As webmasters, we obviously become very familiar with the layout and design of our clients’ sites. We can easily spend upwards of a hundred hours on a client’s site while we are working on them. During this time, we inherently learn what to look for and how to navigate the site to get where we need to be. However, our experience comes at a cost: we forget what it’s like to see these websites through fresh eyes. We become blind to the potentially confusing areas that can frustrate or even drive away newcomers to the site. If we want to continue to grow our sites, it is necessary to recognize these potential oversights and strive to make a website that is easily accessible to anyone who may wind up on your homepage. To do this we have a few different tools and techniques we can use to get into the mindset of a new user.
Look at the Competition
Part of this issue comes from our over-familiarity with our clients’ sites. So a quick fix to this problem is to find a website that you aren’t familiar with. It could be a completely random site or perhaps a direct competitor to your site. Engage with the site as you would if you were interested in its product or service. Do your best to keep track of what helped or hindered your experience as you move through it.
Afterwords, return to your site and see if you gained any insight that could be applied to yours, or if any of the issues you noticed are present on your site as well. The goal of this exercise is to discover other approaches you may not have considered that could provide a more natural experience for visitors on your site.
Check Your Numbers
In addition, many content management systems these days are built with different visualization filters that allow you to view pages through a heat map made from your users’ clicks. These heat maps can give you insight and allow you to visually see how visitors are navigating through your site. You also receive the added benefit of seeing the different ways that your site is used. Not everyone will move around the site in the same way an experience webmaster would and this allows you to identify potential areas where you may be losing users.
Watch Someone Use Your Site
Maybe you can’t separate your expertise on the site from your experience as a user and don’t have the money or experience with analytics to effectively make use of analytics software. What are your other options? Try simply asking your users? Have someone try and use your site. Give them a specific task to do or a specific page to find on your site and see how long it takes them. Take note of any areas that give them trouble. After they’ve gone through everything you wanted, talk with them to get their input. The quickest way to identify and fix an issue is open communication, and with this in mind, you should always try to get your users input on their experience so you can continually adapt and improve to provide the best experience possible.