Olympic fever has obviously hit our offices; most conversations commonly involve the word "gold medal", "Jessica Ennis" and a profound feeling of complacency followed by "ah yes, another gold medal, cool". Clearly wedged in the subconscious, I thought it would be apt to explain the importance of User Testing in a language that we seem to best understand in the collective mind set. It has been reported that "200,000 hours" worth of testing will be carried on the IT systems by Atos, the official technology partner of the games, before the Olympics kicked off. These tests simulated and prepared for every possible scenario1 - and rightly so, the BBC have just released the viewing figures on August 5th, smack bang in the middle of the Olympics, with 29 million requests, the emphasis on user testing was greater than ever.
The endurance needed in User Testing is somewhat marathon-esque, there is no easy way and there are definitely no shortcuts, but it does make you become finely tuned into the mind set of a needy consumer. Here are a few issues that I repeatedly notice:
- Content - Getty Images are setting out to snap up to 30,000 pictures for London Olympics, in 3D, 360° and anything else 3-related-that-sounds-impressive. The point is, it's all about content, a wealth of images in a selection of styles, particularly on ecommerce sites where images of products can make a huge difference in providing the customer with more details about their product. A customer likes to look at their product from every angle, so never cut time with sharpening up copy and creating a variety of content.
- Following on from this, spelling mistakes and typos - it is understandable with so much content that the odd spelling mistake passes through, but when major call to action buttons contain a typo, it's annoyingly scarred in my mind for the remaining time on the website. Many are not so affected by such a minor blip but all the same, spell check at every opportunity. This also works in your favour from an SEO point of view and adds reliability to the site. Typos and spelling errors spells out amateur web design.
- A response after clicking a button or a link - even if I'm waiting, a little acknowledgement from the site, would be great. If I've signed up to a newsletter, please kick start our newsletter friendship by telling me I have signed up and that you'll be in contact soon.
- Leading on from this, all outgoing emails don't escape the rule of formatting thumb from the web site – especially on ecommerce sites where order details, despatch prompts have been sent via email, some emails are all over the place and clearly forgotten. This is the all important email for the client; it would be good to keep it looking up to scratch.
- So I've just had a finger spasm and entered in more digits into the credit card number field than there should be, an error message that appears as soon as I click out of that text field is mandatory.
- Don't patronise, or if you are planning to patronise add a less patronising alternative - a quick root for more confident users. Refine searches are helpful but if there could be an alternative way of directly capturing results that is effectively more time consuming it encourages regular users to coming back.
- Don't mess up the links – if there's a picture and text, or a box and text, make the whole thing a link instead of one or the other, it won't compromise the style and will save the user having to repeatedly click to get to the next page.
- People are pretty clued up on their fonts now - using two or three at absolute maximum is enough for the user's mind, more than that and I have lost all sense of what is a heading and what isn't.
The testing process is lengthy but equally incredibly important, just like the Olympic test events unearthed any problems with the timing and technology elements of the operation you must review your site thoroughly before it goes live into action. The technology systems have been put through their paces, with not only the 200,000 hours of testing as previously mentioned, but with Atos employing "ethical hackers" to test out their systems, and a number of activity related tests to ensure test readiness. There can be blips that escape through the radar or external factors or 3rd party websites that may slow down a feature or gadget within the site and are only exposed once the site is live.
It's not just the BBC website that has become the new world’s stage for the Olympics, this is potentially the first Olympics where mobile apps have been so heavily used; not only for athletes who have found mobile apps which can provide slow motion replay feedback2 but for spectators at home or live on site who can refer to these apps to heighten their viewing experience. Mobile apps and smartphone data share is pretty hot, according to data, spectators of the men's cycling road race were making "constant use of their phones to update Facebook and Twitter and to send photos"3 which was held responsible for the commentators (who were using the same network) to be slow in receiving information. This is a lesson to be learnt by all, if not already, that the viewing experience on mobile platforms and functionality on phones; iPads, iPhones, Android, even Blackberry must not be overlooked.
Having tested out a few sites and using an iPad here are a few issues I have found reoccur:
- Links that appear too small - please presume everyone has fat fingers, there is nothing more frustrating than clicking on a link. Failing. Double clicking and then enlarging a page. Failing again. Navigation should be easy so larger links are brilliant.
- Don't show all content - increase pagination (the act of creating pages), on a "product page" if there are 20 items that appear on the normal website, crunch this down to 6 items that ordinarily appear - this means that the page doesn't take too much time to load up. It also means that simpletons can easily digest the information on screen.
- Avoid Flash and Java content - this is why HTML5 is the way forward. If I can see the video is there, but I can't play it, cue the annoyance and need to exit the site.
- Icons - must be large, recognisable and always used, especially if it comes to bookmarking the site to the homepage, an icon will comply with the rest of the iPhone/iPod touch interface and encourage the user to return.
For those looking to increase accessibility of their website, creating a Mobile app is the way forward, one of the best thing about the BBC Sport Olympic app is the offline reading functionality meaning that if, like me, your smartphone ain't always that smart - then you can always access the content regardless of whether you have full mobile reception. The interface is customisable to support the viewer's needs, which is ideal for blocking out the sports that you're not interested in - not that you'd want to stop following any sports, we've just won gold in taekwondo!
Live updates from London 2012 has seen the potential of Twitter leap for success leading to the nickname "London tweety-12", the social media site's best strength is the ability to cover live action seconds after it has happened. The Tom Daley tweeter who was summoned by the police who unruly tweets, the Piers Morgan tweet debate where Morgan was hilariously put in his place by Bradley Wiggins are just two of hundred stories that have escalated from the social media site. Many times I have tested sites where the Twitter account activity is next to nothing, it's so disappointing as there is so much potential there. Relevant tweets to the company are ideal, tweets that share a link from the website and tweets that acknowledge current trends are great ways to get more followers, so this is a reminder that the power of Twitter should not be overlooked, never has it been so cool to hash tag.
So for guaranteed gold medal success in ecommerce optimal performance and website usability take note of some of the hurdles I have come across to ensure the user has a smooth run around the website.
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1 Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/8827872/Ten-technology-facts-about-the-London-Olympics.html
2 Source: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/thinking-tech/golden-mobile-apps-help-olympic-performance/12549
3 Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19045441