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The DIY Way To Uncover Problem Areas In Your Website

By Erin  |   Website Improvement

Boy working at his computer, testing his website

Sound like you?

  1. Your company currently has a small website
  2. You genuinely want your website to perform better
  3. You’re not quite sure how you could improve your site
  4. You’re not ready to invest a lot of money into your site at the moment

If so, I’ve got a quick and simple way to help you pinpoint potential problems.

The simple process I’m about to recommend can provide you with invaluable insight, but I warn you that it does take a bit of bravery and a strong shell as it’ll set you up to hear things you don’t want to hear.

Here’s what you do

Invite a friend, acquaintance, or colleague over to your house or office. It can be anyone, really, so long as he or she is not familiar with your site and so long as they (at least roughly) match up with your site’s target demographics.

Sit your friend down in front of a computer and hand him a beer/donut/cookie/glass of whiskey/enter-their-treat-of-choice here. Fire up your website. Have a seat next to your friend.

Task Time

Now, give your friend a task to complete.

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

Make sure the tasks you assign your friend match up with the types of tasks your actual site visitors want to complete.

Quietly watch your friend as he navigates about your site while trying to complete the task. Don’t talk. Don’t make faces. Just make note what he clicks, when he clicks, where he stalls, what seems to confuse him, where he keeps hitting the back button, etc.

Now repeat this task with a minimum of 2 other friends and look for patterns.

Make it crystal clear they can do no wrong

To help ensure that the information you collect from these informal usability tests is useful, make sure you emphasize that they truly, absolutely can do no wrong. They cannot fail.

Even if you don’t believe it (yet), make sure you tell them that if they can’t complete a task, it’s due to problems with your site, not with them. If you fail to stress this point before you begin, your friends will almost always feel performance-conscious or embarrassed, causing them to freeze or act differently than they normally would. I’ve watched this happen, and it definitely decreases the value of your observations.

Most people find the results of these free (well, free except for the beer or cookies) DIY usability sessions absolutely fascinating.  The process allows website owners to see how actual website visitors see their sites with outside eyes.

It can sting

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

You know that massive yellow button at the top of your home page that you know everyone will obviously want to click? Tell me how it feels when all three of your friends’ eyes gloss over it completely.

Don’t feel frustrated by what you learn.  Feel proud that you took a step forward and are focused on bettering your website.  Use your observations to inform and guide you as you continually work to improve the effectiveness of your website over time.


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