| By Bob
to main article page
often have you heard a webmaster say, "I just need
more hits?" How many times have you said this yourself,
maybe right out loud?
While more targeted traffic always helps, generating
it means wasted effort to the degree your site
does not accomplish its purpose. That is, until
it performs flawlessly. Advertising, for example,
may fail simply because your site is mishandling
too many of the hits generated.
So before launching further
promotional efforts, look to your site. Take a
close hard look at everything about it. Your objective
is to improve overall performance. This is the
best starting point on your path to increased
Handle Some Pain?
Want to discover some truly
awesome flaws in your site? Want to look reality
square in the face? If you have broad shoulders,
Sit down beside a person
interested in what your site offers. Sit close,
but back about a foot. You want to be able see
the screen and watch the hands and body language.
But you do not want to chat. Instead, you'll be
busy taking notes. And for sure you do not want
to make suggestions, for you want to observe whatever
Ahead of time, prepare a
list of clearly defined tasks. Include suggestions
of a mind set. Things like, "Okay, you're in a
hurry, but you'd like to buy a 'name of item'
right now, if it sounds like a good deal." Develop
others from which you can select as the session
continues. It may be appropriate at some point
to simply ask, "Can you find such-and-such?"
Ask all to try an order,
whether or not there is any interest. See if subscribing
to the newsletter grabs attention. Maybe ask,
"Would you like to tell a friend about this site?
Can you do so?" Build this list with care and
be sure your wording does not mislead. For a real
eye opener, ask them to find something that isn't
on the site.
When the tester stumbles,
restrain yourself. Don't jump in with a kind word
to ease the situation. Just take a deep breath,
swallow, make note of where the "fall" occurred,
then observe intently what the person does to
resolve the dilemma.
Do this right, and you'll
find it a truly humbling experience. Here you
are with a site you thought was perfect. Yet here's
a person stuck real good. Stay alert, now. For
he or she will likely stumble even further, trying
to get back on track.
Note the difference between
your tester and future visitors. Your tester will
try to work through it. Your visitors will exit.
To Find Your Testers
This is the hard part. You
want people who are as much like your target as
possible. Yet this can only be approximated. And
it's hard to find people willing to participate.
Thus you may be forced to take people clearly
Teenagers are not good candidates
for this kind of testing. They are aggressive,
unafraid, and could care less. (But do grab hold
of a couple, if you want to see if your system
can be broken! Teenagers thrive on such a challenge.)
You want testers who can at least try to put themselves
into a frame of mind you expect your visitors
Church and grocery store
bulletin boards may work for you. Or a brief announcement
in a meeting of a local organization, preferably
in person. If your target is a business person,
hunt up someone with a business; you can test
during business hours without undo interruption.
What works best for me is
to ask people to call, or give me a phone number.
When I connect with somebody I feel can help,
I offer fifty dollars for a half-hour of time.
Not as payment. Just as a way of saying, "Thanks."
Note I don't offer money up front, for it doesn't
draw the kind of person who can help.
I also go to them. There
are three gains.
timing suits them.
> They are more comfortable
in familiar surroundings.
> I get to see yet another
The latter is always enlightening.
I find that when testers
get into things, they'll often pound away for
a couple of hours. Do this right, and you'll come
out of such sessions shaking your head in near
despair. You'll be exhausted, likely needing to
cope with rivulets of sweat.
If you haven't tried this
approach, you may scoff at the notion. Still,
I suggest you give it a try. As a programmer,
I've used this method effectively to improve my
programs 10 times over. Often from working with
only 4 or 5 people. I've had equal success in
On The Cheap
What you are doing with
this sort of testing is a modest usability study.
Experts might scoff at such meager efforts. But
this is about as far a small business can go.
In sit-down testing, many
of the fine points will be overlooked. But most
of what really matters is available from body
language. Hesitations in entering keystrokes or
clicking with the mouse are easily noted. When
your tester leans closer to the screen, it may
suggest content hard to read, difficult to follow,
or at least something that interrupted the flow.
Work through this process
with even a couple of people, and you'll quickly
discover how to spot the clues to elements in
your site that need a second look.
And the words matter. Not
yours, for you have nothing to say. But those
your tester speaks offer clues of pure gold. Ignore
compliments or positive comments of any kind.
What you seek are clues to inadequacy.
Give this notion a try and
you'll discover a bunch of stuff about your site
that needs rethinking. Make some fixes, and you'll
quickly improve site performance significantly.
Then, if you're up to it, find another tester.
About the Author
Abstracted from "Secrets
Of A Really Successful Website"
to main article page