How To Obtain a Flawless Site
By Bob McElwain
Want to discover some truly awesome flaws in your site? Want to look reality square
in the face? If you have broad shoulders, and can handle some pain, try this.
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
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
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.
How 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 many clearly off target.
Teenagers, while quite willing, are not good candidates. They are aggressive,
unafraid, and could care less. You want testers who can at least try to put themselves
into a frame of mind you expect your visitors to have.
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.
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
- The timing suits them.
- They are more comfortable in familiar surroundings.
- I get to see yet another system.
- The latter is always enlightening.
If you haven't tried this approach, you may scoff at the notion. I suggest you
give it a try in any case. 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 testing sites.
The Manner Of Usage Is Always Unexpected
From the moment you begin the design of a site, you have a plan for how it will
be used. You must. Else pages will not be interconnected. There will be little
flow from page to page. And the site will lack a strong central core. Once given
a plan, it's easy enough to follow it. And to make sure at each step you are on
What such sit-down testing provides is clear demonstration of something we already
know: People do not view or use our site in the way we expected them to. They
don't "see" our plan. And most wouldn't follow it if they did.
Usability 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
In an all out campaign by larger firms with the budget to handle the task, selection
of testers is a big item. The process is rigorous and costly. And the best testing
is done in a laboratory setting, with a vast array of sophisticated tools. As
an example, eye movements can be tracked to easily point to elements that create
uncertainty, confusion, rejection, and so forth.
In sit-down testing as described above, many of the fine points will be overlooked.
But much 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 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. In general, ignore compliments or positive comments of any kind.
What you seek are clues to inadequacy.
What Usability Means
Usability means different things to different people. For some webmasters, it's
sufficient if visitors can get an order placed, regardless of the number of stumbling
points. Or how bad the stumbles are. Or even how many sales are lost. This view
is quite common.You can see this unconcern on many sites.
But there is gross error in such a view. It does matter where your visitors stumble.
For once identified, the point can be smoothed over so that future visitors do
now falter. Or at least you can get it cleaned up well enough that few do so.
At the very least, a visitor who stumbles is annoyed. And accumulated annoyances
bring exit at some point.
About the Author:
Abstracted From "Secrets To A Really Successful Website" by Bob McElwain
Bob McElwain, author of "Your Path To Success." How to build ANY business you
want, just the way you want it, with only pocket money.
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