SO, HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE? THOUGHTS ON HOW TO DESIGN A WEBSITE THAT WORKS.
To the detriment of many small to mid-sized companies, they simply don’t have the time or resources to properly plan and test their websites user experience (often referred to as the websites UX). Because of this what ends up happening is that the website designer/developer will create a site that is based on his or her own preferences and beliefs, without fully understanding what someone not familiar with the website or the company will experience. This can lead to a website not addressing the key issues of the end user, therefore costing sales, leads, or other valuable information.
When creating a website there are many things that need to be thought through from the eyes of someone who is looking for answers or solutions to their issues, but doesn’t have them yet. Once you feel you can address these issues you will need to design your site in such a way that it presents this information in an easily accessible manner. If you can’t accomplish this, there’s a very good chance the end user won’t be able to use your site as you’ve intended, and you have failed in whatever your desired outcome was to be.
In the initial planning of a site you need to ask yourself and your colleagues some key questions that will help determine who you are creating the site for, such as:
- What does the end user actually need from our site?
- What does the website need to do for the end user?
- Who are the target customers, and what is unique about them?
- What are the problems they are having, and how can we give them a path to help solve them?
- What are the most common problems, and what is a good solution we can provide?
- When and where do they use our product?
- How do they use our product?
- How do we expect they will be purchasing or gaining access to our product, and how often?
- When and where are they accessing our site?
- What are they accessing our site with?
After asking these questions and getting a better understanding of the direction of the website, it would be beneficial to do mock-ups to present to workers within the company. Having their feedback on what they are seeing and experiencing will make sure that you’re not creating something that works better in your head than it does in reality. This can be accomplished by gathering other people’s opinions through surveys, observations, or interviews.
Another invaluable tool is to gather the above information while going through your company’s day-to-day routines. Whether it be a phone call or an email you’re constantly collecting, this is data whether you realize it or not. Another option at this time is to send surveys to existing customers or utilize any other methods of communication you may have to gather valuable feedback. Events like trade shows are wonderful for getting in front of your audience and having the time to actually listen to what their needs are. The key here is to actually listen to exactly what the issues are and start recording them, so that when you create your site you’ll have a great starting point for addressing them.
Once you’ve gathered your data you’ll need to really put some time into how it’s presented on your site. You’ll need to make sure that you’re presenting it in the most logical and easy way possible for it to be accessed by the end user. You’ll also need to consider things like:
- How it’s being viewed
- How fast it loads
- What are the options you’ve built in for various screen sizes and devices?
- Does the technology you’re using scale and function across different device types and platforms?
- Does the technology you’re using work well with the different browsers?
Testing here is critical as you don’t want to be building a website that only functions correctly for some people and not others. With the introduction of liquid or responsive websites a lot of the issues we used to have are being phased out, but you still have to think about issues like placement on page, as no one is going to use a form sitting on the bottom of a page that scrolls forever. You really need to focus on the issues we outlined above and keep asking yourself if you’re making it as simple as possible for the end user to find what they are looking for and accomplish the goals they’re trying to accomplish.
A good example of failure would be a site I worked on many years ago where the designer had put many many hours into mocking up a website only to have it presented to the client with no home button present. I’m sure in his head he knew his way around the site from front to back without hesitation. I almost didn’t have the heart to ask how he expected the end user to get back to the homepage. For him, at that time, it was simply by pulling up the printed homepage image and presenting it. Mind you, I realize that the browsers back button will accomplish this, but I would never assume it will be on the mind of the user to hit back once he’s several clicks into the site. Needless to say, the actual fix wasn’t ideal, nor was it quick as it took a redesign of the entire top menu system to add the home button in. I can’t stress enough that you need to walk your way through the site slowly, regardless of how you think it’s going to work.
WE HAVE A WEBPAGE! WE HAVE A GOOD START.
So, you’ve done your research and planning and created a site that you think is going to work for you and your site’s visitors. Here’s where the rubber meets the road.
Now is the time when you can start getting way more feedback than you would ever imagined possible. Through various methods you can start to see if your site is working as you had intended. One of the most reliable ways is through web analytics.
Web analytics will show you what the end user “is” doing and not just what they “say” they are doing. While this will help you understand what they are doing, it will not answer “why” they are doing it. A lot of the metrics you’ll find here can tell you what parts of your site are working and what parts are not. Below I’ll list some of the metrics and what they might mean for you.
- Page hits – Will tell you how often a section of site is being visited. This would be a good time to look at the pages with the most visits and look to understand why. It’s also a good time to make sure that the page has simple and easy to access conversion points.
- Unique visitors – How many of your visitors are new versus returning. While it’s great to have both, you can start to understand the nature of your site’s traffic.
- Average time on site – Are the people getting to your site finding content that keeps them engaged?
- Average time on page – Is the content per page quality enough to keep a user engaged?
- Bounce rates. – How many people landed on your site and immediately left from the same page without taking any action? While this is often not a good thing, you should always consider that the reason they bounced is because they found the exact information they needed and didn’t have to look further.
- Referring sites – Helps you determine where you traffic is coming from.
- What keywords are bringing them to the site?
Analyzing this data will help you understand what pages on the site are performing and what pages are not. It will give information that will help you build a better site by clearly laying out your sites strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to continue to work on the areas of your site needing help.
Beyond analytics you can ask almost anyone to test your site for usability. What I like to do is sit down with them and run through a series of specific scenarios on how they would accomplish different actions on the website. Some of the questions you should focus on are things like:
- What do you think this is for or will do?
- How would you use this?
- Ask them to perform common actions such as a search on your site.
- Ask them how they would expect things on the site to work to accomplish a certain task.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of “why did you do that?”
Finally, encourage people who visit your website to give feedback through forms, email, or phone calls.
Keep at this as long as you’re getting feedback and watch your site continue to grow as it becomes more about fulfilling what the end user needs and less about what you think they need. As always, good luck.