Does your website need a UX health check?

The updates, tweaks and changes that you make to your website can eventually add up to something that isn’t the perfect online experience that you, or your customers, want.

Changes to design components, adding awkward items into your navigation bar, migration to a new software system, campaigns that need a new content hub page, changes to the way you present products, organically growing customer support pages…

... the list goes on.

If any of these sound familiar, then you’ll understand that day to day business needs mean that the user experience of your service can deteriorate over time, leading to a slow build up of what could be called ‘UX debt’.

How can you measure your UX debt? In this article I’ll set out simple ways to perform a health check on your digital service, giving you a way to measure what’s needed to get your online customer journeys knitted back together - back into the seamless ride that guarantees delighted visitors and good returns.

Is your website working?

There are lots of ways to measure the success of your web service. Here are four simple questions that take things back to first principles.

  • Have you got what people want?
  • Can people find it?
  • Once they’ve found it, can they do what they need to do? (buy the product, donate to your charity, sign up for your service, etc.)
  • Will they come back, and tell other people how great your website is?

This article isn’t going to answer the first of those questions. That’s more a matter for service design, strategic thinking and research insights, that are all covered in other posts here on the Nomensa blog (for example take a look at Purpose, Value and Digital Impact - a Framework).

But difficulty with the other three - finding, buying and returning - are all symptoms of UX debt.

You may already be seeing signs that there is potential to improve website performance in these areas. Looking for patterns in visitor numbers, measuring changes to conversion rates, finding drop off points and checking what people are saying about you on social media are all good ways to perform a health check on your site.

UX health check

How you organise the content on your website is called ‘information architecture’ (IA), and it’s crucial for good usability.

Information architecture includes the categories and subcategories that you use to organise your pages and products. It affects the way you structure your navigation menu, the words you use to label things, and the way that one section links to another, with cross-linking that makes sense to your visitors.

To measure how well your existing information architecture is working, an online 'tree test' (also known as a ‘treejack’) is a very effective way to put quantifiable figures on just how findable things are for your web visitors.

A treejack will use an online survey, with typically between 100 and 1000 people. Presented with a schematic click-through of your content navigation hierarchy, users are asked where they would look to carry out a range of real tasks, such as manage their billing, find out about a new product, or find help when something goes wrong.

The results give you percentage scores for success at these tasks. They also show in detail where people went when they failed, and where they changed their minds. Straight away, you can see what’s working and what’s not, which things you’ve got right, and which things are just simply in the wrong place, where no-one expects to find them.

If the way to fix things isn’t obvious, then more research will give you the insights you need. You can use another well-established tool, called card sorting. This is literally asking your customers how they would organise things. Like the treejack, it can also be done using an online survey, with similar numbers of respondents.

People in the survey are given a set of 20 or 30 items, such as ‘I want to change my billing date’ or ‘I want more information on product X’. They then sort these items into groups that seem intuitive, and, importantly, you get the survey respondents to give the groups names.

Taking slices of the results at a range of granularities will give you invaluable insights into the big picture of what things should be called and where people expect to find them.

Freshly primed with this knowledge, you are now able to improve your information architecture, and test the new scheme with a second treejack exercise. This is a sensible reality check, to fine tune the detail and test any assumptions you have had to make along the way to creating your new IA.

Taking action - the importance of good UX

Ok, so now people can find things, but are they able to complete the tasks they need to for a satisfying outcome?

Has the fallout rate through your checkout got worse over time? Have recently reorganised product pages caused more churn in the paths that users are taking? Are you getting a drastic drop off at a particular point in the user journey? My colleague Robin Nash looks at this subject in more depth his his article Five ways to improve your online checkout process with UX design.

Insights from your web analytics will help identify the problem areas. But, as with all analytics, you need to ask the right questions. So hand in hand with analytics, an expert review of your user journeys can quickly identify where demands being placed on users are too high or too confusing.

Valuable insights are also gained through lab testing your site with a small sample of users of your service. The expectations and assumptions people bring to your site will be uncovered, suggesting practical changes you can make. These improvements can be built as prototypes, which can be taken back into another iteration of usability testing, which will even better inform design changes.

The results speak for themselves

We’re aiming, after all, for an experience that not only meets the customer’s needs, but delights them with the realisation that you have thought through everything they might expect, want and need along the way.

They know exactly where to find things, and what to do when they get there. They are confident about the service you provide, and they know what happens next after the journey is complete. They’re not bamboozled, they have no doubts, they are reassured. You use the language they understand. You know what they’re thinking. Because you treejacked, card sorted, prototyped and lab tested your way to a wonderful piece of experience design.

Generating enthusiasm for your service and brand is a direct result of a beautifully painless online experience. And the opposite, the pain points that are a symptom of growing UX debt, will erode customer confidence and prompt them to go elsewhere to find a better service.

If you think it’s time for a UX health check, then get in touch with us to start the conversation. Give us a call on +44 (0) 117 929 7333 or send us a message.

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