Usability Testing on the Cheap for Non Profit Websites

Smaller organizations often shy away from Usability Testing for fear of the big budgets that can be associated with it. One of the sessions I attended at the Non Profit Technology Conference today addressed this constraint and had some great suggestions for ways to incorporate usability testing on a small budget as well as some ways to simply reframe how you think about usability testing. Here's a summary of some of those ideas:

  • First off, if you have website statistics/analytics already installed on your website then you are (or can be) doing usability testing now. Looking at stats like "500 people visit our donations page each week but only 4 are donating", "our website is getting 1000 visitors a week, but only 5 email newsletter signups", or "of the top 5 pages being visited on the website only 2 lead to the content that supports our mission/vision/campaigns." Evaluating these statistics regularly -- or to make a plug here, having your web firm evaluate them -- and watching for trends and then looking at what you can do to make iterative changes is a great way to do some low risk/low cost usability testing.
  • Usability testing is about asking your audience/representative audiences questions. Why not ask them now rather than waiting to invest in a big usability testing process. Include a link to a basic survey (3-4 questions max) at the end of an email sign-up, donation process, volunteer form, etc. to ask them if their expectations were met, with simple "yes/no" type questions and then a link for people to email you with further comments and thoughts. Again, incorporate what feedback you can as budgets allow, but track and gather the information on an ongoing basis.
  • When rolling out some new features, use Social Media to get usability testers. Post a link to the feature/design you want feedback on and link to a basic survey and get feedback via Twitter/Facebook/Email Newsletters etc.
  • It's also ok to launch your website and make some small mistakes. Websites can be tweaked and it doesn't need to be perfect when you launch it. Listen to what your users are telling you (which means asking them) and then evolve your website over time based on feedback.

The big takeaway from the session for me was that yes usability testing can be expensive, especially if the feedback means overhauling your design/functionality, but don't be afraid to ask the questions. Then you can start to figure out what kind of a budget you are going to need to evolve and improve your website, rather than flying blind.