs. Be specific about how you discovered the issue. Include a click path (Home > About Us > Our Team) or the URL. Or, take a screenshot. The more information you can provide to the application designers, content strategists, and developers, the better.
Prep for launch
Work with your project team to identify and prioritize necessary adjustments to the web application based on your findings. Ideally, make time for one more round of testing before launch to review changes and catch last-minute bugs.
Then, happy go-live!