Usability tests are run for many different reasons:
Each situation requires slightly different feedback from your user testers—in fact, the larger questions you want to answer and the specific questions you end up asking can be very different.
Usability testing can help you pinpoint the drivers that bring people to your website. In particular, moderated interviews can help you determine a current or potential visitor's motivations and their goals for visiting your site.
Key questions to ask via testing:
Usability testing can identify barriers that keep users from completing a task and, subsequently, drive them away from your website:
User testing can also pinpoint the hooks that persuade users to take certain actions, such as signing up for a newsletter or completing a purchase:
Another common reason for usability testing is to measure user reactions and attitudes toward products, websites, and concepts.
Usability testing has at least four different stages—screening, pre-test, test, and post-test (we cover them all below)—all of which provide the opportunity to collect important data from your participants. In each stage, your different goals will dictate the questions you ask.
Before diving in, a quick reminder. Most questions can be asked using two different formats, depending on the type of data you want to collect:
Pro tip: when collecting qualitative data, it's good practice to follow a yes-or-no answer with additional, open-ended questions, sometimes called probes. For example:
Question: Have you ever shopped online?
Follow-up probes: if no → Why not? If yes → How often do you shop online? What sorts of products do you usually buy online?
🔥Practical example: let's imagine you need to test your e-commerce website, and run through the different testing stages and questions you would use during each.
Before testing begins, you need to establish a set of criteria and decide what types of participants you want to include in your test—for example, you can select testers based on your user personas or target audience, or choose to focus on specific niches such as people who do their online shopping on a mobile device.
During the screening period, depending on which usability testing method you choose, you should have the opportunity to ask basic demographic and experience questions. In addition to using this data to evaluate potential participants, hang on to it and use it later in your analysis of the final results.
Examples of screening questions:
Once you've selected your test subjects, but before the actual usability testing begins, you have another opportunity to interview them, either via a questionnaire or through a moderated interview.
During this stage, your goal is to learn about the knowledge and experience that the subjects are entering testing with: their backgrounds will inform their actions and opinions as they interact with your product.
The questions during this phase go beyond just collecting demographic data; they can be used to gather psychographic data about the participants' experiences, behaviors, and attitudes toward the product or subject being tested.
These questions will evaluate the user's experience level with the actions they will be asked to perform:
These questions will check the user's background and existing knowledge of your brand and products (or similar ones). Existing knowledge may sway their opinions or ability to use your product:
During the actual testing stage, your goal is to collect data that explains why users make certain choices while navigating the assigned tasks.
The test may be highly interactive, with the user talking through their thought process as they complete each step. Conversely, it could be silent, with users working independently and then answering questions after each task or section. Either way, questions like the ones below should help illuminate what the user is doing, and why:
Usability testing moderators need to be careful with how they interact with participants during the testing phase so that their words don't influence the testing in any meaningful way. If you are leading the session yourself, make sure you aren't asking questions in a leading way or answering questions in a way that could give the user hints or extra information about the tasks they need to complete.
This can be challenging when a subject has questions during the test. There are some common communication techniques that moderators often use to respond to user questions during testing. These include:
After a usability test, you have one final chance to ask the user questions that haven't been covered elsewhere. This is the time to gather feedback about their impressions and opinions of your website and get a feel for the overall user experience.
Common questions during this phase include: