When it comes to doing website testing and gathering feedback, some of the most common advice is to get a lot of feedback, so that you have a volume of data to look at.

This is a good start, but what website owners typically overlook is the lack of diversity in their feedback gathering.

Each and every one of us carries bias around with us, and it is affecting your website testing results.


One of the best books you can read to understand this perspective bias is Dan Pink’s book, Drunk Tank Pink.

In this book, Dan explains the “unseen” forces – which in website testing, I often call biases – that shape all of our perceptions, from thoughts to feelings to actual behavior. What I like about the book is that he divides the forces into three neat sections: the world within us, the world between us, the world around us.

The World Within Us

This is the first part of Dan’s book, and these are the biases that are totally unseen – we don’t even know we have many of them. For example, I am left handed, so for me, so many things in the world seem awkward to me. Online not so much, but sometimes I do see something and wonder who the heck designed it that way!

Here are some other examples of biases we all have and don’t really know about: our education (making your web copy seem too simple or too complicated), our experience with your product or a related product (obvious but sometimes overlooked), where we live (maybe my city doesn’t offer the service you have, so it’s new to me, or maybe your approach feels weird to me – “we don’t do it like that here”).

Once you start thinking about it, you might realize that everyone has so many biases, it is impossible to please anybody. Now you are starting to think like a website tester! 🙂

For website owners, I see the biggest difference in bias between potential/new customers and old/existing customers. Having a site that caters to the needs of both is a big challenge that if you surpass, you are doing great.

The World Between Us

The world between us refers to fact that our behavior is different when we are in the presence of others – and it may vary depending on who those other people are. I’m sure your personality changes just a bit when you’re with your parents, no matter what age you are. 🙂

For website testing, this comes in to play when you have conditions that could make your user uncomfortable. For example, if your site targets moms, you want to make sure a mom would be comfortable using your site with a kid hovering over a shoulder or under their arm. (That’s always a good test, by the way – can they use the site while VERY distracted?)

The World Around Us

Last but certainly not least is the world around us. These are the responses to the things happening to your senses immediately that are triggering reactions. Here are some examples I have noted from recent client projects:

  • The room testers were using was too cold. Because people were cold and in a hurry to leave, the feedback was skewed – people were saying anything to get out of that room. Unhappy testers = unhappy results.
  • I’m working with a finance startup who is publishing an app where you can check stock prices. They are doing user groups in a relaxed setting (in a rental apartment) with wine and canapes. Why? Because it best simulates an environment where you’d be randomly checking your phone. Also, give someone a glass of wine and they relax, so the feedback is a little more off the cuff. For this project, it’s working well.
  • I once did a big project with a restaurant chain and we found we got different feedback – consistently – from our morning groups than we did or late afternoon groups. We deduced that our morning groups had just had breakfast, where as our afternoon group was hungry for happy hour. No wonder the hungry people were lingering over those photo galleries and clicking over to Pinterest!

The biggest elephant in this room is color. People ask me about color all the time – color is important, but people often perceive color differently – for example, orange in America is often perceived as happy and bright, whereas in the Netherlands the immediate reaction is royalty. The list goes on – moral of the story: stop overanalyzing your color choices.

How are you dealing with bias?

In conclusion, when it comes to getting website feedback, don’t forget to think about the person at the other end of the keyboard. We all come to your site with years of experiences behind us, and it colors how we think. So, don’t hold it against us when we don’t understand or are confused. It’s just how we’ve been programmed.