Real Georgians, Real Results: Usability Testing for a Better Georgia.gov
Way back in early 2020, you might have noticed a refreshing, new look to the state flagship website, Georgia.gov. Now, in case a new website design doesn’t happen to stand out in your memory from that year (can’t imagine why…) here’s a quick run-down:
- April 2019: We started migrating Georgia state websites to the updated GovHub platform.
- November 2019: We launched the flagship site in GovHub as a “pilot,” while maintaining the existing website.
- March 2020: The pilot site became the new Georgia.gov, COVID-19 info and all.
That’s all nearly a year ago. Why am I talking about this now?
As we continue to tweak and build out new content for Georgia.gov, it’s worth sharing why. We recognize that this website is a vital resource for Georgians — now more than ever — and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Our design and content decisions come from research and testing with real users.
Between November 2019 and March 2020, the pilot website was our testing grounds. We included links on the Georgia.gov homepage and other pages throughout the site directing users to the updated display and organization of the pilot site, and tracked their interactions with site analytics.
While the analytics tools collected data on users’ behavior “in the wild,” we ran a few usability studies focused on key pages and specific content. We pre-screened participants to identify a group with the right spread of demographics and prior knowledge of the website to make sure we were talking with people who represented our typical users.
For each test, we spoke with a handful of participants over video call. (We were ahead of the times on that one.) This set-up wasn’t only convenient; it also gave participants the opportunity to interact with the website on their own device, in their own environment. We didn’t want to influence or persuade the participants during the testing, and making sure they were comfortable made them more likely to use the website as they normally would. We sent them a link to the homepage, hit the record button, and started the test.
Asking the Right Questions
The most important thing in making a user research study successful is to ask the right questions. What are your goals? What do you want to learn?
For our tests, we wanted to know:
- Can the user find key information?
- Do they understand the labels we use in the main menu?
- Does the page content match what they’d expect?
Those are broad, yes. During the actual test, we were more specific. We asked questions like:
- What do you expect to happen when you click “How-to Guides”?
- Does this statement make sense to you?
And gave them scenarios like:
- Your birthday is approaching and you know that your car registration is about to expire. You can’t recall how much that will cost to renew. What steps do you take to find out this information?
- You are a new business owner and would like to register your business name. Where is the first place that you would click?
Specific, unbiased, and from the perspective of the user.
Throughout each test, we took note of which tasks were easy, and which took some work. We watched where they scrolled, hovered, and clicked, took note of confused or surprised facial expressions, and asked them to talk through what they were thinking each step of the way. The key is looking for patterns and shared pain points from one person to the next.
Throughout the test, we look for answers to questions like:
- What is the first thing the user does once the page loads?
- Do users find the website to be intuitive?
- How long does it take users to complete the task?
- Where do they veer from the expected path?
When we put this together across multiple tests, we could start to see what worked and what didn’t.
It’s a Marathon
So that’s what we did a year ago. As a direct result of this research, we adjusted the design to promote most-needed information, changed our approach to how we explained multi-step processes, and clarified some confusing wording.
Since then, we’ve kept the site running and updated, addressing small changes as needed. (Make sure to check out Will’s post about one such change: How we use Alerts on Georgia.gov during COVID-19.)
Our next big step at this point will be to test an upcoming guide for moving to Georgia. Our historical site data plus Georgia’s ever-growing population confirm that people need this information in one easy-to-consume location.
We’re excited to keep learning about what people need and how they use the website. We’ll let you know what we find out!