Five Free Tools That Can Help You Improve… Everything!

Disclaimer: if you’re completely satisfied with your website’s performance; if you have all the sales you want; if you’re getting as many sign-ups, leads, or opt-ins as you’d like… you can skip this article.

Ok, if you’re still here, I want to turn you on to a class of incredibly useful & worthwhile resources that can help you improve virtually any online business effort, AND they won’t cost you a penny!

The quick backstory…

I’m something of a geek. A wonk. One of those guys who loves digging deep into the process, cause & effect, and mechanics of a business.

One topic that has always fascinated me is “usability testing”, something that has been a staple of the consumer products industry since the early days of market research and mass production.

The idea behind usability testing is to see how a consumer interacts with or uses a new product, by filming them actually using it, in whatever setting it was meant for.

This helps the manufacturer identify problems early on: if something didn’t work properly if instructions weren’t easy or clear, they could see precisely where the issues or hang-ups were.

Fast-forward to the early days of the “information age”: usability testing became an invaluable tool for the software industry, where developers struggled with things like how to make a user interface intuitive, or how to effectively convey instructions for using a complex program.

Years ago, while working for AT&T, I had a chance to visit Bell Labs “usability testing” facility.

It was a series of environments – an office cubicle, a home office, a conference room, etc. – that were wired to the teeth with cameras & monitors (I remember thinking, this looks like the film set for a B-grade sci-fi flick about Big Brother).

As I toured the Bell Labs facility, I was struck by this ‘new’ usability testing; instead of filming someone interacting with a physical product, where they would record what was on the screen while tracking the cursor and the user’s eye movements, so that they could see, for instance, exactly where someone paused, clicked, scrolled, where their eyes were focused, etc.

Back to the future…

Fast forward to the present day, and the explosion of eCommerce and online transactions, growing competition, and the increasingly important functions of conversion optimization.

That same usability testing set up becomes an ideal platform to see how a consumer interacts with a product page, a shopping cart, a sign-up form, etc.

Success like Amazon…?

One of the reasons so many people shop at Amazon – why they are so successful – is how well their shopping process works. And one of the reasons it works as well as it does is that it’s continually being improved, to the point that it is (usually…) a very good experience that not only walks you smoothly through the process but does so while maximizing revenue from every visit.

Amazon, and other large online businesses, spend millions of dollars testing, tracking, and improving their website layout & traffic flow, and optimizing conversions.

Unfortunately, most of us – small businesses and entrepreneurs – don’t have quite the same resources.

This brings me to point of this article.

Today we can accomplish virtually the same sophisticated usability testing – easily, and for the very modest investment of… nothing.

There are a number of apps that provide online usability tests, including recording & playback of visitor sessions that include cursor movements, clicks, scrolling, and more, ‘heatmaps’ showing where visitor attention is focused (and where it isn’t), and the ability to see where & when someone exits a page or abandons a shopping cart. We can even ‘watch’ visitors through an entire funnel or shopping sequence!

Interesting side-note: in a twist to the more-common “offline-to-online” path, CNN Money recently published an article about brick & mortar stores using security camera footage overlayed & tweaked, to implement the equivalent of online ‘heatmaps’:

Below is a list of companies that offer simple-to-employ yet amazingly effective ‘usability testing’ apps, either free or as a free trial.

Want to improve your opt-in rate? Watch how visitors interact with your landing page.

Want to decrease your abandoned carts? See exactly what’s happening and precisely where your buyers are bailing out.

Not sure why more prospects aren’t making their way to your ‘Buy’ button? See exactly how they’re going through your sales page and where they’re exiting.

I could go on; the point is this: there is virtually no better way to understand why your results are the way they are, or where changes & improvements should be made, than seeing users ‘in action’.

These apps offer a range of features, from recordings of visitor sessions that include cursor movements, clicks, scrolling, etc., to track a visitor through a funnel, to ‘heat maps’ showing where visitors attention is focused, and where it isn’t.

Implementation is as simple as pasting a snippet of provided code into your website, very similar to the process of installing Google Analytics, or a Facebook tracking pixel. As soon as that’s done, you are recording and in business!

I’ve been using these usability testing apps since they’ve become available and can say without hesitation, every website and online business I run is more effective, more profitable, and offers a better user experience, because of them. I simply can’t imagine launching a website or landing page without them!

Each of the sites listed below offer either a free plan, or a free trial – which means you have no excuse not to take advantage and leverage these terrific tools!

If you’re not entirely, completely, couldn’t-stand-it-if-things-got-any-better satisfied with your results, whether that translates to more sales, fewer bounces, more opt-ins, etc., check out one of these apps; I can almost guarantee you’ll see some surprises and ways to improve your metrics, whatever they are!

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