How to evaluate your website without help from a web/UX designer
It’s 2018. A new year. You’ve written your 2018 business plan and you’re full of hope for the year ahead. There’s one task you know that’s extremely crucial to success this year and it’s a task you want to get ahead of – evaluating and redesigning/re-working your website to maximise its potential. I’ll discuss how to evaluate your website without help from a web or UX designer. From that, you can decide whether you do want to go ahead and engage a web designer.
Looking at these aspects of your website objectively will at least give you some knowledge before you engage a web designer. Companies with more of a budget for this redesign work may want to engage a web designer/UX designer to carry out this assessment for them – that’s fine if you’ve got the budget for it.
Sometimes, you may simply need a little work on the navigation, the content, or the layout, rather than all of them together. Other times, and perhaps more often than not, you’ll need a complete redesign of the website (that might even include branding too).
Who’s this for?
I’ve come across a few guides while writing this that are great as well. Sometimes though they focused on tools a UX designer could use, or go into a lot of detail. Curtis Newbold wrote a detailed article on The Visual Communication Guy on How to Evaluate a Website for example. It’s really useful and something I’ve bookmarked. It also contained some slightly more technical information which I’ve tried to avoid in this article. I’m aiming for less technical and more “quick and dirty”.
I’ve written this to be useful to anyone running a company that probably doesn’t have any web design or user experience design knowledge – As I said above, it hopefully will help you decide whether you need/want to engage a designer for a redesign or not, and will put you in a good place knowledge-wise to have those first conversations about what it is you need.
The steps I suggest below really will depend on your company – what you do, who you sell your services to etc. These steps also are simply meant to give you an idea, a feeling, of how your website stacks up now compared to when it was first created.
So. Where to start?
Strategy – Define your company aims and brand
First, we need to define your company before we discuss how to evaluate your website. If you consider the definition/aims/goals of the business as the end destination and the website itself as the journey, then you must understand where you’re going to be able to judge whether the journey has been successful. Here are three things to consider:
- What’s the category of your business?
- What’s the purpose of your website? For example, is it to get visitors to sign up to your blog’s email subscription list that ultimately will help you make a profit?
- Who are your customers and what are they going to do on the website? What are they visiting your website for? For example, are you supplying gym equipment and your website offers information and help on selecting the ideal gym equipment with which to initially kit out the gym?
From these questions, you should be able to define your business (you likely already have in the past, but it can be useful to re-evaluate so you can make sure your strategy and business definition have not changed).
Branding – A good place to start
A key part of your website is branding. As you’re reviewing your website, it’s logical to review the branding as well. How does it stack up against the definition of your business? Some things to think about here are:
- Your company logo – Does it represent your business well? Does it feel up to date? For example, if you provide cutting-edge medical equipment and your logo is a cartoon flower, do you think that represents you well?
- Colours and styles – The colours and styles used for your logo typically are going to be reflected in your website. Is the overall style combined with the colours used in your logo representative of what your company is doing? It will be helpful to have thought about this when we look at the style of the website.
Usability – How easy is it for visitors to navigate the website?
Regardless of how fantastic the content on your website is, or how its dressed in the design, if a user can’t navigate around your website well they won’t be able to fulfil the need they had before they visited it. I’ve focused on the navigation here so as not to go into too much detail. I’ll break this up a little:
Where is your navigation?
- First, is it clear where your navigation is? Is it clear that it is actually navigation? They don’t necessarily have to be in exactly the same place as other websites, but you should be able to see them without any effort. For example, are the navigation links darkly coloured on a dark background in exactly the same style as the rest of the text on the website? If so, they’re probably hard to see.
- Are the navigation links clearly labelled? Do they explain what information rests on that link? For example, you have a page that tells the user about who your company is. Is that page called “About”, “Our Story”, or “Where We Began”? Or is it called something obscure like “When the glass was empty”? (Ok, I struggled to think of an obscure example then. You get the idea though. The link should give the visitor an idea of what to expect on that page).
Is everything there that needs to be?
- Is everything on the navigation menu that needs to be there? For example, are there any important pages on your website that are only accessible from inside other content (like in the middle of the paragraph). If so, why are they not on the navigation bar? There might be a good reason for it, but it’s a point worth thinking about.
Does everything actually need to be on the navigation?
- Does everything on the navigation menu need to be there? Similar to the question above, but still just as important. Think about whether you have too much on your navigation bar. Does it seem overcrowded? Is it hard to find what you’re looking for? Does the navigation help or hinder your visitor from achieving the goal they visited the website for? There might be a very good reason for having a large menu, although many websites have opted to use drop-down menus. For example, have you got three categories of products listed on your navigation and those drop down to show the different products? There’s no golden rule here – just some points for you to think about.
Can visitors move around easily if there are lots of pages?
- If you have a lot of different pages on your website, can the visitor navigate easily back to the home page if they need to without using the back button on their browser? For example, think about whether it’s easy to get lost in a page without understanding where you are. This might only be more crucial on very large websites with many pages. A visitor might not want to click on the home page or go right back to the main products page if they’ve spent some time going through the different categories etc.
Think back to your branding. You may have decided that you want or need to rebrand your business to bring it up to date. If that’s the case then even if you feel the style of the website matches the current branding, you’ll probably want to update the website.
Still, review the style with the branding in mind and consider the following:
- Does the style of the website (the colours, the fonts etc.) fit with the sector your company operates in? For example, does your company provide recruitment services but the colours and fonts make you think of a toy shop? That’s an extreme example I know, and I don’t expect you to necessarily have a great eye for design or know the current trends in design. Just look at your website for a few minutes and keep in mind how you defined your business and the visitors you are targeting. You’re just aiming to get an idea of how the website feels.
You may already have heard that content is king. It’s true. Your content needs to be spot on. As with the other points above, I’m not expecting you to assess the content in the same way a copywriter would. As with the other points, we’re just aiming to get an idea or a feel for how it’s working.
- Does the content on the home page (what the visitor is going to see first) help describe what the company does? Is it immediately apparent?
- Read through what content you have on the home page and keep in mind the definition and strategy of your company you thought about earlier. Do you think that content is going to help fulfil those goals? For example, say you have a video on your homepage that’s designed to explain who and what your company is. Does that video actually do that? Is it the same video you had back in the 1980’s that you used to show to new employees? Another extreme example, but hopefully it illustrates my point. Again, you’re just looking to get a feel for the content and whether you think it’s helping achieve your and your visitor’s goals.
- Consider the main selling points of your company. Keep the strategy section in mind. Is your home page, or any other page, prominently helping you and your visitor achieve the goals? For example, let’s say your goal and what your visitors come to your website looking for is interior design services. Does your website have a prominent link to your portfolio (so a visitor can decide if they want to hire you) and is the ability to book a call/visit also prominent on your website? Are they easy to access and do they compel the visitor to take action? Alternatively, do they fade into the rest of the page and are easy to look past?
Analytics – What does Google Analytics say?
You should really already have Google Analytics and Google Search Console set up on your website. If you don’t, it’s simple to set up but you’d have to wait a while to see any usable information from it. If you’re reviewing your website now you probably don’t want to wait several months to get a good idea of where your traffic is coming from.
The idea here is just to get a feeling for how your website is performing in search engines and what the traffic looks like to your website. I do hope you’ve been keeping an eye on it perhaps each month to see how you’re doing, but I also know that sometimes that task sits on the back burner because you have to run your business…
I won’t into detail here about how to use Google Analytics or Google Search Console (or any similar service). You can find plenty of good guides online if you’re not used to reviewing the statistics yourself.
Assuming you have access to some analytics data, then here’re some things to look at:
- Look at the last 6 months to 1 year of data in Google Analytics. Are you steadily seeing an increase in visitors? Are the number of visitors steadily declining? Maybe they’re staying steady? The ideal is a steady increase in traffic over time. But as we’re doing a quick and dirty review then you’re looking for no major problems or declines, and ideally some growth. Exactly what figures you should expect to see is dependent on your industry. If you’re running a blog where the goal is an email subscription list signup then you probably want to see as high figures as possible. If you’re selling niche products to niche clients, then you’d probably expect to see less visitors but their actions on the website are probably going to be different.
- Are visitors viewing your home page but no other pages? If you have a fairly active blog (you should do, it’s pretty well accepted now that it helps boost your business) but visitors just aren’t viewing those pages then that suggests something is wrong. You ideally would have picked up from a content review of your home page as to whether you’re showing visitors to that home page that you have recent blog posts. If you do have a recent posts/articles section on your homepage, for example, but you still aren’t getting any views but are getting respectable traffic to the home page then this also gives you an indication that something might need work.
Google Search Console
- Have a look at the data on Google Search Console. This should tell you what keywords your website is ranking for. Do the keywords you’re ranking for fit in with your company’s goals? Hint, the overall position of your website can be a quick insight into how you’re doing.
As I’ve said many times above, this is aimed at people who perhaps are simply running their business day to day. Perhaps you don’t have much, if any, experience of web design or user experience design. This exercise is just to give you an idea of whether you want or need to engage with a web designer.
You might decide you want to engage a web designer for a more formal/professional review. Either way, I hope this has given you a bit of a head start. If you’ve gone through this and are contacting some web designers to start a dialogue with them, this post about what questions web designers ask should help too.