Q: When evaluating a web site, what is the correct process to create tasks for a user test?

The process for creating appropriate tasks for a user test for a web site is slightly different than the process for creating tasks for a software application. On a web site, you have the advantage of being able to view web analytics and traffic data to pinpoint specific problem pages (for example, pages where users leave the site, or pages where conversion rates are lower than they should be).

Whenever possible, use this kind of data to help you pinpoint probable issues with workflow that you want to capture through task observation. But don’t stop there. To create usability tests with the biggest bang for the buck in terms of ROI, consider the most frequent and important tasks that users will do on the site. It’s critical to develop tasks to test that rate very high in at least one of these areas, although some tasks might rate high in both areas.

Consider a site like PayPal. A frequent task might be buying or selling a product, while an important task would be registering to use the site. In this case, making sure frequent tasks are efficient ensures that existing users won’t leave the site and take their business elsewhere, while improving the ease of use of infrequent, but important, tasks will draw new business.

Ideally, building a list of tasks to test should be a multi-disciplinary affair. Solicit feedback from Technical Support on what the top trouble spots are. Get Marketing to tell you where they are looking to increase revenue streams – and by what percentage – in specific areas of the site, so the tasks dovetail with marketing’s objectives. Ask Development if they have any concerns about particular features or functionality – they’ll likely tell you that there was a heated discussion about how a certain set of pages should work, or that they’re not so sure they really nailed down the interaction on a specific part of the site. We’re big proponents here of getting everyone involved and making all departments feel part of the process.

Lastly, don’t forget that before you start with tasks, you need to consider the users. Chances are good you may have more than one user type to consider, and depending on the site’s goals and the users’ goals, you may have to create separate sets of tasks for each user type.

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