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Premiere Issue December 2001

Website Technique

Take a Good Hard Look

In this premiere issue I'm going to encourage you to take a hard and objective look at your website. I'm even going to encourage you to call your most blunt and tactless friends to help out with this. Why? Because I want you to get the 2 x 4 to the head wake up call like I mentioned in the introduction.

The usability of your site is critical to getting people to stay on your site. If they get frustrated with too many choices and confusing navigation, they will be gone in no time and you can be sure they won't be back.

Here's what I want you to do:

1. Think about the main types of visitors that you want to come to your website. In my case at there are two types of visitors. One is a person who wants to be a speaker and the other is a person who needs a speaker for an event. Who do you want to visit your site?

2. Pretend you are one of those people. Go to your home page and see if the choices are really simple and that you have a choice specifically designed for that type of visitor. In my case I have a navigation button called "Need a Speaker." This button takes that type of visitor down a path specifically designed to give them the information they need. I don't want to give them too many choices right at the home page because it will likely confuse them.

The other type of visitor I have is a person who wants to be a speaker. I give them a navigation button all their own to take them down a separate path. I don't want the person who wants to be a speaker having to wade through all the stuff that the other type of visitor is looking for. I give them both separate paths right from the home page. It's kind of like separating them at birth.

I don't expect you to be very good at this because you are way too close to the situation. This leads us to number 3.

3. Get someone else to play the role of one of your types of visitors. Get them to sit at their computer and seek out the information that that type of visitor would want. Have them jot down every question that comes to their mind along the way. Do not coach them in advance of what to look for and do not talk to them on the phone while they are doing this. Just let them do it. When they are done have them report to you the trouble they had along with the questions that arose while they were trying to get the information.

Next, have someone sit at your computer and do the same thing. Get a piece of leather to bite on to keep yourself from talking to them while they are doing this. Videotape them if you can. You will be amazed at the questions that will come up and the trouble that they will have finding the information. Absolutely refuse to talk to them until they are done or so frustrated that they quit. This may hurt, but it is better to uncover problems with the usability of your site now rather than two years down the road when you have no traffic and no sales.

Repeat number 3 for each type of visitor that you are looking for and use several different people that don't know much about your business to do this exercise.

This Hurts

This exercise is a pain in the neck, hurtful emotionally and probably one of the best learning experiences you'll ever have. Don't cheat. Don't say a word to the people helping you because no one will be there to coach a real potential client who visits your site from their home or office. If your site isn't usable, then they'll leave and go find another one that is.

Follow Up

After you compile the information and uncover the problem area, look at your site again and reduce the number of choices on your home page to the bare minimum to send the visitors down their separate paths. Fix any other usability problems you uncover.

Now go to the library. Look at your website on the older, crumby and cheap computers they have there. You again will be shocked at what you learn. Your site will likely look much different on a different computer.

Also, download and install both Internet explorer (about 85% of the big two browser market) and Netscape Navigator (about 15% of the big two browser market). Don't forget to look at it on AOL which is a different animal all together.

Remember to always create your site for the lowest common denominator so that it loads lightening fast and looks relatively good on all the major browsers.

Next month we'll talk about creating a sales flow on your site to get customers to pull their wallet out and spend money with you.

Upcoming web techniques

  • Pop Up Boxes

  • Recommend this site forms

  • Discussion Boards

  • Ask the expert

  • Shopping Systems

  • How to make your website sell

  • How to get free and cool content

  • Web customer service

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