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website usability testing

How Effective is Your Website? 3 Free Tools to Put Your Site to the Test

MAY 10, 2016   KAYLA MARGINEAN   0 COMMENT

For eCommerce businesses that earn revenue online, store websites serve as de facto salesperson, marketer and customer service representative for the customers who visit their sites. As the primary “face” of the business, the importance of having an attractive and effective website cannot be overemphasized. However, for many business owners and managers, site launch is viewed as a task completed, an item to be marked off a lengthy to do list and to be re-examined only when something breaks or fails to work properly. Instead, site launch should be viewed as the starting place for a comprehensive and ongoing strategy of maintenance and development, one that is closely tied to revenue and business growth.

Imagine these two scenarios.

6 months ago, Dave of Auto Parts Direct launched his online store. In the past, Dave marketed his wholesale auto parts by distributing yearly print catalogs to a network of repair shops and auto parts retailers. He was excited to take his business online to provide a more convenient option for his customers to place orders. Taking the business online had required a pretty large investment of Dave’s time, and an investment of his money as well. He had paid for a custom design, reasoning that a flashy new site might give him an edge over the competition and help him attract new customers. It had taken weeks to get the new design finalized and the site off the ground. When the launch date rolled around, Dave was thrilled to check the site launch off his to do list and turn his attention to other tasks. Other than responding to a customer complaint or two, regarding images that failed to load and other small matters, Dave hadn’t given his website much thought. With a flashy design like his, what could be improved? The site looked great and customers rarely had issues. There were simply more important matters to focus on in order to grow his business.

On the other hand, there's Lisa. Lisa sells monogrammed apparel and gifts online. In the past, Lisa had monogrammed clothing and gifts for family and friends - who had referred their coworkers, family members and friends to her as well. Over time, her business grew and her personalization services were in demand. She had eventually hired two additional monogrammers to assist with the workload. At the urging of her long time customers, she had decided to take the business online. Starting small, she chose a responsive theme from her eCommerce platform provider and worked with her small team to launch the online store six months ago. Lisa had spent considerable time researching eCommerce and realized that her website was now the most visible representative of her business. As such, she knew that the website was a work in progress, one that must be continually maintained and improved to provide an optimal experience for her customers. Lisa decided to delegate more of her monogramming responsibilities to her staff and focus more attention on her site and the growth of the business. Lisa ran a number of tests on her site over the coming months and learned that her site had several weak areas that could be improved. By adding page headings, optimizing her product images and adding alt_text, and by creating a blog to create more inbound and internal linking opportunities, Lisa could significantly improve her search rankings and usability scores. Lisa continually tests and tweaks her site to insure it provides an outstanding experience for her customers.

Based on the two scenarios above, which business owner do you think will likely have more success growing his/her business in the eCommerce space?

Marketing Sherpa recently conducted a study in order to determine if there is a correlation between ongoing website usability testing and revenue growth. The study grouped business owners and managers into one of two categories. Either business owners and managers were “reactive” in their approach to their websites, testing for usability only when errors or problems with their sites occurred. Or, they were categorized as "proactive" in their approach, testing for usability frequently, even daily. Of the business owners and managers in the reactive group, 40% reported slower than projected revenue growth. Of the proactive group, 39% reported that they were exceeding revenue goals.

Needless to say, website usability testing and an ongoing strategy of website maintenance and development are part of a healthy and proactive approach to revenue growth for online businesses. Here are three free online tools that your business can utilize as part of a three-part comprehensive strategy of site usability testing and maintenance.

Step One: Get A 30,000 Ft View of Your Website’s Performance Using Grader.com and SiteAlerts.com.

Grader.com is a free website evaluation tool provided by HubSpot (a popular marketing automation platform). Grader.com provides a relatively simple overview of your website’s usability, based on scores in four categories: performance, mobile, SEO and security.

Grader.com provides an overall score for your site (out of 100), as well as individual scores for the categories listed above. The report’s performance score evaluates your website’s effectiveness based on page size, page requests, page speed, browser caching, page redirects, compression and render blocking. For each of these subcategories, the report simply assigns your site a pass or fail, indicated by either red or green text. Each subcategory provides a brief description and links to useful information about best practices.

Grader.com similarly evalutes your site's mobile, SEO and security components, as well as providing a number of specific suggestions, “What Should I Do Next?” to enhance your site’s usability. Grader.com allows you to quickly and easily identify general areas of weakness on your site.

Once you have a relatively simply snapshot of your site’s performance from Grader.com, you can expand your 30,000 ft evaluation of your website with a report from SiteAlerts.com. Whereas Grader.com evaluates usability within the site itself, SiteAlerts.com provides a context for your site’s effectiveness by providing information about referral sources, traffic flow to your site, and social media performance. The SiteAlerts.com report is a useful supplement to the Grader.com report; for instance discovering that you have significant improvements to make to optimize your site for search engines based on the Grader.com report would be backed up by the SiteAlerts.com report, which would indicate that only a small percentage of traffic to your website comes from organic search. Although SiteAlerts.com is actually intended as a tool to evaluate and track competitor websites (more on that later), first put your own site to the test in order to contextualize your findings from the Grader.com report and create benchmarks for later comparison with competitor sites.

Step Two: Delve Deeper Into Specific Areas of Improvement With a Detailed Report From Nibbler.Silktide.org.

Once you have identified general areas of your website where improvement is needed using Grader.com and SiteAlerts.com, go deeper to identify specific trouble spots. The free Nibbler report samples five pages from your website and returns a detailed evaluation, with specific recommendations for improvement. For a fee, you can have your entire website evaluated. However, the free version provides ample information, more than enough to guide an ongoing website maintenance and development strategy. The comprehensive report includes an overall score for your site, with additional scores on accessibility, experience, marketing and technology. Each of these subscores is based on combinations of even more specific scores from the following categories:

  • Code quality
  • Google + page
  • Facebook page
  • Internal links
  • Popularity
  • Amount of content
  • Twitter
  • Images
  • Mobile
  • Server behavior
  • Analytics
  • Page titles
  • Headings
  • Incoming Links
  • Meta tags
  • Printability
  • URL format
  • Domain age
  • Social interest
  • Freshness

Perhaps most useful is the “Top Priorities for Website Improvement” section of the report. This section identifies the areas of improvement you’ll want to prioritize and provides useful advice for how to address these trouble areas. With these reports in hand, you should now have a good idea of how to begin shaping a strategy for tweaking and improving your site.

Step Three: Compare Your Site With The Competition

Tracking competitors in your industry is a great way to stay abreast of industry trends and generate some useful ideas for how to improve your website. By studying competitors who are doing well, you can begin to understand what works for your target customers and what doesn’t. For example, if all your top competitors have a large presence on social media, it might be time to enhance your own business’s presence on social media platforms by making sure that your website has ample links to your social media pages and vice versa. Do your competitors have a robust network of referring sites? What keywords are your competitors winning? What is the overall marketing grade of your competitors’ sites? What lessons can you learn from the user experience they have created. Additionally, by taking a look at the “Related Sites” component of the SiteAlerts.com reports for your competitors, you can pinpoint additional competitors that may have entered the market recently, or those that seem to be gaining steam.

Next Steps

All of this information is great, but it can easily become overwhelming. Now that you have identified specific areas of weakness where improvements are needed, you’ll need to create a plan for the ongoing tracking and tweaking of your website. Take the hint with the Nibbler report’s top priorities for improvement. These should be your first areas to consider. Tackle one at a time, by researching what is needed for your website to significantly improve. In some instances, collaboration may be required with your eCommerce platform provider to make the suggested improvements to your site. Benchmark your original website evaluation results and re-test regularly as you make improvements. By continually tweaking your website and by making the evaluation and improvement of your site a regular part of your business plan, you can best support the continued growth of your business.

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