Suddenly, with passion and close scrutiny, web site owners are discovering their web site navels. It’s the same thing as watching my kids discover their belly buttons for the first time. Without fail, each of them has asked, “Mom? What the heck is this thing for?”
And so it is, that today, the popular mantra is no longer, “I gotta have a web site.”
It’s been changed to, “Why do I have a web site?” and even better (the really aware ones) will ask, “Is this web site really serving the needs of my web site visitors?”
When Do We Check Under The Hood?
The most common type of contact I receive is from people who are redesigning their web sites or considering one. They want to know if they should get a usability evaluation before or after the redesign.
These site owners no longer question needing help with usability and user centered design. They already know their website has conversion issues. This is because in today’s Internet environment, performance matters over mere existence.
Even search engines are researching user behavior. This explains why you never know what to expect each time you use one. They’re watching your every move. Their eye tracking software is following test subject eyeballs. Their computers are counting your clicks, and well, they even know where your house is, but don’t even get me on that topic.
To answer the “When should I get my site evaluated” question, my answer is “Now”.
Web site reviews are performed while you’re thinking about usability. Or, while you are scribbling the layout on napkins, or drawing the information architecture on the white board before you meet with stakeholders (who will change it all anyway. Keeping a set of usability guidelines nearby will help hold you to this commmittment to your end users.
Evaluate your present site to learn what is not working, never worked well, or uncover things you didn’t know were turning visitors away or confusing them. A consultant with data in their heads can tell you in one glance whether your form is going to really draw a good sales lead. All of this information is good to know now, whether for existing web site maintenance or to get ideas for future enhancements, such as optimized landing pages or more call to action prompts.
A redesign consult is fine too. For companies that can afford it, I recommend bringing in a usability consultant on-site or in close enough contact that they can review all your documents, requirements, plans, wireframes, test plans for applications and act as support for both the designers and developers.
The Best Kind of Web Site Investment is Skills Support and Education
It’s been my experience that the pressure on web site and software developers or programmers is impossibly numbing. These folks are expected to be miracle workers. Have someone on staff whom they can check in with, who understands their questions are not dumb, and in fact are vital to the success of the project. Invest in and support your web team.
I don’t travel, but many usability testing companies do have consultants that offer this option. For smaller companies, startups, incubators, sole owners, or people comfortable with virtual work environments, having someone to call or drop an email to is all they need for reassurance.
Sometimes an owner wants a web page or section of a site in development reviewed, “Just to see if we forgot anything.” It’s harder for me to enter into these situations without documentation or knowing much about the project. And yet, I always find little things to tell them about. In nearly every case, what I uncover is based in simple logic, or it’s a visitor courtesy or customer service element that didn’t make it into the design.
Don’t Make Me Think or Work Very Hard
Two sites caught my eye recently because they caught the spirit of ease of use and courtesy at the same time.
The first one is the redesigned SEOMoz.org. The redesign is a beauty. But, the true kick in the pants is how their blog comments work.
When you enter a comment, you have the choice of being notified if someone else also leaves a comment in that blog thread. When you receive this email notification, it provides a URL for a fast click back to the site. Remarkably, it not only takes you there, but it automatically lands on the page, scrolls down the page and parks you exactly at the bottom, so you can read the new comment.
Everybody else’s system forces you to scroll from the top of the post on down. Most don’t have the email alert setup. I love how SEOMoz has gone the extra step and made returning to the comments thread a breeze.
And here’s the key to the perusasive design aspect of what they’ve done. Not only do I receive the email alert, but I’m more inclined to actually use it because I know beforehand that I won’t have to do any work once I get there!
The other example is a new blog tracking application from Performancing.com. I thought I might get around to trying the system when I first saw it announced on someone’s blog. When I finally did visit Performancing.com to investigate, there was a post on their site that discussed it and began to run testimonials.
The call to action was a visible prompt to try it right away, and a reminder it is free.
What attracted me to do something other than put this off for later were the testimonials and the word “free.” The customer signal I sensed from the company was customer care and product pride. The passion and excitement for the launch was evident in the page content. This was no sleepy ho-hum event. Desirability on the web is about making a human connection with your visitors.
Performancing Metrics has a 3-step installation procedure that requires no technical abilities or much of your time. Witin minutes, I had their new application installed, with data streaming in shortly thereafter.
The user experience was smooth. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t do any real work. Whether or not they consciously planned for it, visitor courtesy was built-in.
Why does ease of use matter? Who would have thought that visitor courtesies improve conversions? Is there a worthy return on investment measurement when what you’re giving away is free? Is successful performance as simple as eliminating long pages, building descriptive and trustworthy navigation and not making web visitors lift a finger?
It’s all those things, and a million other things you’ve never considered before.