Mobile Web Site Usability Observations and Recommendations

Posted on July 22, 2011

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Recently I was asked specific questions about Mobile Web Site Usabilty. Here they are for comments and review.

As a preamble to the questions below let me say that if you are using the term ‘Site Testing’ that may mean more than one thing to an audience. From a purely technical point of view, Site testing is typically done during the Software development Lifecycle (SDLC) testing occurs in two phases:  Unit and System testing.  This also usually occurs with two testing groups: the development team and Quality Assurance.  Once a piece(s) of software/site is developed and the Dev and QA teams have tested then it goes to a user group for User Acceptance testing or UAT.  This is usually the final stage before a version is released once UAT passes.

 

When a piece of software is in production (released), updates are periodically performed.  The same process is performed during development (Unit, System, and UAT) of an update.  Regression testing may also be performed to ensure these changes/updates did not introduce or reincarnate additional bugs to the system.

 

When I hear the term “Site testing” I am inclined to believe that some type of major release is happening.  Load balancing, Unit, System Testing, UAT and Regression Testing (if it is an update) all come to mind.  Organizations such as ours (SiteMinis) usually have a Test Plan in place that can be referenced by staff and external customers.  External Customers usually ask for this to get insight on a company’s process and procedure for software development.

On the other hand, Site Testing could mean, in effect, Usability or Utility testing of the site. That is where i am concentrating these comments.

1.       How has site testing become more important and more and more consumers are now accepting mobile commerce?

Usability relates to how easy a user interfaces with the mobile site (Utility relates to a site design functionality). Let us focus on Usability. and methods for improving ease of use through out the design process and beyond.

Usability, stickiness to the mobile site, repeat visits and specifically transaction conversion are critical to site survival. If people cannot navigate, perform tasks efficiently and effectively, if they drop shopping baskets, they leave the site. You must strive to keep eyeballs on the site in a meaningful way. It is life and death on the internet and is even more critical on the mobile form factor.

Pages can’t be hard to read or run through. Mobile Site contrast, font size and style, color pallet, compatibility of media to the OS,  intuitiveness of navigation, site flow, search logic, load times are all factors that are important to site usability.

Use of exisiting Style or User Interface guidelines available from all the major mobile OS platforms helps as a starting point for initial site designs.

2.       What does site testing consist of?

Key components of usability include Learnability (how difficult or easy is it for a user to accomplish tasks they encounter on the site, especially the first time through). Efficiency of the design (Once a user learns the site design, how quickly can a task or function be performed). Memorability (when users come back to the site on repeat visits, how long does it take to re-establish task and navigation proficiency). Failures or Errors (what is the nature of the failure, how severe is the failure, what is the recovery flow and time requirement). Overall user satisfaction of the site experience.

Pads of Paper and pens are the basic necessity (after users and a site of course).

Usability testing can be as simple as getting a small group of users and having them work through the site and perform basic tasks on the site and then writing down your observations, having them write down their observations and talking through the experience after the test is through. measuring time on pages, dropped tasks, etc,

Users should always be tested individually and not as a group doing the same thing at the same time (don’t put the site on a emulator overhead and walk through with the group and expect good usability results!). Don’t direct the users or help in any way or you contaminate the effort.

Using small groups for multiple usability small tests seems to be a cost effective way to gain great benefits to a sites usability rather than commissioning one big massive study.

Fields studies are great small group activities to view usage in a natural habitat (for example, watch a user enter in all the information – billing address, shipping address, credit card number, name, ccv number, expiration date when trying to check out a purchase on mobile while sitting at the bar may make you rethink why you must have a more frictionless one- click purchasing method for mobile).

Don’t wait until a mobile site is fully baked (in your mind) and ready to launch before you test. Usability testing is an ongoing and iterative process.

Look at your competition for comparative usability testing. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

Study the analytics (if you can get them- some APP platforms don’t do this well) and you can test, change, review, improve as an ongoing quest for site usability perfection.

3.       Why is it important and what is passing/failing?

Improving (or at least studying usability for mobile site performance improvements means more and better satisfied customer engagements with the mobile site. It is important (see question 1) to keep users engaged longer and visiting your mobile site more frequantly . The longer they spend on your site, the more the bond with the brand and create transactions.

 

Passing or failing is somewhat determined by the expectations set of the mobile site publisher. Although simple things such as error messages come up, or a page doesn’t work are really part of the deployment testing methodology and not really part of usability.

 

Failing, to me, from a usability stand point is when a user drops from the site with out satisfying the reason the came to the mobile site in the first place. That means that determining what the mobile site is there to accomidate the users interest is defined by the site developer and publisher themselves. this means they have to think a bit about what ‘passing and failing’ constitutes.

 

4.       What are some tips on cramming data in smaller packages, which can decrease page download time?

The first tip is Don’t cram’ You can’t just scrape or transcode for strong mobile web usabilty and utility.

Use some common sense, keep page sizes low, if possible, carefully consider the density of graphics and media.

Always remember a mobile phone is more often a vertical experience that a horizontal experience (say, as a PC is).

You have to think about the design, the navigation, flow, etc. In many cases you have to break some long scroll pages into smaller units. If your legal department wants every line of their teams and condition on the mobile web, don’t just have a user click to the main PC web site from the mobile site and ruin their mobile experience, don’t just ‘Cram’ the whole thing on a page that now has font you can’t read and a scroll that is equivalent to 17 inches! No- redesign the page so that there is link throughs to all the important paragraphs, that means you may have to add several click through links, but the user gets the info they want more efficiently and effectively!.

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