You spent time and energy to make your small business or nonprofit’s website. You might even hired someone to put it together for you. But maybe that was a while ago.

Time and software updates may introduce glitches or errors. Broken links may proliferate as websites vanish or change their URL structure. And sometimes a design or wording isn’t working for your target audience.  

Unless someone complains, many website owners may never know about problems on their site. In the rush of running their operation, business owners let problems sit there, frustrating users.


What if you could see your website with fresh eyes?

Testing helps ensure your site is ready to help people find you, understand what you do/what you sell, and engage with you. And it helps avoid negative impressions that arise when sites are vague, confusing, or downright annoying. There is no substitute for fresh eyes and hands-on experience. That’s why I encourage website owners to do a little testing.


Finding the right tester(s)

Whether you are a one-person shop or a larger business, I highly recommend people outside your organization perform tests. I wrote a whole blog post about the problem of thinking your user and you share the same perspective. The upshot is that you, or anyone who works with you, is simply too close to the subject to be objective. You probably know how to navigate the site. You know what terms and labels mean. You know what tasks you want visitors to accomplish and how to complete them. You have the blindspots that come with being familiar with your company and its products.

The best person to test your website and provide you with great advice is someone you’re trying to reach with it — a member of your target audience. That could be a customer, a client, a partner, a donor, etc. Professional UX researchers often recruit 5-9 participants from each target audience to perform tests. If that’s too many for you to find, get 1-3 people who are as close to your target audience as possible and see what you can learn from them.

If this seems overwhelming, let’s break it down a little. When adapting a process from a professional context, I like to think of it in terms of Good/Better/Best adaptations. That helps me preserve as much of what’s most important about a professional process as possible while reducing the scope to something I can actually accomplish. So:

  • Good: a friend/fellow business owner who does not work in your field would be better than doing it yourself
  • Better: an existing customer who is willing to help you out for free or for a small discount OR someone who is about the same age, education level, and background as your target audience
  • Best: a member of your target audience (especially one who is not yet familiar with you)


Setting up the test

Okay, you’ve got test subjects in your sights. Time to figure out what they’ll be doing for you. In a professional context, the person giving the test would have a list of specific tasks the user will perform. They map the paths users might take and supply success metrics for each task. They track how long it took to complete each task. I’ve done tests where the user’s screen and keyboard movements are recorded and we track where they look on the page, all while someone is asking them questions and encouraging them to think out loud for the audio record.

Let’s keep it simple: we just want someone to walk through your website. We want them to tell us:

  • what they learned from the site about your organization,
  • if they struggled to understand or find anything,
  • and some ideas for how the site can be better.

We probably don’t need to spring for eye tracking software for that level of detail. A list of questions that go from general impressions to slightly more detailed responses should do it.

You can have someone perform the test in real time. You can also send them a document with questions and spaces for their answers so they can do it at their own convenience. More than likely, the results of this simple exercise will be enough to get you fresh ideas and draw your attention to problems so you can fix them.


Would you like a template for testing?

I’ve created a template for testing that almost any small business owner can use. I’m happy to share it with you. It’s my gift to you for joining my email newsletter, launching soon. Scroll to the bottom of this post and you’ll be able to sign up.

If you have any problems at all, TELL ME. I’m testing away, but I always appreciate your insights! Contact me. Then I can get you (and my website) squared away.

In the meantime, think about who might help you with your testing. Brainstorm an incentive you can give to testers. If asking a customer or a potential customer is intimidating, you could consider offering an exchange of testing with another business owner.

Test early and test often. As your business evolves your website should be useful to your marketing. If it’s not, see if testing can show you how to make it better.