The article is Part 2 in our mini-series entitled Three things every website owner should consider.
It’s all about looking beyond the regular ‘on page’ SEO topics that dominate the web. When we consider real users and don’t focus so heavily on search bots, we can start to make changes that add real value to our websites and its users experience.
Testing websites is big business. A / B testing is huge, along with heat maps, in depth studies of analytics and a whole host of other strategies. Some are relatively cheap, even free to implement, but all require a certain level of skill and most importantly ‘data’.
Data is the big one here. You will need a certain amount of traffic to be able to gain sufficient insight into user patterns. It can work well for small sites when you know what you’re doing, but it’s also easy to make mistakes and presumptions.
The good news is that there is something much easier you can do when looking to understand your own sites ‘User Experience’.
Warning – Prepare yourself for this. It can be quite alarming to see people using your website.
Chances are you built your website or at least played an important role in developing the layout or content. You know where everything is and the quickest way to get to it, but remember, it’s not about you. With websites it’s all about them – the users!
There are characteristic menu items that users are familiar with: Home, About, Contact etc.. They know what to expect on these pages. But are these pages what your site visitors are looking for? People make a big deal about the Home button “Oh I must have a home button”. On many websites, the Home page is just a landing page and doesn’t contain the actual content your site visitors are after. How often do you return to Amazon’s, Ebay’s or even Wikipedia’s home page (I bet very few of you have even seen Wikipedia’s). We’ll return to the Home page dilemma later.
So what content should be easily accessible?
Well this all depends and it’s going to be a common theme throughout Improving User Experience.
The only way to know for sure is to create what you think is ideal and then let those users at it. A great way of doing this is to invite people to come and try your website in a face to face scenario. Yup, I’m suggesting real people people that you can observe, talk to, challenge and get a real insight into their experience and opinion.
For many small to medium sized businesses, this is not going to be a huge production or in any way expensive. You may need to absorb the cost of a few packets of biscuits or cakes and some extra Tea and Coffee, but that’s about it.
Who you choose can be tricky, but Friends and Family are a good place to start. Neighbours can be another good option if you’re happy to invite them into your home, or you can pack your laptop and make the effort to visit people when it’s convenient for them.
You need to have a good strategy in place before you begin. It’s all about:
- Understanding how the user navigates your website
- How easy they find it to use
- Is everything obvious
- What frustrates them
- Is the call to action clear
- What surprised them
- What was missing
Don’t let them just fiddle with it. A cat on the keyboard would be just as effective. You need create a scenario, build the goal and set the challenge.
A Hypothetical Example
Let’s say your website offers tour guide services in your area. You set the scene by telling your test user that they will be visiting the area and looking to do a tour as part of their visit. Now it’s time for those questions:
- Ask them to find a tour that sounds appealing to them
- Ask them to see what information is available on the website about the company
- What sort of experience does the tour guide have
- What level of satisfaction is offered and how satisfied have others been
- Now ask them to go back to the tour they liked
- How easy was this to do
- If they needed to ask a question about the tour, what would they do at this stage
- Ask them to book the tour
- How easy is this process for them
- What feedback did they get from the website after the booking was made (if you don’t actually complete the booking in the test, you could show them an example of any confirmation emails they would receive and tell them how quickly they would arrive)
- Did they think the confirmations were adequate
- Would they expect to receive anything else in advance of the Tour
- What other information can they find out about the company by doing a google search
Site owners are often wary about that last question, but don’t be fooled into thinking your potential customer won’t do this, they will! This is why it’s good to have many Social Media Profiles and listings on prominent websites. They’ll most likely make up the bulk of the first page of results.
If someone searches for ‘reviews of businessX’, this will highlight how important it is for you to gain positive reviews on places like you Google Business page.
The important thing during this process is to remain neutral. Don’t offer help or make any suggestions other than to pose the question. Be careful with your tone. If you sound anxious or deflated after a response to one of the questions, it will affect how accurately your test user conveys their experience from this point on. There’s no point manipulating the results or they’ll be of no use to you.
It’s quite likely that some test users will offer their opinion about the design or style of your website. You may get a suggestion to use their favourite Christmas Card font or a particular shade of Pink they find appealing. All these things should be accepted gracefully and add to your ‘ideas’ sheet, which of course doesn’t exist.
If however, more than one person suggests a similar change or addition, then the merits of it should be considered (apart from the Christmas Card font which could say more about your choice of friends / test users than your website).
Once you have the answers from as wide a range of test users as you can accumulate, you can look at what changes you need to make and start improving your website.
A key point here is how often did they need to return to the Home page. If it was their main source for direction and guidance, you need to look carefully at what you can do to make other information easily accessible from any page. Whether this involves reviewing your main menu items or to include a secondary menu (in a sidebar for instance), all depends on where the need for better navigation occurred.
If your test users never returned to the home page, is its prominent placement in the main menu as important as we have all been led to believe? If removing it is a step too far for you, perhaps consider reducing it to an icon. These are now as familiar to web surfers as the words Home, About and Contact.
It’s surprising what this sort of testing can yield. Real people using a real website in a real environment. It’s all very natural and easy for us as real website owners to understand. There’s a lot of ‘reals’ in there and thats because the reality is, only when we observe users can we see how we too improve things. We might consider the ‘mistakes’ they make to be foolish. Perhaps they did not realise that something could be clicked or hovered over for more information, but we are the fools if we don’t address these such things and make our interface more intuitive for them.
At a recent conference I attended by Yoast in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, Karl Gilis of AG Consult demonstrated how even the largest of online enterprises see great improvements by making subtle changes to page content and layout.
It’s all about learning from your website users, so
- Evaluate the improvement
This is a great way to develop the CORE of your websites User Experience and your online business model.
Stay tuned next week for the 3rd and final article “The Power Of Consistency” in this 3-part mini-series.