When someone asks our team to look at a website, there is almost always a disclaimer. Usually, a “don’t be too harsh” or “don’t spend too much time, just give me some quick thoughts.” For the most part, we assume this means they do not want detailed review of their site - just some top line things noticed, without an explanation. While this seems simple, it is something that our team is constantly trying to get better at doing.
Here’s the challenge. We have spent a lot of time studying websites, how they function, and how users interact with them. Every website we look over, is approached from the perspective of someone who has been there and built something similar; someone who has had to deal with users not having a clear path or call to actions. That’s because when Covenant is working through a web project, we pick apart every detail during the initial phases of the project.
Once we get to final quality assurance, however, we have to switch roles. We have to step into the mindset of someone who has not viewed the website every day for the last six months. Why? Because the person asking the question needs to simulate someone who is interacting with the brand for the first time, not someone who has gone to over 5,000 websites in the last five years. This stage of the web development process calls for a fresh set of eyes.
Why are we talking about this? Because as a marketer or website manager who has been closely involved in a web project (or any project for that matter), you need to be able to shift perspective in order to see your project the same way an everyday user would see it.
Here is a quick guide on how not to be an expert:
1. Forget everything you know.
Seriously, you have to take yourself out of the daily grind that is a long-term project and pretend you are viewing it for the first time.
2. Forget everything you know, round two.
It takes a lot to put your experience and knowledge to the side, but when reviewing a website, you have to take this unbiased approach.
3. Change your habits.
You may not realize it, but you have developed habits in your day to day interaction with the project. This might be things like how you first view the page or which navigation you check first. Make a conscious effort to recognize these habits and then do something completely different.
4. Make yourself uncomfortable
Along the lines of those habits, you have a certain level of comfort. You have found the way you find easiest to get from point A to point B, but other users are going to find ten more ways to maneuver through the site. You need to find those ways and make sure they are a pleasant experience. It will be uncomfortable at first, but that means you are approaching it the right way and reviewing your new site properly.
5. Think like your parents or grandparents.
You have to be able to approach the site like it’s the first time you have ever seen it. For some of us, this involves sitting back and thinking about how our grandparents use their devices. We have to realize that this type of media is something they may not have been introduced to until late in their lives. Some may move more carefully through a website, reading all the content available in an attempt to make sure they do not miss anything. Add in animation and movement on the screen that can be distracting and you might have a recipe for disaster amongst a certain demographic. Do your instructions make assumptions about the knowledge of the user? Too vague or using jargon? This can result in your site poorly communicating with visitors and make your content less consumable.
6. Think like your little brother or child.
Have you ever watched a younger person fly through an entire site with one flick of their wrist, missing everything but the footer and the header? Users like this miss calls to action and skate over meat of the site altogether. The fact is, some people like to blow through the content on your website. Another issue is that some returning visitors will only pause to engage with new content they’ve never seen before - especially fresh visual content like videos and images. The users are hungry for new things. All this to say is that people come to websites with preconceived ideas of what they need and want to find. The best thing you can do here is watch how others consume that content, then imitate it the best you can.
7. Click the first thing you see.
As you go through a project, you will start to notice more detail on the pages. You will see things that were not there at first glance. New users will often click the first thing they see that is remotely relevant. You, on the other hand, have a bit of site blindness because you have been viewing it so frequently. Try going through the site by clicking the first thing you see and note what path that takes you down.
8. Ask for help
A bit obvious advice, but your friends, family, and colleagues can be a great resource. Most likely they will have an internet enabled device. Watching how they use that device to interact with your website and consume your content can be an eye opening experience.