Your website’s visitors have the attention span of a goldfish with ADD. So regardless of what your website does, this is your competition:

In the era of viral videos, pet memes and Facebook, you don’t need to try hard to lose people’s interest. However, there are two surefire ways to make your users abandon your website:

  1. Try to get users to do things they don’t want to do.
  2. Make it harder for them to do what they want.

I’m sure you don’t have to try hard to remember a website that was hard to use. Both scenarios are tragically common.

But why does it happen at all? Who in their right mind would actively choose to make things harder for their users? I have yet to meet someone who actually wants their website’s performance to tank. Obviously, the problem isn’t in our intentions.

We err when we assume that we know what users want. The truth is that unless we’re actively asking our users what they need and testing our solutions to make sure they work, we will create experiences tailored to the audience we know best: ourselves.

Conversely, when we deliberately design for our users’ needs, we are able to create helpful experiences that empower them to do what they want.

So how can we design intentionally and avoid sending our websites to the great dumpster fire in the sky?

Here is a basic, 2-step plan for how to AVOID killing your website:

 

1. Find out what people come to your site to do.

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There are a few methods for how to do this but the most basic question we need to ask first is “Do you want to know why your users come to you?” This question needs to be asked because it’s easy for us to get caught up in what we want to accomplish and forget to ask if it’s helpful for anyone else.

Recently, I visited an organization’s website (that will remain anonymous), with the hope of finding some specific information. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a rotating carousel and was forced to endure what felt like miles of organizationally focused promotions and announcements. It quickly became obvious to me that internal politics were running rampant and that the website had become a casualty of war; no longer useful to its users but a pawn in an organizational battle for airtime. As a result, I felt ignored and bored by information that was completely irrelevant to me.

It quickly became obvious to me that internal politics were running rampant and that the website had become a casualty of war; no longer useful to its users but a pawn in an organizational battle for airtime.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of user research. Without it, all of our best efforts are simply a guess. An educated guess, perhaps, but a guess nonetheless. Research makes the difference between a good guess and a great product.

Here are a few easy ways to get started with user research:

  • A simple user survey delivered to your website’s audience after a conversion or through a pop-up is a great place to start. Ask them questions about who they are and their reasons for visiting your site. You’ll learn what their needs are and how to meet them.
  • Conducting in-depth user interviews is a good next step. Combined with data from the user survey, interviews will help round out your findings with insights from specific people. Make sure to be careful in who you interview though. Interviewees ought to be removed enough from your organization to be able to have an outsider’s perspective. (Hint: members of your organization’s board of directors are a bad choice.)
  • Dig into your website’s analytics. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your site, stop what you’re doing right now and go set that up. It’s cool. I’ll wait. Once you have Analytics up and running, use it to learn about the people who visit your site. There are LOTS of things you can track but I’d recommend starting with monitoring the number of pageviews. The pages with the most views are the ones you want to focus your attention on as you move into optimization.

2. Test your site to make sure users can do what they want

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A few days ago, I tried to fill out a form on a non-profit’s website. When I tried to hit “submit,” the website scolded me for not entering a bunch of personal information that I had deemed irrelevant and unnecessary. Rather than try again and give away more information than I wanted to, I abandoned the form and made a phone call instead.

The form was supposed to enrich my experience and make my process easier. Instead, it made my experience harder and got in my way. Here’s the principle: even if you have a really slick process that makes YOUR life easier, if it doesn’t make the user’s life easier they won’t use it.

Here’s the principle: even if you have a really slick process that makes YOUR life easier, if it doesn’t make the user’s life easier they won’t use it.

You can learn how to make things more helpful for your users by doing some simple testing on your website:

  • Usability testing is a quick, easy win. Start by identifying the primary goals you are using your website to facilitate, (confirm them through user research!) and then get a small group of users together and ask them to try to accomplish specific tasks that are essential in achieving those goals. Watch while they try. You’ll learn a lot.
  • A/B testing is another way to quickly figure out what works best for your audience. Using a tool like Optimizely, you can run tests on dual versions of just about anything on your website to learn which one performs better. (For more on A/B testing, check out this post from my friend, Mark, on how to run a succesful A/B test: 41 Shades of Blue)
  • User Experience audits are another great way to get very detailed feedback on how to improve your site. This isn’t a job for your sister’s boyfriend’s cousin though. Bring in experts who are trained in the dark art of UX.

Kill your expectations, not your website

If you want to keep your website relevant and helpful for your audience, the big question you need to answer is this: are you willing to kill your own expectations of what your website is supposed to do? If so, you’ll be able to adapt and meet your user’s needs. If not, your website’s untimely death might just be the start.

Don’t know where to start with evaluating your website? Let us help! One of our User Experience experts will do a FREE 5-point UX Evaluation of your non-profit’s website, no strings attached.



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Ryan James

Ryan James

As a User Experience Designer, Ryan creates beautiful user-centered web experiences, optimized for usability, conversion and growth. His work has led to increased online revenue and deeper user engagement for clients, including Feed the Children, Kids Alive and Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities. Ryan is passionate about serving Christian non-profits that share Gospel truth and compassion with the “least of these.” Contact Ryan at rjames@masterworks.com.

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  1. Brian Olson says:

    Great stuff, Ryan! I know our website is awful, so I’m looking forward to your evaluation to see the top areas where we can improve.

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