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timeforcake: An easy, DIY way to uncover problem areas in your website

Erin Pheil
special to the daily

Is this you?

– Your company has a small website

– You genuinely want your website to perform better

– You’re not quite sure how you could improve your site

– You don’t want to invest a lot of money into your site at the moment

If so, I’ve got a quick and simple way to pinpointing potential problems (that you can then place on your website To-Do list with confidence).

The simple process can provide you with invaluable insight, but I warn you that it does take a bit of bravery and a strong shell, as it often sets people up to hear things they don’t want to hear.

Invite a friend over to your house or office. It can be any friend or acquaintance, really, so long as he or she is not familiar with your site.

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 and have a seat next to your friend.

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 task(s) you assign to your friend matches 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 notice what he clicks, where he stalls, where he seems confused, etc.

Repeat this task with a minimum of two other friends and look for patterns.

To help ensure that the information you collect from these informal usability tests, make sure you stress to your friends that they literally do no wrong. They cannot fail. If they can’t complete a task, it’s due to problems with your site, not with them. If you fail to emphasize this point before you begin, your friends may feel performance-conscious or embarrassed, causing them to freeze or act differently than they normally would. I’ve seen this happen, and it definitely decreases the value of your observations.

I’m certain that these free (well, free except for the beer or cookies) DIY usability sessions will teach you something absolutely fascinating about how people see your website with outside eyes. (You know that massive yellow button at the top of your home page that everyone will obviously want to click? Tell me how it feels when all three of your 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.

Don’t feel frustrated by what you learn. Instead, use your new information to guide future updating decisions as you continually work to improve the effectiveness of your website over time.

erin pheil is the owner of timeforcake creative media – the Web design company voted #1 Best of Summit. Visit the timeforcake website at http://www.timeforcake.com or email Erin at erin@timeforcake.com.


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