How often have you asked friends and family for input on your website, only to receive resounding approval but no concrete suggestions for improvement? It’s very annoying. It’s challenging to take a step back and evaluate your website objectively if you created it from the ground up, as you may have a bias toward your own brand and the site’s usability and design.
Another trend that’s gaining traction is the use of testing sites like Peek, where you can observe and hear a real person interacting with your site and providing feedback. Try it out if you like, but realise that the people helping you out are probably not your target demographic. At the conclusion, I’ll talk about some fantastic resources for analysing your website’s traffic.
On the other hand, nothing can replace a well-written review from a real person. To get started, have a trusted friend who is either currently in need of, or has previously been in need of, your services give your website a once-over. To some extent, trusting one’s instincts is essential when conducting a website review, but these are the main points I look at. One of my students at Siteschool, Christine McNally, was kind enough to let me record a review of her photography website, which you can read or watch below. You’re welcome, Christine!
1. PURPOSE & BRAND PROPOSITION
When someone visits your homepage, you have exactly one moment to capture their attention. I agree that a statement near the top of your home page explaining what you do and how you do it is essential, even if I believe the old school rule of making sure your offer is stated clearly ‘above the fold,’ i.e. be visible without scrolling, is losing traction as we have all become accustomed to scrolling down. Here is where you get to explain your “why” and what sets you apart from the competition. If your service, like photography or website design, relies in part on the customer’s perception of the outcome, they will be more likely to purchase from you if they have a clear mental image of what that outcome will be like.
2. VISUAL IMPACT
It’s hard to quantify something like this, and it relies more on intuition. The maxim “less is more” applies here. I’ve noticed that many sliders out there use more than 10 images or some kind of mashup of images and concepts in an effort to catch the eye of the reader before they click away. A chaotic header is frustrating to read. So, you’re familiar with the concept of “bounce rate” No-click bounce rates measure the percentage of visitors who leave your site without taking any action. If you try to throw too many concepts at the audience at once, they’ll probably just bounce. In its place, show some guts and discretion. Have confidence in your business and your claims. A single striking image accompanied by a brief, sincere statement will have far greater resonance than a lengthy slideshow or a densely worded explanation.
It’s easy to say “I’m not a writer” and put out mediocre copy if your service or product is visually oriented, such as design or photography. People buy from other people and from experiences, so you should take advantage of any chance you get to build rapport with your ideal customer. Ignore the need to act professionally. Don’t miss a chance to show off your unique character in your online writing. The “Success!” message displayed after successfully submitting a contact form is a prime example. Is “Your form has been successfully submitted” really the last thing you want someone to see before they leave your site, as is so often the case when it is left on its default setting?
The key is to organise your menus so that users can navigate your site with as few clicks as possible, and in the order that you want them to take. Make it so that the pages they will want to revisit are just a click away. eg. Examples of Work or Resume. Dropdown menus should be used in place of static landing or choice pages. Your site’s navigation will be more effective if you include obvious calls to action on each page. The phrase “call to action” can be worded in a less abrasive way than it initially appears. You should add a link to your portfolio, for instance, “Explore my Portfolio,” to the bottom of your About page. Moreover, if search engine optimization is a priority for your website, avoid using synonyms for essential terms. Naming your blog section something like “Journal” or “Notes” will make it more difficult for search engines to index your posts and for readers to find them.
Since I don’t want to turn this into a “how to pick fonts” post, I’ll keep my explanations brief and link you to another article that does. It’s important to think about fonts before you even begin designing your website. Create a Photoshop canvas or even just a Word document with a heading, subheading, text blog, and call to action already laid out. It will make it easier to apply those fonts uniformly across your site. Since many fonts look nearly identical to each other, I frequently come across websites that use multiple fonts where only one would suffice. If you’re not an expert, stick to no more than three different fonts. Paying close attention to detail is essential when working with type. Menus and buttons may seem insignificant, but you shouldn’t ignore them. Having no other choice but to use the system fonts can result in a cluttered appearance.
A lot of photographers’ websites feature multiple gallery layouts, which I find rather surprising. It’s important to make sure all of the gallery pages look the same. The most impressive museums and galleries give the visitors complete freedom of movement. You should animate your slider or lightbox, but make pausing and advancing the slides easy for your audience. The ability to swipe through images in mobile galleries is also crucial.
7. MOBILE EASE OF USE
This is a perfect segue into discussing mobile usability. While it’s true that nobody has access to every available mobile device, you can easily find out which devices users are accessing your site with the help of Google Analytics. Sites like Responsinator are helpful for seeing how your website looks on various devices. You can’t afford to have a subpar mobile experience because more than 60% of all site visits now originate from a mobile device instead of a desktop. It’s annoying to have to pinch and zoom to read the text, and soon Google will roll out its Mobile First Index. Select a website framework that facilitates easy customization for various mobile and tablet devices. You can accomplish this with tools like Divi, ProPhoto6, and Showit.
A faster-loading site is increasingly important as mobile usage overtakes desktop views; this is typically determined by the size of the images used. In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to enhance images. Use Pingdom’s free website speed test to make sure your site loads quickly.
9. REAL-TIME TESTING
Some newer real-user testing services can be had for little to no cost. Smartlook records actual visitors to your site, tracks their movements throughout your site, and displays where they click, which forms they complete, and when they leave (all for free up to 20,000 recordings per month). It’s fascinating to watch, and it’ll tell you more about your site’s usability than any single user ever could. Another well-liked (but not free) option is Mouseflow, which also generates heat maps and traffic funnel diagrams to show how users interact with a website.
Let’s begin the tour now. Christine McNally was kind enough to let me give her an honest review of her website as a tribute. I believe we both appreciated the experience. The timing of the critique and agreement on some final tweaks to improve an already good website was perfect, as Christine’s site is already live and she has been working on it as a Siteschool Masterclass member. We have a closed Facebook group just for Siteschool students where they can ask questions, get answers, and participate in group activities like critiques. It’s inspiring to see students take pride in releasing their first websites.