Uer testing a focus group In this Web Skills module on user testing techniques you will learn how to develop a sucessful website using feedback from your audiences.

You will gain knowledge of a variety of ways to gather information from your users including; statistics, interviews, focus groups and testing. 

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A successful website must be “customer centric and task-focused”. Gerry McGovern (www.gerrymcgovern.com).
Web users hunt for information like bees seeking nectar, searching for “scent” or “trigger” words. To find out your words you need to understand your users.

Be specific about who you are trying to reach:

  • Prospective / current students.
  • Prospective / current staff.
  • Alumni.
  • Parents.
  • Funders / donors (current and potential).
  • Collaborators.
  • Media.

Know your reader

Use your site statistics

Search logs - Site search is great for identifying trigger words and best for very broad terms. Contact your Faculty Web Officer to find your most popular search terms.

Analytics - Identity popular content and find out how users find your content. You can take our Google Analytics online Web Skills module for more information.

User Interviews

You can interview your users in a variety of ways, by phone, by written feedback or by face-face question and answers.

Your job is to transcribe and highlight the tasks the users want to complete.

See example below of some feedback and the tasks the user wants to complete which are highlighted:

“You see because I’m not in the UK I can’t take a walk around Imperial & appreciate the architecture or meet the professors or take the inside scoop from any of the students there . I’m on a different continent, so I can’t connect with people on face. And even interacting through the phone is kind of impractical. The internet is the only medium I can gather more information apart from, say, the British Council Library. So the website is the only source of information for me.”

We can see the user regards the website as an important information source and their needs are:

  1. To see the campus including the buildings.
  2. Meet the professors.
  3. Get feedback from current students.
Focus groups / KJ sessions

Set up some focus groups, each should be made up of around 8-10 participants of a similar audience.

Find out what they come to your site to find or do?

Find– looking for certain information, answering a question
Do – accomplish some task, use some sort of application

1) What would you come to your website (or team) to FIND or DO?

Post it note session

Post it notes on a board1. What would you come to your website to FIND or DO? (One task per post-it note).

2. Put all post-it notes together on the wall.

3. Quietly – all go up and start grouping the tasks:

  • Same words – overlapping each other.
  • Similar next to each other.
  • Start working together to group them.
4. Start adding in headings for each category of notes (different colour post-it note).
  • Chat about types / add more tasks / add more headings.

5 . Give out 6 sticky dots to each volunteer:

  • Vote for the most important tasks/groups to you.
  • Can put all on one for emphasis.

At end of session, you should have:

  • The beginnings of a site structure. (If you are lucky!)
  • A great insight into the language used by your audiences.
  • A prioritised list of key tasks and activities people come to your site to complete.
  • An understanding of how they view your content and how they group it (potentially quite different to organisational structure).
Online survey

1. Good for reaching a lot of users – either add a link to a survey from your site or send out targeted survey by email.

2. Good for getting general overview on attitudes and opinions, for example:

  • Which features are most important?
  • Which content to they most value?
  • How do they find your content?

3. Try to avoid too many questions or too many open ended requests.

4. There are many free and cheap tools available:


Set a series of observed tasks on website (or prototype / paper drawing).

The tasks given to users often include those identified in focus groups, analytics research and interviews as the most popular. For example:

  • How would you find out about what events are taking place next week?
  • What accommodation options are available for students?
  • What job opportunities are available at the College?
  • Find out how to join the Sports Centre.
The user should start from the College homepage or Google.
Your role is to watch and listen – don’t help them.

If they get stuck, ask what they are looking for or what they had expected to see. Note down the user journeys and query user on route they are taking if required.

  1. Really listen to language used by your users.
  2. If you can, ask lots of questions – the more you can get inside the head of your user, the better!
  3. And remember, sometimes the web isn’t the answer!  For some things, face to face or telephone contact is still desirable.
  4. Often you get a higher response, particularly from students, if participation is incentivised. We strongly recommend this for long focus groups or interviews and it is worth considering a prize for surveys.
  5. Don't do it once - test your site regularly.
  • Test your site regularly.
  • Test changes you make.
  • Test your assumptions.
  • Act on what you learn – demonstrate that you are listening to feedback.