Recently I shared an article about how Expedia lost up to $12 million in a year due to an extra data field in their checkout process. Users of the website attempting to book flights didn’t know how to utilize the field. As a result they were inputting incorrect data into the address field that led to their credit cards being declined due to bad billing address information being submitted to the credit card companies.

At $12 million dollars, it was probably the most expensive usability test anyone has heard of.

Usability these days is not nearly as talked about as demand generation tactics or conversion optimization. Why? There are probably a few reasons for this.


Focus on Users? That’s Tree-Hugger Talk!

One reason could be because some marketers believe usability puts user’s needs ahead of the organization’s goals. But this is actually incorrect.

Usability as defined by the ISO as:

The extent to which a product (or website) can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

Simply put, it takes users into consideration when designing interfaces. That includes interfaces with marketing intent such as landing pages, checkout forms, navigational funnels. The list and correlations with marketing goals are endless.

So usability is really all about you AND your users.

That Usability Stuff Will Delay the Project!

Well, it can’t really delay your project if you had it incorporated into your project plan in the first place.

Usability testing only delays projects when it’s seen as an optional step in the process.

Even if it does delay the project, there’s probably a good reason why. Usability tests can uncover nasty flaws in your design that you never anticipated. And as Expedia has demonstrated, that can be a $12 million dollar mistake.

Translation. Usability could actually be helping you make more money (or lessen the likelihood of losing a significant amount).

We Don’t Need Usability. We Have Web Metrics.

Web metrics are quantitative, it only tells you what users did. It doesn’t tell you why users did certain things. Yes, online surveys will help gather user feedback, but it’s still not as good as having a conversation with users about what sucked or wasn’t working with your website.

Designers really don’t know how well their design will be accepted by users until users actually use them in action.

Another key point to remember is that launch dates typically are when there are the most eyeballs on your website b/c it usually coincides with a big marketing push. Couple this added attention on your website + a website that users have never seen before and the results could go very wrong.

How Do You Perform Usability Tests?

There are a few options, and you can use them independently or in tandem.

#1 – Ask Your Power Users

Whether you create a proof of concept that is a mockup of the real thing, or bring these users in during testing phases of the real thing. Recruiting power users into a focus group to review your website isn’t such a bad idea.

Here are some keys:

  • Recruit users who are the most vocal; their buy-in could help sell the website to other users later because they’ll likely endorse designs they’ve personally had a voice in creating
  • Don’t give them step by step procedures. Give them tasks to accomplish and let the design do the rest. If you have to give them a crib sheet to accomplish tasks, it defeats the purpose of good design
  • Throw in some users who’ve never been to your site before as a control group. If you’re having difficulty getting a control group together, use an online service such as It could help substantiate some of the claims your core group of users are making.

#2 – Run a Private Beta

  • Similar to having a focus group of power users. The major difference is that the site is semi-publicly available.
  • It’s usually open to a larger audience than a core focus group. If you have a CRM, invite a subset of the users in your CRM database to participate in the private beta.
  • Don’t forget to get more feedback during this round of testing.

#3 – Run a Public Beta

  • Best done when you’ve worked out most of the kinks with steps 1 & 2, a public beta opens the designs to a wider audience and gets your audience acclimated to the new design
  • Receiving feedback during this public beta will help fine-tune things

The key to all this testing is that it dilutes the HiPPO’s input as the major factor for decision making when it comes to design and let’s users provide critical input that will lead to your websites ultimate success.

So the next time you’re in a rush to push out that website. Just remember, one wrong design mis-step can really cost you. Asking users for feedback, can save more than just a few dollars.

Hey there, I'm Marc!

I'm the Director of Growth Channels @Hootsuite. I've worked in digital marketing since 2000 for agencies, startups and companies like Electronic Arts & SAP. Thanks for checking out my site where I share digital marketing strategies on how to increase website traffic and generate more revenue.


  1. That’s an interesting perspective. I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen evidence that Google rewards sites with higher rankings because they perform better based on their Google Analytics data.

    Not all sites use Google Analytics. And I’ve seen sites with very poor engagement metrics retain their #1 spots in Google.

  2. John Niaken says:

    Some good tips. I would add that usability really helps the SEO as google looks at the site data with their google analytics info and if a site preforms well they provide it with good rankings

  3. Jacob Creech says:

    Great article, very interesting.

    I’d like to add we find doing usability testing can actually help streamline our process because it means we are constantly in contact with our users and clients, and have metrics to back up our design – this means good sites are decided by real user feedback rather than ‘design by committee’ – a drawn out process at the best of times.

    I’m a little biased about which tool to use – we created our own at – I think it’s really useful in the situations you describe.

    Anyway, thanks again for the article, it really is good stuff. I love seeing people talk more about usability.


  4. Rebecca Gill says:

    Great article for website owners and developers alike. Sometimes a good old fashion time out and second look is best.

  5. I have a friend who is a Usability expert and heads her own in-demand Usability company. I recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions. When I postulated the question regarding her primary focus for Usability. She answered that before Usability was even considered, her main criteria is always to make sure that the customer gets to where ever they need to be in the maximum of 3 clicks. This I had heard of multiple times before, however when it is issued from a Usability Master, the whole concept potentizes and becomes an absolutely integral Usability ingredient. Thank You.

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