MedlinePlus is a consumer health website produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), available in both English and Spanish. As part of our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, we recently added meta descriptions to our health topic pages. A meta description is a short HTML attribute in the head tag that describes the contents of a web page. When the meta description is not available or is poorly written, search engines automatically generate their own version to describe what is on a web page.
Over the course of the last year, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has sought to increase its use of usability testing to improve the user experience on our Web resources. To do this, we conducted hallway usability testing10-tips-for-creating-the-perfect-open-opportunity-task/) at the NIH Clinical Center on NLM’s site search feature. Our goal is to update the user interface and improve user satisfaction with results. We set out to learn the specific difficulties and successes users have with our search interface through user testing.
Usability testing has provided our organization many important insights to improve our Web presence. Since the early 2000s, the National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s Web teams have actively sought and used usability testing tools; we have run “full service” usability testing almost yearly for various Web properties for sites such as NIHSeniorHealth.gov and MedlinePlus.gov. In recent years we gained new insights about mobile device usability through GSA’s First Fridays usability testing program (now called the DigitalGov User Experience Program), and through testing responsive Web designs with the help of a usability firm.