Usability Testing for Websites: Accessibility On Real Terms

Usability Testing for Websites: Accessibility On Real Terms

Imagine if every time someone visited your website, they felt right at home, engaging in your content in the ways they wanted to. This kind of user-friendly experience isn’t just good for your business reputation; it also meets legal accessibility standards and makes smart business sense. By focusing on usability testing for websites, apps and other digital assets, you can create inclusive digital spaces for everyone, including people with disabilities.

In a world where 1.3 billion people live with some form of disability, the importance of website usability can’t be overstated. That’s where online usability testing comes in. 

In this blog, we’ll explore how to conduct usability testing for websites, blending aesthetics with digital accessibility, so that your digital assets go beyond visual appeal and become a universally navigable experience. 

We’ll also walk you through practical tips, best practice and highlight the different methods being used to conduct usability testing. You’ll discover how a large dose of empathy and a lot of engagement with real users will stand you in a good position to welcome all users to your digital spaces.

What is website usability testing?

Usability testing, also known as user research or UX accessibility evaluation, is vital for identifying usability and accessibility challenges in websites or apps. It involves a detailed examination of these digital platforms to make sure they meet user needs effectively.

Let’s simplify this with an everyday example. Imagine you’re hosting a big party with decorations, music, and snacks. But what if only a few guests could enjoy it and they left early, never to return? Now, imagine getting feedback from your guests to make your party enjoyable for everyone. That’s what usability testing in the digital world is like. It’s a way to thoroughly examine a website to see how user-friendly it is on real terms.

During usability testing, it’s important to ask questions such as: Can someone with limited vision read the text easily? Is the site navigable for a person who uses a keyboard instead of a mouse? Do the colors on the website provide enough contrast for users with color vision impairments? By addressing these questions, we nurture an accessibility mindset, which we believe is a real non-negotiable in the usability testing process. 

Website usability testing is also a journey of empathy – seeing our websites through the eyes of  users with a diverse range of needs, understanding their challenges, and feeling their potential frustrations. This empathetic approach is what moves a website from good to great,

What are some examples of manual usability testing? 

At the heart of it, web developers and website owners have three main ways to test website accessibility. Carrying out these tests well can help you adhere to laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508. The three methods are manual testing, automated testing, and a mix of both, called hybrid testing.

Manual usability testing consists of different methods, each checking a specific part of the user’s experience. We suggest using a mix of all methods. It’s also a good idea to work with experts in web accessibility to figure out the best ways to get the information you need. 

Here’s a quick look at 10 manual usability testing methods:

1. Moderated in-person usability testing: This traditional form of testing involves participants completing tasks on your website in a controlled environment, like a lab, while a moderator observes and asks questions. It allows for detailed feedback and the ability to probe deeper into user behaviors and thoughts.

2. Remote moderated usability testing: Similar to in-person testing, but conducted remotely via video conferencing tools. This format is useful for reaching a geographically diverse group of users and observing them in their natural setting.

3. Unmoderated remote usability testing: Participants complete tasks at their own pace, usually through a platform that records their interactions and provides tasks or questions. This method is more scalable and can gather data from a wide user base quickly.

4. Tree testing: Often a follow-up to card sorting, this method tests the findability of topics in a website. Participants are asked to find information starting from the main menu, providing insight into how well the site structure works.

5. A/B testing: In this quantitative usability testing, two versions of a web page (A and B) are compared by exposing them to similar visitors at the same time. The one with a better performance, typically in terms of conversion rate or user engagement, is adopted.

6. Eye tracking: This involves tracking where and how long a user looks at different areas of a webpage. It’s valuable for understanding what attracts attention and whether users are focusing on the intended elements.

7. Session recordings and heatmaps: These tools record user sessions to show how visitors interact with your website, revealing patterns like where they click, how far they scroll, and what they ignore.

8. Accessibility testing: This method focuses on how accessible the website is for users with disabilities. It involves tools and participants with disabilities to ensure the site meets accessibility standards like the World Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2. (WCAG).

Each of these methods provides distinct and valuable perspectives on user behavior and preferences, enabling you to develop a website experience that is not only more intuitive but also exceptionally user-friendly.

How important is automated usability testing?

Automated usability testing plays a major part in making websites more inclusive. These automated tools work by examining the website’s code and content, quickly identifying any violations of accessibility standards. They’re incredibly efficient, not only highlighting issues but also offering suggestions on how to rectify them. This aspect of automation is a time and cost saver. However, while automated testing is invaluable, it’s important to remember that it cannot completely replace the need for manual testing. 

Automated tools excel in detecting technical compliance but may miss nuances that human testers can perceive. Using automated solutions should be viewed as a solid starting point in a broader strategy for improving digital accessibility.

What makes online usability testing effective?

Online usability testing has become highly effective in today’s digital world for several reasons. It offers huge flexibility and reach. With online testing, you can gather feedback from a broad, global audience – without geographical constraints. This diversity is important for obtaining a rich range of insights, so that your website or app resonates with a wider user base. 

Online usability testing also taps into real-world user environments. It allows users to interact with your digital assets in a natural setting, whether it’s at home, work, or on the go. 

This context provides authentic insights into how users engage with your online spaces in their daily lives. The convenience for participants often leads to more candid feedback and natural usage patterns, providing richer, more accurate data for improving the user experience.

Usability testing vs. functional testing: what’s the difference?

When exploring usability testing, it’s important to also consider functional testing. But what’s the difference? 

Functional testing and usability testing are key for your website’s success. First, functional testing makes sure that everything works as it should. Usability testing then takes it one step further to make the site a delight to use. Let’s look at an analogy to break down exactly what both of these tests bring to the usability table:

Functional testing

This is the nuts and bolts of testing. It’s where we ask, “Does everything work as it should?” It’s like checking if all the links on a website take you where they’re supposed to, if the forms submit correctly, and if all the features function as planned. Without functional testing, you might end up with a website that’s all car, but no engine.

Usability testing

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. Usability testing is all about the user’s experience. It goes beyond just ‘does it work?’ to ask ‘how does it feel to use?’ Can users easily navigate your site, find information, and complete tasks?. It’s the human side of the equation, focusing on accessibility, intuitiveness, and satisfaction.

So, while functional testing makes sure your website is up and running, usability testing means your website or app is a joy to visit. One is about functionality; the other, is about the user experience

What should a usability testing process look like?

Usability testing for accessibility is a focused approach to make sure that websites are not only functional but also inclusive and user-friendly for people with disabilities. Here’s how a robust testing process should typically unfolds:

  • Planning and goal setting: The first step involves defining clear objectives. What aspects of accessibility are we focusing on? This could include screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, color contrast, and more. It’s crucial to identify which elements of the website will be tested and what success looks like.
  • Participant recruitment: For a thorough test, it’s important to recruit participants who actually represent your user base, including people with various disabilities. This diversity ensures that the testing covers a wide range of accessibility needs, from visual impairments to motor skill challenges.
  • Preparing test scenarios: Create realistic scenarios that users might encounter on your website. These scenarios should be designed to test specific accessibility features. For example, navigating the website using only a keyboard or using a screen reader to find specific information.
  • Conducting the test: During testing, observe how participants interact with the website. Are they facing any difficulties? Is the navigation intuitive? Are the accessible features functioning as intended? Note both the ease of completing tasks and the obstacles encountered.
  • Gathering feedback: Collect detailed feedback from participants. This includes their overall experience, specific challenges faced, and suggestions for improvement. Their insights are invaluable in understanding the real-world accessibility of the site.
  • Analyzing results Analyze the data and feedback to identify patterns and common issues. Which aspects of the website were most problematic? What improvements are necessary to enhance accessibility?
  • Action the changes: Based on the findings, make the necessary changes to the website. This could involve redesigning certain elements, improving navigation, or enhancing compatibility with assistive technologies.
  • Follow-up testing: Accessibility is an ongoing commitment. After implementing changes, it’s important to conduct follow-up tests to ensure that the modifications have effectively addressed the issues and to continually refine the user experience for all.

Why building an accessibility mindset matters

Building an accessibility mindset in usability testing is more than just a good practice; it’s a huge shift in digital design and development. It’s about integrating accessibility into the design process – from the start, rather than retrofitting it later. This not only aligns with legal and ethical standards but also broadens audience reach, catering to a more diverse user base.

With an accessibility-first mindset, designers and developers are encouraged to prioritize accessibility, thinking ‘outside the box’ about how different users may need and prefer to interact with their digital products and services.

Building an accessibility-first approach shows a commitment to valuing the needs of all users. It clears the path for what usability testing is all about. By placing accessibility at the heart of usability testing, we’re not just designing for some people – we’re designing for everyone

UserWay: making your websites user-friendly

With a combination of accessibility testing tools, including manual and AI-powered automated solutions, UserWay stands out as the go-to choice for meeting all your usability testing needs. We lead with empathy, an accessibility mindset and work with you to make sure your digital assets are welcoming, legally compliant and work for everyone in real terms. Choose UserWay as your partner and feel confident that everyone – regardless of their disabilities – feels welcome. 


Why is usability testing important?

Usability testing is important because it ensures that a website is accessible and provides a good user experience for all visitors.

Who should perform usability testing?

Usability testing can be conducted by trained professionals, including UX designers, researchers, accessibility experts or specialized usability testing companies.

When should usability testing be conducted?

Usability testing should ideally be done throughout the development process, from early design to post-launch of your website.

How often should you test a website for usability?

Regular usability testing should be conducted, especially when new features are added or significant changes are made to the website.

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