Acid Testing Web Design Quality – 4 Methods 2

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.

2 thoughts on “Acid Testing Web Design Quality – 4 Methods

  1. Reply Sarah Sep 14, 2010 08:00

    These are very broad and basic guidelines, which is fine, but not all are applicable to all websites, or as clear cut as they may first seem. Surely the design of a site very much depends on its nature and /or intention? And the design should also include the navigational architecture – how the site is organised and constructed and not just what it looks like on the surface.

    Re: Blink test
    There are free/cheap online resources for this, including Five Second Test. I’ve used this several times and found it to be very handy.

    Re: The cruft test
    Surely an element of this is personal opinion? What may be important to you, as a ‘supplier’, may not be that important to whoever’s testing your site, purely through lack of knowledge. Depending on your business, there would have to be some level of knowledge of your ‘products’ to allow for proper consideration by the tester?

    Re: Analytics
    The homepage ‘bounce rate’ can only give you an indication of ‘failure’ – to fully understand whether your design and navigation is a success or not, you need to analyse the customer’s journey, and monitor over a period of months (and then continually).

  2. Reply stefan Sep 14, 2010 10:19

    @Sarah – I couldn’t agree more that these are very basic, but that’s kinda the point.

    I had seen the 5s test website before, but had completely forgotten about it. Thank you for pointing it out, i’ll add it to the article.

    On the cruft test, the point is more that we want to make sure that we are using content placed onto our website for the purpose of advancing the business goals of our organization, and not for personal amusement or decoration. Further, some of these (unless otherwise specified) are meant to be “self tests.” For example, if the MOT website for registration had a big photo of the webmaster’s dog, just because he or she thought it was cool, that would be an example of ‘cruft.’ There are certainly more subtle examples, but this test is meant to find only the most egregious offenders.

    On analytics, of course there is far more to success or failure than the bounce rate. Note that I don’t call out a target rate or anything of that matter, but just a simple indication that you should have analytics of some sort , so that you can monitor it over a period of months, so as to make more informed decisions.

    I’ll be going into these topics a bit more over the coming days, so, watch this space for more!

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