Building a Solid Foundation

By Claire Napier

Website projects often start with a lot of enthusiasm. People are tempted to jump right to the “fun” parts of web design, getting excited about the potential new look, features and functionality. This is like picking out drapes and paint chips for a new house before a blueprint has been made.

People within an organization usually begin a website redesign with ideas for how to change the existing site. And while that’s a good place to start, the most valuable ideas should come from your site’s users. To improve your audience’s experience on the new site, consider the following:

Analyze your existing site

The first thing you need to know is what content your visitors are looking at. Your web host should be able to provide statistics on web page views and how people find your site. Google Analytics can also be installed on sites for free. Often, people are surprised to find which pages are being looked at and which are not. Ultimately, a thorough website content audit will answer two questions: What’s there? And, is it any good?

Gather insights, not just facts

Website statistics only provide information about existing content. Focus groups or one-on-one interviews can help identify needs that are currently unmet, or features that are difficult for your visitors to find or use. Focus on understanding your user’s needs rather than on current habits. Ask why they visit your site, what other sites they visit, and what needs are met there. What are they not finding on the web? Can you fill that need?

Users can also help you organize the site. Find out what categories they want to see in the main navigation, and what information they would expect to find in each category. While no two people will organize a website exactly the same way, look for patterns that will help you choose the best path to information.

Test your assumptions

Make time for usability testing. You don’t need video cameras, statistically valid samples, or white lab coats. Conducting a web usability test can be as simple as sitting with a test subject at a computer. Ask them to articulate their needs. Ask them to perform tasks. Then watch and listen.

It’s important to conduct usability tests early (and often) in your project. As web usability consultant Steve Krug says in his book Don’t Make Me Think, “Testing one user early is better than testing 50 near the end.” This allows for an iterative process in which your design continually moves closer and closer to the ideal solution.

By employing a process that includes data analysis, insights from your site’s users, and usability testing throughout, your new website will have a solid foundation. This provides the best chance of building a successful website, one which meets your audience’s needs.

Next, onto an even tougher problem: settling on a content strategy

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