The single, best thing you can do to improve your website!

The single, best thing you can do to improve your website!

(Ed: ok, so this is a ‘link bait’ headline – a sensationalist type headline designed to actively encourage people to click on it, but often contains little substance. I’ll allow it and see where the writer is going with this.)

I remember, in late 2000, buying this book from Whitcoulls in Cashel Street Mall, Christchurch. I also remember my wife and the sales assistant questioning my judgement. I paid $90 for a thin little book with cartoony pictures and what seemed like very little information. But, the truth is that Don’t’ Make Me Think by Steve Krug contained gold, Internet gold – little nuggets of information that formed my thinking on a range of web design and construction issues for years to come.

At the time a lot of best practice information on web usability was coming from Jakob Neilson and his Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity book, which I had read, and his www.useit.com website. I found Neilson’s work interesting but a little dry. Steve Krug on the other hand was sharp, humorous and to the point. His book really resonated with me. It seemed to incorporate everything I needed to think about when constructing websites and presented it all in a common sense manner.

Krug’s message was simple: ‘Don’t make me think’, ‘Omit needless words’ and use ‘Street signs and breadcrumbs’ to design your site navigation. In addition he laid out a blue print for a simple method to find out if your website works; usability tests. And that’s where the title for this blog post comes in….

The single, best thing you can do to improve your website is conduct usability testing!

Just as the name implies, it’s about putting your hard work to the test by checking your website is functioning as smoothly as it should be.
Whenever we conduct usability testing here at TSBC I’m always amazed at what little nuggets of gold it turns up – things that seem obvious when you’re made aware of them that you wonder how you missed it before – Krug calls these ‘Forehead slappers’. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

So how do you do it?
There are a few online usability services that we’ve used before with varying degrees of success, such as www.usertesting.com, but the truth is you can run your own usability tests. I’d recommend reading Steve Krug’s book for more details, or his other book Rocket Surgery Made Easy which focuses specifically on finding and fixing usability problems. Here’s a brief outline:

  1. Find suitable participants – people not associated with your company, maybe friends of friends and definitely not family. Give them a bottle of wine or something similar for their time. (Ed: But only after the testing, right?)
  2. Sit them down in front of your website and give them a series of tasks to do such as place an order for product x. Testing should take 20-30 minutes.
  3. Look over their shoulder as they perform these tasks and prompt them with questions about what they’re thinking at any particular time. Do NOT give instructions on what to do unless they’re absolutely stuck.
  4. Record the sessions (video and audio) for later review, including showing others in your company who might not believe what you tell them.
  5. Implement solutions to the most glaring of problems the testing identified – the forehead slappers. Don’t be alarmed if it throws up a large list of problems, fix the most important ones first.
  6. Test again.

I guarantee you’ll find issues and problems that you never even knew existed, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how your website visitors think and operate and your website will improve in the process.

P.S I love her dearly, but my wife still questions my judgement on a number of things…

(Ed: Didn’t turn out too bad in the end.)

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Glen Senior
Glen Senior

CEO Glen Senior has been helping small businesses start and grow since 1989. Along the way, he has published 6 books on small business development and business planning, created training courses, built e-learning platforms, and developed Microsoft USA’s Small Business Plus program which was delivered into 9 countries.Since 2005 Glen has focused on the banking sector and has built up an extensive knowledge of how banks can engage with the small business segment. He has presented at a number of small business banking conferences and is sought out as an opinion leader in this space.

Comments

  1. Might have to read that one too then :-S

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