Getting Value From Your Website: Everything You Need to Know About A Website Critique
The internet has well over one billion published websites right now. This translates to billions upon billions of indexed pages on Google and Bing combined. And guess what…? Hundreds more will probably be live by the time you’re done reading this article!
You should also know that each one of the billion plus websites is fiercely fighting for a big chunk of the “internet pie”. Every site owner is busy trying to ensure their website gets high traffic and high conversions; which of course means more revenue. These statistics can be scary for new site owners, but don’t let them be.
So, how do you achieve this competitive edge for your website? How do you ease off to the sunset with a face full of pie?
How do I get value from my website?
It’s very simple… just start by answering these 3 questions:
- Why do you have a website?
- Is the website anywhere near achieving its intended primary purpose? And finally…
- What can be done to boost the overall performance?
Why are these questions important to every site owner?
First, you need to determine the reasons why you have the website in the first place before you can assess it critically. It should be absolutely clear whether it’s personal, educational, informational or for business. This is what guides the design, functionality, and usability which are key building blocks of a successful website.
Secondly, you need to find out if the website does everything it was intended for in terms of delivering a quality user experience. This can be anything from checking out online shopping carts, filling forms, participating in forums, manipulating data, to just providing useful information.
Lastly, you need to identify the different components of your site that could use some tweaking to get things where they ought to be.
Your website may look perfect to you but it may need a few changes in design, content, layout, or the entire internal structure in order to bring it up to the desired standards. And that’s where the services of a professional website critique come into play.
Not to say that you can’t analyze your own website with success… but becoming your own critique leaves a lot of room for mistakes. And some of these mistakes might turn out to be very costly in future.
Ever heard of the saying… “If you want things done right, do it yourself”?
Well, this is one of those rare occasions where you’re highly advised to eat humble pie and step aside for someone else to get it right for you!
It’s very hard for your human brain to find faults in what it already perceives as perfection. Auditing your own website (whether as a designer or owner) requires you to step into the shoes of your site users… literally.
You need to forget everything you think you like or don’t like about your website, every preconceived perception or emotional attachments, everything. This is easier said than done…!
As a web designer or a website owner, you want to believe that only the best has gone into creating that particular website. Logic dictates that it’s virtually impossible to find most of the slip-ups on your website since you choose your own colours, templates, the typography, images, and navigation patterns… basically, the entire site’s design and theme. Do you now see how difficult it can be to remain objective when auditing your own website?
You spend a lot of time looking at the same website over and over again until things start looking okay, or just about bearable. You start telling yourself “So what if some of the images are a bit blurry or some text is out of alignment…? I think they can still work… at least most of it is okay for now…”. It’s this exact kind of attitude that disqualifies you from being the ideal candidate to critique your own website.
You have to understand that what you think you like or don’t like is not even remotely the same as what could be right or wrong on your website!
And now we get to the cool stuff… What happens if you decide to conduct your own website critique?
4 Simple Steps to Critique Your Website in 2 Minutes Flat!
First things first… for you to pull off any constructive DIY criticism on your own website, you will definitely need some good knowledge of the web development principles of visual design, user interface, usability, and typography among others.
You’ll probably need to go through long hours of research by the time you’re done fixing all the web elements.
So where do you begin with a website audit?
#1 – First Impressions Speak Volumes – Start by typing your site’s URL and close your eyes as the page loads. Wait until you’re sure it’s completed loaded in the browser, then open your eyes and try to note the first thing you see.
- Does the first thing you see explain what the web page is about in an instant?
- Does it take you a few seconds of scanning through the page to really figure out what the site is all about?
- And just how long does it take for your web page to load?
#2- The Squinted Eyes Test – This is a test to find out how your brain reacts to your blurry web page and how that affects your eye movement as you skim through different page sections. Trying to look at your website through almost closed eyes gives you a new perspective. This simply helps you figure out brain responds to the limited information as well as the natural path your eyes travel as you jump across different sections of the page.
- Where do you find the highest contrast and where is your focus drawn to?
- What is the impact of that particular page section when you open your eyes while still focused on it?
#3 – The Diagonal Page Scan – With the exception of a few, most world cultures automatically read from left to right and this is also the logic order our brains are wired take in and register whatever the eyes pick up to create a photographic memory. A quick 5-second scan from the top left corner of your web page to the bottom right corner can reveal a lot about the harmony created by different web page components. This also reveals the clarity in which the composite website content communicates the general business or website goals.
#4 – The Memory Test – Lastly, it’s time to see what you can remember from your homepage after scanning through it only for 5 seconds. The average human short-term memory is configured to pick up and store at least five things that the brain deems important. Now, go back to these five things that you picked up during your 5-second scan and answer this question… “Are they of any value to the user in terms communicating website goals or enhancing user experience?
- What 5 things can I quickly remember from the website?
- Are they important or relevant to the website’s goals?
The simple steps highlighted above give you the fastest means to identify tiny design flaws, content misuse or misplacement as well as problems with the layout at a glance.
Please note that the average web user takes only about 30 seconds on a web page before they decide whether they want to stay, navigate to other parts of that website or move on to another website altogether!
These first few seconds are critical because they determine the overall response your website gets from your visitors.
So, what design factors can we examine using this brief 4-step exercise? And what essential things can we possibly learn about our websites in such a short time?
Website Loading time:
The time it takes for your website to load in a browser really matters. A recent study from Microsoft shows that the abandonment rate on slow websites is a scary 40%.
According to their report, these large numbers are likely to be turned away from a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
Further results also show that you can easily lose your web traffic to your competitors if your website is slower by as little as 250 milliseconds!
Gut Feeling and First Impressions:
This is all about how the website makes a first-time user feel. Gut reactions are very important and they are the first step towards framing any website criticism.
Personal or emotional responses like “it looks too crowded” or “it’s too red” should never be ignored. The questions to ask here include:
- How obvious are the website goals at first glance?
- How do the colours appeal to you? Do the colour pallets and the resulting contrast really work?
- How well do the pages fit in the browser or screen?
- How easy is it to navigate and find what you want from the home page?
The general rule of thumb here is that if you can’t define the website goals within a few seconds, then you should have some serious thoughts about re-designing the site.
General Look and Feel:
This part has to do with how the website actually looks as well as the overall feeling and image it portrays. The design principles you should be on the lookout for include unity, balance, dominance, rhythm, and proportion.
Important questions to answer here are:
- Is the design flow consistent on all pages?
- How appropriate is the branding?
- How many blanks or white spaces does the website have on each page?
- How appropriate are the images in relation to the web content or the users you’re targeting?
- How does the overall layout appeal to users and how does it encourage or influence user engagement?
Content Placement and Primary Focal Points:
The order in which your content is arranged determines the outcome of any website’s user experiences. You need to have focal points within your web page where users can get the most information, in the best format, and in the shortest time possible. This has a great deal to do with how different page elements such as alignment, proximity and theme consistency apply to your website.
Important questions here include:
- How effective is the content grouping?
- How well does the content match the theme and how do they complement each other?
- How effective is the focal point of your website design? (Both in terms of attracting viewers and encouraging user interaction)
All the above factors are important details to note during the initial stages of any website reviewing exercise. But wait… is that everything covered in a website evaluation? Of course not, this is just the tip of the iceberg! A comprehensive website analysis goes deeper than dissecting the visual design of your website and listening to your gut feelings!
So, what more does website analysis entail?
The Complete Website Analysis Guide for Beginners
As mentioned earlier in the article, the overall UX (user experience) will definitely depend on more than how your website appears on from the outside. Analyzing your website takes a deeper and utterly vital turn from here… Now we’ll start to uncover the secrets behind your site’s functionality and usability.
Everything evaluated from here on is totally based on user experience goals and user expectations. It all boils down to how smooth or easy your users can complete events such as filling and submitting forms, buying digital or physical products and services using secure e-payment systems, or even joining a forum of like-minded people to share in constructive conversations.
Your method of analysis and the success of your endeavour will depend on how well you understand the connection between your website goals and the identified user goals. Successful interactions between users and your website depend on the flawlessness of different functionalities and user elements provided on your website.
So, what are we talking about?
Adherence to Typographical Rules – Typography mainly deals with the use of fonts on your website. Remember, there’s a design rule against using more than three font types on a single web page throughout your website. You should also take the time to find out if the fonts used are available for both MAC and Windows systems.
Another thing you should know when dealing with fonts is that the formatting needs to be different for the titles or headers and the rest of the body text. There are a few questions you must ask yourself here…
- Does the font or the combination of font types complement your website’s theme?
- Does the choice of font add to the website’s overall aesthetics?
- How appropriate and legible is your font?
All these factors contribute greatly towards providing a favourable cross-platform (Windows or MAC) user experience. You can also take this opportunity to go through your textual content and weed out any typos or grammar issues.
Remember, this can be a bit tricky and way too much work… but it can still be done with success. The flow of text and the alignment are also key. You can use tools such as Grammarly to help you sharpen your site’s text content.
Use of Multimedia Content and Placement – Here you’ll be looking at videos, images, and graphics and how they are used to complement the text throughout your website.
Important factors to consider here include;
- Are the photos properly sharpened and sized or saved in the correct format for effective web use?
- Are the videos long enough or captivating and do they run smoothly without any glitches?
- How does the overall inclusion of your multimedia material affect the loading time of your website?
- Is the multimedia content optimized for SEO?
These are just some of the key questions to help you decide which multimedia strategies work for your website and which ones don’t. Sloppy placement of your multimedia content can easily lead to untidy overlapping and lack of clarity. This is the perfect recipe for an ugly website!
Smart and Appropriate Inclusion of “Call to Actions” (CTAs) – How do you encourage users to engage with your website and share their views or experiences? Through comments or social sharing!
How do you get them to buy your products and services? By asking them directly to “Buy this or that” or using smart bait phrases like “Maybe you need this…”
CTA’s are an integral part of generating actual sales or potential leads through your website. Lack of clear and enticing CTA’s could be the reason why your high web traffic is probably not biting or converting to actual sales.
And how do you succeed with CTA’s? By ensuring that every page of your website has a catchy CTA! Okay, you can leave them out of the contacts page or the testimonials page but you get my point…
Usability and Navigation Testing – The other thing you should analyze is the type of navigation provided for users as well as the consistency and coherence of the interface. The navigation process should be effective and intuitive.
The content should also be organized in a strategic hierarchy to help users navigate through your website with ease. This comes in handy when users need to find whatever information they need from the website real quick.
The main question here should be: How interactive are the navigation elements and how does that affect user experience? (Whether positively or negatively…)
Types of navigation used in different websites include drop-down menus, fly-out menus, and image maps among others. Emphasis should be placed on the simplicity of the navigation paths and the number of provided navigation links.
More questions to guide you here include:
- Are the navigation links too many?
- Are the navigation links well visible and easily accessible?
- Are there any broken links?
- Is it easy to identify the navigation patterns on your website?
You can use online tools such as Google Analytics or Check My Links to find out which links on your website are fully operational and which ones aren’t.
Other tools such as Hotjar (our favourite), ClickTale and Mouseflow can help you stalk your web users… but in a good way. These two amazing tools enable you to record user activity on your website as well as generate heat maps.
The correct use of these tools allows you to have a clear understanding of your site’s ability to deliver flawless user interaction. The tools basically allow you to know exactly where and why the users stop during their visit on your website. And lastly, why they drop out and decide to navigate away from your site.
You can also incorporate tools such as VWO (Visual Website Optimizer) and Optimizely to generate different versions of your website for your users to interact with. Information gathered from these tools can help you zero in on user preferences a bit faster.
Proper Implementation of Persuasive and Defensive Web Design Elements – Here we’re talking about elements that support the swift propulsion of your website towards becoming an authority.
These include testimonials, user help functions, safety and security badges, internal search capabilities, and appropriate error pages or interactive messages.
These persuasive and defensive elements help your website gain trust from its users. This, in turn, leads to more loyal and satisfied return visitors or customers.
Social media integration is yet another persuasive web design element that has virtually become a MUST HAVE on every website! A Google representative recently owned up to the weight and preference given to “social signals” in the ranking of websites in their SERPs.
It has become increasingly important for any website to include social media buttons and other related channels such as widgets or plugins. This enables your audience to share the things they like about your website with their social connections on different social media platforms.
Using Capture/Landing Pages and Sharing Contact Information – Your contact information needs to be readily and easily available to your site users. Depending on the nature of your business, some people will want to make phone calls, others will prefer to write you an email, while some will just be content filling out an online contact form. All these channels should be available to your users for their convenience.
Capture pages, on the other hand, give you a better perspective on the performance of your CTA’s. They also provide you with ways to filter leads. These capture pages should be convincing enough to attract users into taking that next step… In short, capture pages are used to build lists and boost conversions.
The SEO Factor – What good is your website if people can’t find it… right? SEO elements associated with boosting your website ranking and visibility include; the correct implementation of Meta tags, the proper use of relevant keywords in your written content, and of course using friendly URLs among others.
You can use free online tools like Website Grader from Hubspot to help you find out more about your SEO performance.
And there you have it… everything you need to become a pro website critique… well, almost. The truth is, you can never really be sure if you have everything thoroughly checked until you get a second opinion. Which brings us to the final step, collecting feedback through paid or free user surveys.
Many things you deem as cool may turn out to be useless, or even worse, detrimental to the future of your SEO efforts. Some of your preferred web design elements might work against you in terms of providing an awesome user experience, boosting your ranking, or even converting leads. Getting a second opinion helps you get this risk out of the way.
There are several online survey tools you can use to gather feedback from real users. The data you collect helps you analyze different aspects of your website that contribute to the overall UX (user experience). If used correctly, the resulting reports show you whether the user experience on your website leaves your visitors satisfied or not. 4Q (4qsurvey.com from iPerceptions) is one of the best free tools that can get the job done. However, if you’re looking for more functionality and better insight, then paid tools like Optimizely will provide better services for a few dollars per month.
Getting user feedback about your website helps you learn a very important lesson about how your audience receives it. You can use this information to revamp your website and match their expectations or go above those expectations where possible.
This will be a win for you, your website and your business. It is even a bigger win for your audience who will continue to enjoy your website.
Benefits of Playing Judge & Jury on Your Website Audit
#1 –The No.1 obvious thing is saving money by not outsourcing.
#2 – You learn a lot about your website and the internet in general. This is because you’ll definitely have to go through hours of research and tweaking to finally get your website up to standard.
#3 – Criticizing your own website from a stranger’s point of view can be one of the trickiest things you’ve ever done. Learning how to give constructive criticism and how to receive it both gracefully and objectively is not an easy thing to accomplish but it can be done. Another good lesson learned!
#4 – The feedback you get from testing your website with different users is invaluable knowledge. This exercise lets you have a glimpse of how the world receives your website. It guides you to determine what works and what should be cut loose. Remember, you might own the website, but it belongs to the world once it’s published!
#5 – The last obvious benefit is the fact that you end up with a productive website and increased business or revenue.
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do It
#1 – There’s a risk of missing a lot! Your preconceived ideas and emotional feelings have a way of distorting your objectivity.
#2 – In-depth website analysis takes long hours that you may not be able to fit into your daily engagements. This means that publishing the finalized website will take weeks or even months longer in some cases. You end up wasting a lot of valuable time.
Why Hiring Help is Not a Bad Idea
- You can use this time to work on other important things related to your website or business. This also means there’s no pressure on your team either.
- Hiring a professional website critique is relatively cheap and the ROI of a well-conducted website analysis is definitely worth it.
- You are always sure that the project is going on even when you are overwhelmed by other tasks.
- A professional will be dedicated and there are no risks of undue distractions.
- It also takes away the risk of blindness to issues that the website owner or developer might not notice.
A well-performing website means good traffic, high conversions, more return users and of course high revenue. You have to ensure that your website achieves the purpose it was created for in terms of providing value to the users and accomplishing any set goals.
You can critique your own website with some level of success, but it is highly advised that you get a trained eye to look at things objectively for you… you’ll thank yourself later for that.
Analyzing your website might look easy, but pulling off a comprehensive analysis is not smooth sailing. The ups and downs of a DIY website analysis can also leave you with very little time for other daily engagements.
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