Before working with you, usability consultants likely can give you a checklist of items they will evaluate and/or fix. That’s because usability is based on best practices, or items that apply to the majority of the people, the majority of the time. It might look something like this:
Typically, this checklist of focus areas will be the same for all eCommerce or Lead Generation websites, regardless of a business’s particular goals, limitations and revenue model. Certainly, the recommendations that come out of this kind of evaluation often can be very helpful. There’s nothing wrong with looking at some key areas of your website through this kind of lens. But don’t confuse this for conversion optimization… at least not intelligent (ie. informed and accountable) optimization.
These cautionary words don’t come out of nowhere. We recently had a client tell us about a company that wrote a blog post detailing exactly such an evaluation of his site, and he wondered why FutureNow’s “roadmap” for analysis is so much less concrete. Here’s the response from Melissa Burdon, one of our lead analysts, that inspired me to share this hot tip with all of you, dear readers:
I actually found this report interesting. It brought me back to my first year with FutureNow (almost 5 years ago). Sometimes best practices are good to look at because they really focus on those stumbling blocks that affect anyone and everyone. At FutureNow, we call these conversion stumbling blocks, because they are blocks in the linear path from homepage to checkout.
There are a few issues with only looking at conversion stumbling blocks the way this company has:
Problem #1- It isn’t data driven analysis. Whether we’re looking at persuasive problems or conversion problems, we should always let our analysis be driven by the data. The data tells us where potential problems may be occurring with high bounce rates or exit rates, etc.
Problem #2- Related to the first problem of course, is the fact that this analysis isn’t focusing on high priority, highest impact things first. The data tells us where the highest impact areas of a site are. The top landing pages and top exit pages as well as problems within checkout, etc., are all shown to us via data and are the areas of the site we should focus on first to get the best bang for your buck.
Problem #3- By only focusing on conversion stumbling blocks, they’ve bucketed everyone into a single grouping of people. You should never look at your visitor from a mass market view point. You need to treat visitors as people, as individuals with specific interests, motivations and needs as well as problems and hesitations. At FutureNow, in the higher levels of service, we create personas to represent our client’s customer types. We use the Myers Briggs Personality types as the foundation for these personas, as the four personalities really approach their buying process very differently. This means visitors interact with the content in different ways; they look at different parts of the page, and respond to bullet points or text links differently; different language will attract the various types differently. We map the demographics to the psychographics to create “real” personas to help us, as well as you, really empathize with your customers, which will help you treat them as individuals. All that is to say, usability studies completely ignore treating people as unique individuals.
The bottom line: good optimization goes beyond usability to question whether or not best practices even apply to your site, and under your circumstances, and to shine a light on how your customers will interact with your website. It has a strategy to address the highest impact area of your marketing efforts first, and to prioritize the highest impact changes to those efforts. It does this by looking at your data and using that to drive your optimization efforts. This means your data drives the overall focus of the analysis, not just the specific changes to be made to your efforts.
There are some touch points that stand out as good places to begin analysis:
Beyond that, the scenarios that lead from those sources, and the data that pertain to these scenarios, are what drive the next steps of the optimization process. So, analyzing where to go at each step of the process, and being open to re-charting your direction, become important components of success. Changing business goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) are also a factor, but more on that in another post. In this sense, a pre-determined list is counterproductive because it locks you into looking at certain items first, and won’t allow you to adjust when high impact opportunities arise.
To those of you who like to know where you are headed with something, and how to know if you are “on schedule,” this ad hoc approach might make you very uncomfortable. But, when you start to hyperventilate about what your analyst will be focusing on next, step back, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that the most successful optimization processes are customized to YOUR business, your efforts, and your data.