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An Easy Way to Uncover Problem Areas in Your Company’s Website

By Josh  |   Business Website Tips | Website Improvement


Is this you?

  • You genuinely want your business’s website to perform better
  • You don’t know what parts of your website could be improved
  • You’re not quite sure how you could improve your site

If so, I’ve got a simple process that will allow you to pinpoint potential website problems—so you don’t have to guess as to what’s working and what’s not.

What’s the process? It’s a simple, informal usability study you’ll conduct on your own with a computer, a couple chairs, and some beer. Or a cookie. (Or similar form of bribery.)

The requirements

The simple process can provide you with invaluable insight, but I warn you that not only will it take a bit of your time, it’ll also require a bit of bravery, and a strong shell—as if often sets people up to hear things they don’t want to hear.

Here’s what you need to do…

Invite a friend or colleague over to your office. It can be anyone you know, really, so long as he or she is not familiar with your company’s website.

This person is now your Test User.  For the sake of today’s blog post, let’s pretend your Test User’s name is Rutherford.

Sit dear Rutherford down in front of a computer and hand him a beer/donut/cookie/glass of whiskey/[enter his or her treat of choice here]. Fire up your website and have a seat next to your friend.

Now, give Rutherford a task to complete.  The most important thing to remember here is this: make sure the task(s) you assign to Rutherford match the types of tasks your actual site visitors want to complete.

You might ask Rutherford to…

  • make a purchase
  • determine the nearest store that sells your product
  • figure out if you offer XYZ service or not
  • tell you what the first step is in initiating the sales process with your company
  • explain how your company is different than your competitors

Quietly watch Rutherford as he navigates about your site while trying to complete the task.

Don’t talk.
Don’t make faces.
Just notice.

Just notice what he clicks, where he stalls, where he seems confused, etc.

Repeat this task with 2 other friends or colleagues and look for patterns.

It’s very, VERY important you tell Rutherford this

To help ensure that the information you collect from these informal usability tests, make sure you stress to Rutherford that he truly, literally can do absolutely no wrong. He cannot fail.

Make it clear that if he can’t complete a task, it’s due to problems with your site, not with him.

If you fail to emphasize this point before you begin, Rutherford will likely feel performance-conscious or embarrassed. There’s a high likelihood he may freeze or act differently than he normally would.

Oh the things you’ll learn

These free (well, free except for the beer or cookies) usability sessions will provide you with some gold nuggets that will allow you to move forward confidently in improving your website. 

You’ll gain valuable insight into how real people—outside of those at your company—see your website with outside eyes. (You know that big  yellow button at the top of your home page that everyone will *obviously* want to click? Let us know how it feels when Rutherford’s and your other two friends’ eyes gloss over it completely...)

Many of you will be shocked at the difference between how you assume people use your site… and how people actually use your site.

How to use what you learn

Don’t feel like you need to fix every single problem uncovered, or look into every aspect of your website your test users didn’t understand.

Instead, focus on the top 2 – 3 issues that came up. Fixing those problems are where you’ll see the most ROI.

Frustration = your raw material for improvement

Don’t feel frustrated by what you learn. Instead, feel grateful.

Use the insight you gather from these informal usability sessions to guide future updating decisions as you continually work to improve your website’s effectiveness over time.

Still feeling frustrated? Not sure where to start? Want someone else to do this work for you? Drop us a line, let’s chat.

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