Here are four quick tests that serve as a virtual canary in your web site evaluation process. If you fail any of these, it’s time to start thinking about re-creating your organization’s online presence.
The Blink* Test
First impressions are important. Especially on the web. Most users will decide whether they’re going to get anything out of a page within the first five to ten seconds. If you can’t communicate clearly, and get them what they want in that time, then it’s an opportunity lost, and gone forever. To that end, it’s important to have a site that quickly and clearly communicates your primary goal motivators to your user, that is, the things that will get the user to stay longer, to hear what you have to say, and to engage with your site.
The search version of this test works in a similar fashion. Unless you have global brand recognition, people almost certainly won’t remember your URL. You’ll be lucky if they remember your name. You want to make sure that when they plug that name into google, they get your website coming up first, and not with anything else that might confuse them as to which is the right site to click.
Administering the test:
Prep Find someone who has never seen your website before, and doesn’t know what your business / organization does. Set them down at a computer.
Normal Variant: Open a browser showing your organization’s webpage, and start a stopwatch. After twenty seconds close the browser.
SEO Variant: Open a browser for them, tell them the name of your organization and start a stopwatch. At the end of one minute close the browser.
Getting the result… Ask the subject what your organization does. If they can’t tell you, you fail.
* Yes, it is named after Gladwell’s book. I know it’s trendy, but think of it more as a sign of the times
UPDATE: A commenter pointed out the completely solid folks at fivesecondtest to accomplish this same thing, if you can’t find someone who hasn’t seen your website.
The Cruft Test
You know how sometimes when you go into a country store, you might see some “cruft” tacked up on the wall behind the cash register. Y’know the stuff, sometimes it’s a frame with the first dollar bill they ever made, sometimes it’s a picture of a cat. These things have no bearing on the core business, and all they do is to distract customers from their intended purchase. In the country store, they have a use, as these items are posted in the cashier’s workspace, and there’s nothing wrong with making your workspace feel like home. Remember though, your website is not your cashier’s workspace. It is for the sole purpose of advancing your organizational goals. Don’t let anything distract your visitors from that.
Administering the test:
Take a close look at your website, or, better yet, ask a trusted friend to do so. If you see anything that looks like it might fit that description, you fail.
Last Updated Test
The best measure of a website’s quality is how often it is updated. A frequently updated site is like a freshly mowed lawn. It gives your users a sense of warm wellbeing knowing that you’re watching out for the experience that they’re having online, it makes them more likely to trust you, and it increases their overall satisfaction with what you have to offer.
Administering this one is simple, just ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the most recent content on your site more than a week old?
- Was your business open this past week?
If you answered yes to both of these questions, you fail.
The Analytics Test
Every good website needs analytics, so that you can tell what works, and what doesn’t. The field of web analytics has come a long way since that geocities hit counter that you have on your website. Modern tools like Google Analytics or Omniture can provide a wealth of information about how people use your website, as well as who those who those people are.
Administering the test:
Ask yourself, or your web manager, the following questions:
Can you tell me what the bounce rate was for your hompage this past week? Can you tell me is that is an improvement of this same time period last year?
Do you know what a bounce rate is?
If you cannot answer all of these questions, you fail
Yeah, I failed, so what?
Your website needs help. Your website might be “fine” right now, but you’re definitely “leaving money on the table.” Over the course of the following weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of articles on how to start to resolve these problems. By having a web presence that is current, relevant, communicates clearly and can be measured, you can be far more effective in your online marketing efforts and actually make your website a profit, rather than a cost center.
The very first thing you should do install analytics software. You’re probably not starting from much so Google Analytics is probably a pretty decent choice. Get this installed on your website, so that you have some sort of baseline, then start working on finding a consultant, and doing research on what you want your website to be!
Shameless self promotion, I’ll be posting articles on finding consultants for web redesign work as well as how to research your web project in the coming weeks.