One of the biggest questions facing any B2B is always whether your site design is up to par or not. If your site design is good, it functions as a salesperson for your B2B brand, informing and guiding today’s decision-makers who prefer to do a lot of their research online prior to getting in touch with your real salespeople.
Naturally, all of this means that your site design has to be good, period. There’s no getting around it. Your site has to deliver a user experience where your buyers can find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently. The goal of every page on your site should be clear-cut, too. Finally, buyers who leave your site and then return to do more research should be able to effectively pick up from where they left off the last time with no problems (memorability should be high).
Your site has to deliver a user experience where your buyers can find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.
In short, the user experience of your site has to be top-notch. That’s the only way that you can safely and accurately know that your web design is good. After all, the rule in web design is that you should be designing for your buyers.
By using a user experience evaluation method, you’ll be able to gain a lot of insight about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of your site design. We’ll tackle the different kinds of user experience evaluation methods today, so you can make an intelligent and informed decision about which is right for your B2B.
Different Kinds of User Experience Evaluation Methods
There are various ways to approach the evaluation of the user experience, so just how do you know what’s appropriate for your B2B website? Let’s first talk about the different evaluation methods that are available to you.
According to this study that examined various evaluation methods of participants at the 2009 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), people are partial to:
- Lab studies
- Field studies
- Mixed methods
- Expert evaluations
We’ll get into the exact particulars of each method shortly.
It has to be pointed out the results from this study don’t make up a representative sample since they were just a few dozen participants at the aforementioned conference a few years back. Nonetheless, the data produced by this special interest group of both academic and industry people offers us a very solid basis from which to proceed in terms of what evaluation method is popular, effective and right for your B2B.
Out of the few dozen participants:
- 11 were fond of using lab studies with individuals to evaluate their website user experience
- 2 were happy to use lab studies with groups of people to evaluate their website user experience
- 13 enjoyed relying on short field studies to evaluate their website user experience
- 8 liked using longitudinal (repeatedly examining an aspect of the user experience with real people over a period of time) field studies to evaluate their website user experience
- 2 were fond of using online surveys to evaluate their website user experience
- 2 more went with using expert evaluations to analyze their website user experience
- 6 relied on “mixed methods” to evaluate their website user experience
A Note About the User Experience Versus Mere Usability
The study made the extremely valuable point that some companies make the mistake of confusing the actual user experience with mere usability. Both are entirely different beasts, as this definition of usability makes perfectly clear.
Usability is only about how easy (or not) the user interface is to learn and if it comes across as pleasant, thereby making usability a quality attribute. On the other hand, the user experience is much broader and covers all of the aspects of the user’s interaction with your website, not just whether your site is easy to learn and use or not.
Because of this marked difference between the user experience and mere usability, it also stands to reason that entirely different evaluations have to be done to test for either. While there are a lot of usability evaluations that are readily available, it’s not as clear-cut for user experience evaluations.
While it may be tempting to evaluate the user experience by logging time or using stopwatches when a person is trying to complete a specific task, that’s simply not how you should evaluate the user experience. That’s because, when you’re evaluating usability, you’d want to test for qualities such as effectiveness and efficiency. However, everything changes when you’re testing for the actual user experience, which is much broader.
That’s not to say that both effectiveness and efficiency in your B2B website aren’t important when we’re talking about the user experience. Of course, they are. It’s just that there are other qualities in addition to these practical ones that you must consider and test for when you’re evaluating your B2B website’s user experience. For one thing, hedonistic characteristics have to be included when evaluating your site’s user experience, thus making the evaluation somewhat subjective.
Hedonistic characteristics would include site qualities such as:
- What style of design your B2B website features (minimalism, flat, modern, etc.)
- How attractive and aesthetically pleasing your site is to the buyer’s eyes
- How nice the color contrast on your B2B website is
This bullet list is by no means complete, but you now get the general idea of how the inclusion of these hedonistic considerations will make a user experience evaluation very subjective because you’re essentially trying to evaluate what and how the buyer feels about your site.
Another thing to keep in mind for any B2B website evaluation is that the user experience will always be dependent on the specific context the user is going through while on your site. This just means that a user’s experience with your site design may well be different…in different situations.
It’s generally recommended that the user experience not solely be measured by just observing the user’s ability to complete a task in the laboratory.
Now that you know all of this, we can finally jump into the specific examples of evaluation methods.
User Experience Evaluation Method #1: Lab Studies With Individuals or Groups
In spite of the problems with testing the user experience in the controlled and somewhat unrealistic setting of the lab, lab studies are still very popular for evaluating the user experience, according to the aforementioned CHI 2009 study.
This is always an option for any B2B that wants to get a straightforward assessment of its website, even though lab studies cater more to testing usability as opposed to the actual user experience.
In a lab setting, what usually happens is that you try to test your B2B website’s user experience by getting individuals or groups to perform specific tasks, normally across several iterations of different user interfaces. They’re then encouraged to think aloud, so that your researchers can understand exactly what they’re thinking as they go through each step.
One criticism of this type of evaluation method is that it hampers you from understanding what your users are feeling as they’re navigating your B2B website.
It greatly helps to expand this type of evaluation method to also include experiential insights from the study participants. This refers to specifically paying attention to your users’ facial expressions while they’re thinking out loud and navigating your B2B website, for instance.
We also have to point out that those lab studies where only one individual would try to complete a specific task on your B2B website are more popular than lab studies where entire groups are tasked to do something. Only where social interactions were the focus of the evaluation were groups used in an evaluation.
User Experience Evaluation Method #2: Short and Longitudinal Field Studies
One of the biggest criticisms against testing the user experience of a B2B website in the lab is that it obviously fails to properly mimic real-life conditions. Therefore, some of the results obtained in a lab setting aren’t always accurate and can be limiting.
One of the biggest criticisms against testing the user experience of a B2B website in the lab is that it obviously fails to properly mimic real-life conditions.
Of course, sometimes, companies don’t necessarily have the luxury of doing a field study because the lab is all that’s convenient for them. That’s where field studies come into the picture as an alternative way of doing a user experience evaluation.
Field studies are basically user experience evaluations outside the lab with real people in real situations. They’re preferable because evaluating the user experience comes down to context-dependent situations, which can’t be accurately reproduced in a lab.
For instance, if your user is trying to research something from your B2B website while in a noisy coffee shop, his user experience will be enormously different than if he was trying to navigate your site in the quiet confines of a controlled lab setting.
User experience evaluation methods that incorporate field studies can be used to observe people on an interface for a certain period of time, just as they can be used solely for test sessions meant to observe users in a real context or the interface itself in a real context.
Many in the industrial and academic worlds are fond of running field study methods that rely on exploratory user research methods. One example is ethnography. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to establish a clear difference between exploratory user research and a real user experience evaluation.
When deciding on a field study for your B2B website, you should realize that exploratory user research refers to just understanding the lives of your buyers, but the user experience refers to understanding specifically how your B2B website fits into their lives.
User Experience Evaluation Method #3: Surveys
This is pretty straightforward enough: If you want to understand how your buyers interacted with your B2B website, you just ask them questions about their experience, right? The beauty is that surveys empower your business to receive buyer feedback in just a short period of time, when the experience of using your website is still fresh in the minds of your buyers. This makes this evaluation method desirable.
Unsurprisingly, it’s online surveys that are most effective when it comes to gathering data from participants in a user experience evaluation since your users can be anywhere on the planet. While these online surveys are naturally an extension to evaluating B2B website experiences, be sure to make these surveys accessible.
Don’t subject your study participants to needing special equipment before they can take your user experience surveys. At most, they should just be able to click on a link to get to the survey after using your B2B website.
You may want to look into two types of surveys:
- The full questionnaire (example: AttrakDiff)
- Emocards (getting emotional information from a questionnaire)
User Experience Evaluation Method #4: Expert Evaluations
It goes without saying that the type of evaluation that you’ll likely feel will give you the most peace of mind is one done by an expert. Expert evaluations can be a timesaver as well as a matter of convenience, seeing as how it can be a real challenge sometimes to get together your B2B website’s target user demographic for a user experience test.
Usability experts can therefore be pretty valuable during the earlier stages of your B2B website design and development, when your prototype website can still be difficult to use.
Here’s the deal: It’s in your best interest as a B2B to first get an expert evaluation done on your user interface before the actual user experience evaluation starts. Since an expert evaluation strictly looks at usability, it’s a definite must to make sure that you have no usability problems during the real user experience evaluation, which can be quite expensive.
The last thing you want is a botched user experience evaluation because you were blind to usability issues that you failed to discover.
It’s in your best interest as a B2B to first get an expert evaluation done on your user interface before the actual user experience evaluation starts.
Like some of the other evaluation methods we’ve covered so far, the expert evaluation is hampered a bit by an inadequacy. Because experiences will vary based upon the users themselves and their daily, personal lives, there’s unfortunately no agreed-on set of user experience heuristics to assist in these expert evaluations. As such, there’s the chance that each expert evaluation will be inconsistent from one study to the next.
That’s why we recommend that you specifically define the attributes that evaluators have to pay attention to during a test, so that the results are meaningful. Once there’s a standard set of agreed-on attributes, then expert evaluators can offer their insightful analysis or even come up with the attributes for the user experience evaluation themselves.
User Experience Evaluation Method #5: Mixed Methods
Finally, you also have the choice of mixed methods for your user experience evaluation. Sometimes, a combination of the most popular evaluation methods can yield the best results for testing out your B2B website design effectively.
One such example of a hybrid evaluation method is one where you simply observe your site’s buyers and then gather feedback from them about their experiences through online surveys.
Sometimes, a combination of the most popular evaluation methods can yield the best results for testing out your B2B website design effectively.
The thing about any user experience evaluation method is that you can’t really wrap your head around what your buyers were feeling as they navigated through your B2B website. It’s certainly not possible from merely observing them during an evaluation.
That’s why online surveys, questionnaires or interviews are essential to evaluating more than just the usability of your B2B website, which you can do by merely observing your buyers.
In short, mixed methods involving observations and feedback collection will provide your B2B with the most in-depth information of any user experience evaluation method. Of course, you’ll have to spend more time and money on mixed methods, but it’s well worth it in the end if you want to get as much granular information about the user experience of your site as possible.
One of the most important aspects of running any successful B2B is making sure that your web design is good. It has to ensure a great user experience because your entire business depends on the performance of your site.
After all, remember this: Your B2B website is your salesperson. You want to make sure that your buyers find everything they want in the easiest and most efficient way possible.
To do that, you need to evaluate the user experience of your website. Our blog post highlighted five unique ways to do just that, every way being dependent in some way, shape or form on your company’s situation and convenience.
While lab studies may not be the most ideal, they sure are easier to set up than getting your real buyers to participate in a field-study situation. Of course, that would be the most accurate way to test out your site’s user experience, but they’re not always possible.
At the end of the day, any type of user experience evaluation method is better than just designing and developing your B2B website without any testing. That would be the worst possible thing to do, and we advise you to avoid that at any cost.