Useability testing for small websites and newspapers

Online Journalism Review continues its occasional but helpful series on how to test web sites during redesign with an article describing about how the The Decatur (Ala.) Daily (weekday print circ 20,500) found cheap and cheerful ways to get feedback. The paper got a graduate student at the University of Alabama journalism school to ramrod the project.  Under the guidance of faculty advisor Wilson Lowery, that student, Steve Stewart, used cheap online tools like SurveyMonkey to solicit email feedback and took lessons from useability testing books (notably: “Don’t make me think,” by Steve Krug).

One immediate success of this Jschool-newspaper collaboration was that, Stewart, the newly-minted J-school grad, got a job as Internet supervisor of the site he helped redesign.

Stewart authored the OJR piece and in it he passes on many useful tips that any weekly, small daily or Web zine could use to make its site more navigable, including this notion from useability consultant Jared Spool:

“The [metric] that’s probably the most useful is what people are typing into your search box,” (he) said. When people search for something, it’s because they can’t find it on the current page. “If you know what page they were on when they typed it, they’re telling you what page it should have been on.”

Here is another link to Stewart’s OJR piece which is well worth reading for anyone embarked on a Web site redesign.

I see a couple of other lessons here, for:

— journalism students; look who got the job.

— for journalism schools; can you partner with local media?

— for older working journalists (like me!); do not rest on your newsgathering or editing laurels; get new media capable. That doesn’t mean becoming a useability expert but there are skills like basic picture grabs, possibly sound and video grabs, and posting text and photos to blogs that hiring editors will simply demand of any reporter or editor. Copy editors, in particular, need to brush up because they are increasingly laying out pages for print and online. (I wrote about the new hiring requirements here.)

Reporters: here is another set of suggested skills posed as a challenge by media blogger and newspaper guy Howard Owens. I’ll say more about his challenge later but wanted to park it here for those who haven’t seen it earlier.