Usability testing is one of the most underrated research tools for copywriters.
There, I said it.
While, as a copywriter like myself you’re probably all about customer interviews, surveys, website polls, heatmaps and user recordings, if you don’t run user testing on your (or your client’s) website, you miss out on a ton of great insights.
These insights most of the time allow you to shortcut the brainstorming and analysis process. Because user testing allows you to spot what’s broken quickly and cost effectively.
One big differentiation when it comes to usability testing that I see almost no one talk about, is the scope.
User testing has always been first and foremost the go-to tool for UX designers and product people to understand how users go through their app, so they can improve it and increase retention and engagement.
But user testing can and should be used for conversion optimization too. And here’s where copywriters and CRO people could take advantage of it. As a tool to analyze the user experience on the front end of a website, not just the backend app.
And to glean conversion intel, rather than just usability information.
With the ability to pick between moderated and unmoderated testing you can be pretty sure you get the insights you’re looking for. Without stepping foot out of your home or office.
As a copywriter specifically, usability testing can help get a solid starting point for the rest of your research.
Well, when looking at Analytics or heatmaps, you don’t just dive face first into your tool of choice. You come up with ideas and hypotheses first, and then jump into your tool to look for issues around those. You narrow down your scope.
The same way, user testing helps you focus on the low hanging fruits first. Sometimes even dictating the type of research you should conduct.
When you run a good usability test on a website you get several advantages over starting with a blank slate:
All in a couple of days and at a fraction of what a survey might cost you.
That said, planning and writing a user test that gets useful and actionable insights is not a piece of cake.
It’s a bit of art and science.
You can find guides on how to write a good user test, but when it comes to copywriting specifically, I always have a couple extra recommendations.
These help you make sure the insights you gain, provide useful action points in writing copy that converts.
As mentioned in other guides, you should always write a scenario to set expectations and ensure that testers provide their honest feedback. This should be the first thing they see.
That said, sometimes, even if you narrow down their demographics with gender, location, age, web experience, and pre-screener questions like you can do in Userfeel, you might also want to provide context around their experience. So they try as hard as they can to put themselves in the shoes of the target buyer.
That’s why I always include some kind of scenario introduction, usually in my second or third task. This can simply be two lines like:
“Your friend’s birthday is coming up in a couple of days and you still have to find a present. You know they’re into 80s t-shirts, specifically about movies, so you look online for a place to buy one from. What’s the first thing you’d do here?”.
That’s it. This introduction accomplishes a few things:
When using it just make sure you avoid creating potential emotional attachments though or you’ll risk testers getting personal and stepping “out of character” (avoid using “your mom/dad” etc.), and don’t get too specific just yet. You’ll give more targeted instructions later on with the other tasks.
I’m a firm believer that you should map out your usability testing tasks in a way that follows how humans behave on websites. In other words, the sequence and order of tasks matter. But when running a test at the beginning of a project, you rarely know how visitors use the website.
So trust what works.
I always rely on a heuristic evaluation model like the 7 levels of conversions to plan and write my tasks. You’ll see how first you have areas like “relevance” (ask about their expectations before and after doing anything), “trust” (gauge whether they trust a site in the first seconds and at the end of their experience), “orientation” (can they find what you want them to find and navigate their way through the site?) and so on.
Each step in the model is an important factor in conversion rate optimization and the order they’re listed in is important. The fact that this model has been formulated from thousands of user tests, A/B tests and by looking at other existing models, gives me confidence in using it to craft my user testing experience.
Pick the model you feel more confident using.
As a copywriter you know the importance of considering the entire customer journey when researching and writing copy. The same should be with user testing.
That’s why I always try to test the before, during and after of the user experience in my tests.
We’ve seen how you, as a copywriter, can get valuable conversion-boosting insights. But your job is not done when you get the results. You usually still have some “selling” to do, whether it’s to stakeholders at your company or to your clients.
Depending on the usability testing platform you’re using, you’ll have different ways of presenting your results.
I really like how Userfeel easily allows you to create annotated video snippets, like this one I’ve shared with a client.
There’s nothing more powerful when backing up your insights, than seeing users stumbling on blocks, not understanding pieces of copy, getting lost with navigation, over and over again. You can tell the client or your boss…but if they see it, you’ll have 100x better chances to get your point across.
A good way for doing it with Userfeel is, for any given issue you find, to put together snippets of the same task from the perspective of different users. The fact of seeing the same issue happening over and over with different users will make your point clearer.
For example, you see in 3 user test videos that users don’t understand what the site is about (unclear value proposition)? Cut and paste the 3 instances in a sequence. Then move on to another issue with other snippets. And so on.
Next and final tip when delivering your user testing findings, sum them up with notes and takeaways. Userfeel makes it easy to annotate important bits (that you’ll use for video highlights too). You can then add these insights to a document.
But most importantly, communicate what these insights mean for the business.
The majority of users can’t find information on guarantee and returns?
Good insight, but what does that mean?
Your client will have to make sure they add that piece of copy where it matters. Point it out in a separate “Takeaways” section they can take action on. If it’s prioritized and in checklist form, even better.
There’s more to learn when it comes to usability testing for messaging and we’re all learning with every new project. But hopefully this guidelines gave you some additional ideas you can apply right away.
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