Think about your website. Do you like the design? Do you like how the navigation works? Is it easy to use? Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. It only matters what your users think of the website. Whether or not they find it easy to use, think that it looks attractive, reputable, and trustworthy. Getting out of your own head and into those of your customers is the key to increasing engagement among website visitors, increasing trust and buy-in, and ultimately generating more enquiries or sales. So how do you figure out what your users think of your website? There are sure-fire ways to establish this information (such as usability testing, interviews and feedback sessions, and user research), however they come with budget and time considerations.
How do I identify usability issues on my website for free?
Luckily, there is a free approach that you can follow to put yourself in the shoes of your users and learn more about the quality of your website’s User Experience (UX) yourself. Identifying user journeys and walking through them yourself is a great way to see any usability issues and identify opportunities for you to delight customers.
How to create a user journey
First thing we’ll do is put yourself in the shoes of your typical customer. To be honest, identifying your typical customer can be a job in an of itself! Think about one particular scenario, let’s say, a brand new user coming to your site for the first time.
Start at “Day 0”
Start to think about the very first flicker of interaction your customer has with your company. This is often, but not always, before the user arrives at your website. They could hear about you from a friend, see an advert from you in a magazine, see something a friend shared on social media, or any number of things. Many of these won’t be in your direct control, so it’s important to think about the impression people will have of your company before they even arrive at your website. Now, think about how people arrive at your website. Do they search for specific products or services and end up arriving at your website on one of the internal pages? Like a service or product page. Or do they often arrive at the homepage? A combination of Google Analytics and Search Console will help you to identify this information.
Once people arrive at your website, what kind of mindset are they in? Are they likely to be:
- Frustrated, and this is why they’re looking for your website
- Excited to find something new on your website
- Tired after having viewed many other similar websites
- On autopilot looking for a specific word or key phrase
Put yourself in your shoes and think about all the different possibilities. It’s reductive to think that there is one mindset that users are in when they arrive at your website – humans are complicated beings after all! But it is helpful to think of the array of different moods people could be in, and then identify four or five of the most likely.
How do users react to your website?
Then, think about the next steps a user might take after landing on the page:
- They like what they see and start to interact with the page, like scrolling down or viewing galleries
- They notice something else they like so they click on it
- They think this is the wrong info and click back in their browser to go back to the search results
Ideally, you’ll want to have designed your SEO and digital marketing well so that the people ending up on your website will find your services relevant and desirable, so that you will want to encourage them at this stage to explore the site further.
If you were a new customer, one example might look like this:
- You are wondering if anyone sells vegan cat food
- You get out your laptop and search Google for “Vegan Cat Food”
- Look through search results
- Click on the website homepage
- Look for particular keywords to reassure you’re in the right place (“vegan”, “cat”, “food”, “free delivery”, “sale”)
- You see this company offers vegan food for all kinds of animals
- Click through to cat food to see the range of options, find one that you like and browse the options
- You’re not ready to buy right now, so you close your laptop and move on
- You end up forgetting about the website
- A week later someone mentions pet food and you’re reminded that you were searching for this
- You go back to the computer and Google same thing, you see the 4 purple links that you ended up clicking on
- You click on the websites again in turn
- And so on
It’s important to think about a realistic user journey and not an idealistic one. People get distracted, they click on competitor’s websites, they forget about you, and then are reminded about you. That’s life, and you’ll need to design your website and content around this.
Identify potential roadblocks
Now, split out the above into key steps that we have influence over. For each of these, ask yourself as a customer:
- What do I want at this point?
- Is there anything is preventing me from proceeding at this point?
- Is there anything that I could benefit from knowing here?
- A couple of examples for the above are as follows. Let’s say I arrive at website after googling.
- I want to be able to see reassurance that this is what I’m looking for: vegan cat food, preferably with a sale on, with free delivery available
- If I can’t see how to get to cat food quickly I may go back to the search results
- Since the company actually provide vegan food for all kinds of animals, it would be worth promoting this subtly just in case I have other pets
Don’t just do this for one key step, do it for all of the key steps in your user journey.
Now, find opportunities for website tweaks
Now, critically review your website for each stage. Does it support what users want? In the above example, are the crucial keywords clearly visible on the homepage? Secondly, does your website inadvertently prevent users from clicking through to more pages? Is it difficult to see at a glance what you should do next? Remember, in this situation users just don’t have time to read every word of your website and are more likely to scan for keywords and big colourful buttons to click on. Try the blur test, if you look at your homepage and squint, is it obvious what you’re “supposed” to click on next? Is there an obvious call to action? Is there anything you could provide for the user at this stage to make the scenario more interesting, delightful or enjoyable? Reducing effort and increasing helpfulness to your potential customers during each of these stages will increase their satisfaction and ease of browsing.
Rinse and repeat
In this example we looked at the scenario of a brand new user coming to your site for the first time. But the truth is there are lots of scenarios and lots of reasons for people to come to your website.
- A brand new customer, but on a mobile device while waiting for the bus
- A past customer coming back to see what’s changed
- An existing customer coming back to order more of something specific
- An existing customer logging in to change their email address
- Have a think about some of the key scenarios for your website.
It’s a good idea to think about all of these before you start to make any actual changes to your site. You may find that a change that benefits one user actually hinders another, or you may find one change can actually benefit several different kinds of users.