Over the years we have seen quite a lot of websites. Some good, some bad and some downright unusable.
What all the bad ones have in common is a lack of focus on users. And this tends to be for one of three reasons:
- Unclear website strategy
- Too much internal focus
- Users not involved in the development
Below we explore each of these pitfalls in more detail and how to avoid them.
Unclear website strategy: the purpose of the website is not clear
Occasionally we come across a website and are left scratching our heads, asking ourselves: what is the point of this site? This is often the case with microsites but has been known to occur on larger sites as well.
These are sites that have been developed without a clear strategy. They are sites that neither work for users nor meet organisational goals. Often, they are built off the back of internal vanity projects or external pressures (especially the case for public sector websites). But it needn’t be the case.
Before embarking on a website build, it is important to be able to answer the following:
- What is the purpose of this website?
- Is it serving a genuine user need?
- If so, is a website the best channel for this?
- What will success from this website look like for the organisation?
If you cannot put a big tick next to each of these questions it might be worth reconsidering if the website is really needed.
Too much internal focus
For some websites, the problem is not an unclear purpose but the wrong purpose.
Some organisations see a website as an opportunity to broadcast their internal priorities; a platform to push their internal agenda. It doesn’t seem to matter that this internal content is not relevant or of interest to users.
This problem is often exacerbated by the design and content on the site. Design decisions will be driven by senior management preferences (who probably don’t reflect the target audience) and content is peppered with internal jargon and terminology that is incomprehensible to the average user.
Combined this can result in a lot of internal pressure to go in a certain direction.
This is why you need to get some external feedback. The best place to go for feedback is your users. As the ones who will actually be using the site, their opinion and experience should be prioritised.
If user feedback is not possible, at least show the site to someone outside of the immediate web team or organisation. Fresh eyes will always give you a glimpse of the blinding obvious.
Users not involved in the development
While we are on the subject user feedback, let’s move onto our third and final pitfall: not getting your users involved in the development process either at all or too late in the day.
Many organisations claim to be user-centred and developing websites or digital content and services with UX in mind. Yet, at times, there seems to be a distinct lack of any real involvement from actual users.
Our worst nightmare is when a client approaches us with their newly launched website wishing to ‘validate’ their designs with users. You cannot be truly user centred if you only wish to validate. Validation means you want to “check or prove the validity or accuracy of” something. This means you believe what you have produced is the best option and are just looking for confirmation of that.
Instead, what you should be doing is testing your designs. And this is a process that should start as early in the development timeline as possible.
Waiting until the website has already launched is leaving it too late and could potentially mean costly and time-consuming amends that could have been avoided.
We recommend getting your users involved at three key points:
- before embarking on a new site build to understand user needs
- once early stage prototypes have been developed
- iteratively during the build phase
There is no such thing as too much user feedback. It can feel time consuming and may not always be what you want to hear but it will ensure that the digital service you build works effectively for you, your users and your organisation.