Review: Check Out This Usability Testing Tool

I knew for a while that I wanted to try out, based on the referrals from my friends at Closed Loop Marketing and various blogs on usability I read (Future Now, Usability Post), but I never really had the opportunity to go ahead and get on it.

A former client wanted to to hire me again for SEO, despite the higher return provided by usability / conversion optimization, so I decided I’d go ahead and put the site to the test and see if it might not convince him of the value in usability testing.

(They’re a former client because I let them go once they were ranking well and I wanted to work on other projects.)

The site in question is for this downtown Montreal hotel, the Hotel de Paris. (Yes, I realize Montreal is not Paris; that’s the original name.)

Rather than drone on about how incredibly valuable the service was, I’m going to share the raw data of 1 of the users I tested and let that speak for itself.

And the written summary provided by Tatiana, the tester:

What would have caused you to leave this site?

* I really wanted to see the special offers for this site, but clicking on that didn’t bring anything up.

* The text was also hard to read as there wasn’t much contrast between the background and the text colour on most of the pages, and all of the lists were horizontal (prose format) instead of vertical (bulleted lists) which saves space but makes it hard to quickly compare different choices.

* Having to agree to a policy that is written with abbreviations that I can’t decipher would have made me leave for a site where I didn’t have to guess what I was agreeing to.

* I don’t really like the idea of making an account on a site that I may only use once or at most once per year. I have enough accounts to keep track of online as it is.

What other ideas do you have about how this site could be improved?

* I had a real problem making comparisons between options on this site because of the way the information was formatted which started to become quite frustrating. Maybe adding icons or reformatting the lists so that they can be easily scanned would help.

[Me: Reformatting in a vertical table format for easy scanning would probably be a positive change; icons can help too if the legend explaining them is obvious enough.]

* The pictures on the front page were nice, but it wasn’t clear what the second picture was. It looked like a restaurant of some sort but didn’t say where. A label of some kind would have helped.

What did you like about the site?

* I liked that you could book online (although some of the dropdown menus didn’t work) and that availability was shown on the calendar.
* I liked that I could see the price breakdown before I paid. Especially since that seems to be the only place to find out about the taxes being charged and because the price looked wrong and it was a good way to check the calculations.

Anything else you would like to say to the owner of the site?

* I may have this wrong, but to me ‘double occupancy @ $89′ always meant that the price listed was per person (so the price for the room was 2x$89). But on your site when I book a room for two people, the price breakdown at ordering time shows 1x$89 for that same room for two people.

This seems wrong and the discrepancy affected which room I booked.

My Conclusion: I love the service and plan to use it much more in the future!

While I’d picked up some things like the non-working special offers button and limited amount of room pictures, other problems she raised were novel to me.

To wit:

- I hadn’t considered that outsiders to the hotel wouldn’t know there’s a little restaurant/bistro on the premises. Tatiana’s confusion about the bistro picture shows a need for clearer captions than “Experience the charm of Montreal.”

To the same effect, the separate explanation about the bistro on the Hotel Highlights page is clearly insufficient.

- The pricing clarity is obviously an essential issue for any online transaction, but as I’m single and only book rooms for one person, the per person/double occupancy pricing problem never occurred to me.

Other problems I noticed myself while reviewing the site, but this test clarified their importance.

- I guessed that the abbreviation Cxl probably meant cancel. But outsiders to the hospitality industry can’t be expected to know insider jargon.

(This is also true for mystery meat navigation, like date based blog archives.) Furthermore, as Tatiana’s video and written report highlight, this is something that could lose the sale.

- In the same vein, the pricing clarity thing is immensely important because you’re affecting your average order size if people think the rates are per person instead of the rate for the room.

The bottom line is that is an easy way to double your bottom line.

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