A woman, a ytechnology expert, looking through a microscope while analysing websites.

Mastering Website Assessment Methods: A Guide to Optimizing Your Online Presence

Table of Contents

Simple Tests to Ensure Your Website Doesn’t ‘Suck’

It’s hard to be a fair judge of your products and services. It’s human nature: if we put enough time into pushing a project to completion, it has to be awesome because if it’s not, then we aren’t awesome. First, this fails basic logic, and second, this isn’t about you. It’s about your prospects and customers.

This thinking applies to everything you build, including that monstrosity of a website you’ve been forcing your friends and family to see every version of.

So, how do you get a natural feel for your website? Below, we’ll outline roughly 20 comprehensive methodologies companies use to assess and enhance their websites. Still, once we’ve gotten through the hard stuff, I’ll give you a few easy ‘smoke’ tests to determine if it’s time to start looking into this.

Comparing Technical and User-Centric Website Assessment Methods

Let’s be more explicit at the start: Lots of work goes into doing this correctly, which is why companies employ teams and agencies to manage these processes for them.

I’m not suggesting that the quick, non-technical versions are replacements or even close approximations to the technical ones. This article aims to explain the process when it’s done correctly, then provide some smoke tests to help you know where to start looking and what you should be aware of when talking to developers and agency partners.

There are several automated tests you can employ for your site to determine if it sucks (is slow or doesn’t have an excellent mobile experience). One of the drawbacks for the layman is that these tests are technical. You will be able to read what’s wrong, but unless you have a background in web development, you probably won’t be able to tackle the mediation of these issues on your own.

You will need a developer or web infrastructure expert to translate the issues to others or fix them. Many of these issues will be highly technical, and I assume you source for this talent and aren’t doing it yourself. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry. Professor Xavier. 😊

I will add this: if you do engage someone to fix these issues and they aren’t using this tool (Google’s Page Speed, specifically) to communicate their progress or outcomes, they aren’t the team you need to support you.

Okay, let’s get started.

Website Testing Methods by Complexity and Effort

Here’s the list magic list of Website Assessment Methods in order of effort and complexity.

Low Effort / Complexity:

Surveys and Feedback Forms: Collecting user feedback through surveys, feedback forms, or chatbots to gather insights, opinions, and suggestions directly from visitors. This is an easy one that most large and small companies fall short of. You should have an ongoing feedback system on your site, preferably in different forms and asking different questions, but there’s one cardinal rule here. 

You must use the information you gather and let your visitors know what you’re doing. If a customer takes time to give you feedback and you don’t use it, they will feel like you wasted their time and will likely hold a grudge. I would.

Content Audits: Review and analyze the website’s content to ensure it’s relevant, accurate, and aligned with user needs and goals. This is another one companies fail at. 

Most content gets written for several reasons other than it being something customers are looking for. That’s why 95% of it goes unread. That can be okay if your strategy is to build topical authority on a new category, but it shouldn’t be the case if you’re selling into a market where prospects are problem-aware. 

Accessibility Testing: Ensuring the website complies with accessibility standards (e.g., WCAG) to accommodate users with disabilities, such as screen readers and keyboard navigation. This is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure your content is available to everyone. 

Usability Expert Reviews: Employing usability experts or UX designers to evaluate the website based on established UX principles and best practices. This one has a price tag, so be careful. Good UX experts are in demand. Good UX is a priority, but there’s a point of diminishing returns here. It may be better to ensure you follow basic UX patterns before you plunge into the deep end. 

Competitor Analysis: Analyzing competitors’ websites to benchmark performance and identify opportunities for differentiation and improvement. This should be in every toolbox, essential to everyone except Amazon. I wholly believe in Jeff’s philosophy here, but when you’re doing hand-to-hand combat with competitors, it doesn’t make sense to ignore them. Make them secondary to the customer.

Usability Heuristics Evaluation: Applying Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics to assess the website’s design for common usability problems and violations. Jakob has been doing this for decades. He delivers much content, but this 101 article should give you an idea of things to look for. 

Mobile Responsiveness Testing: Checking the website’s compatibility and responsiveness across various devices and screen sizes, including smartphones, tablets, and desktops. More than 50 percent of internet traffic is now on mobile. Google’s Page Speed tool does a great job in this area but can get technical quickly.

Cross-Browser Testing: Verifying that the website functions correctly and looks consistent on different web browsers (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge). Developers should be doing this as a matter of course. Any team you’re working with should be able to provide testing profiles for each browser

A young girl holding a book in front of a wall with mathematical formulas written on it, showcasing the complexity of ytechnology.

Moderate Effort / Complexity:

A/B Testing: Running A/B tests to compare different versions of web pages, such as layouts, call-to-action buttons, or headlines, to determine which performs better regarding user engagement and conversion rates. A/B testing is excellent for improving the site’s goals and conversions. That’s really what conversion optimization is about. Test everything and test often.

Heatmaps and Click Tracking: Using tools that generate heatmaps and click tracking reports to visualize user behavior, including where users click, move their cursors, and spend the most time on a webpage.

This is next-level work. It’s hard for smaller teams to do this effectively, mainly because you need a team of testers to assist, which comes at a cost. Back in the day, product managers like myself would have used Mechanical Turk to help with this, but nowadays, some companies specialize in this kind of support.

Eye-Tracking Studies: Employing eye-tracking technology to understand where users look, what they focus on, and how their eyes move across the webpage, helping to optimize content and design. I’ve never used this method, but I’ve read lots of research, and people swear by it. I’m not convinced, but I know this is in the ‘big company toolbox.’

Page Speed Analysis: Using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix to evaluate and improve website loading times for better user experience and SEO. You’ll see a of this work in the SEO world. On-Page/Technical SEO revolves around two things: making sure the page is structured to make you visible to Google and making sure your site is fast enough that you don’t ruin the customer experience.

The thing to remember here is that people are using different devices on different networks at different speeds. Delivering your web pages quickly is the only way to meet their needs.

User Behavior Analytics: Leveraging analytics tools like Google Analytics to track user behavior, demographics, and engagement metrics to inform optimization efforts. Good websites require good data to make good decisions. This is what makes tools like Google Analytics essential. Set it up today. 

Conversion Funnel Analysis: This involves tracking user behavior through conversion funnels to identify drop-off points and optimize the conversion process. This can technically be done using a good Google Analytics setup, but other tools are on the market. 

The thing to remember here is this line from Boiler Room: Jim Young: “And there is no such thing as a no sale [webvisit]. A sale is made on every [site visitor]. Either you sell the [visitor] some[thing], or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way, a sale is made; the only question is, who is gonna close?”

I’m being facetious here, but your visitors are coming to your site for a reason; your job is to get them to the next step in their journey. Funnel analysis tools help with this.

Security Testing: Conducting security assessments, including vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, to protect user data and privacy. This is a given in today’s day and age. Your hosting company should own this for you. 

High Effort / Complexity:

Usability Testing: Conduct usability tests with real users to observe how they interact with the website, identify pain points, and gather feedback on navigation, layout, and overall user experience. This is apex predator UX work. It’s expensive and time-consuming, but the best-of-breed companies on the web are putting in the hours here. 

Session Replay: Record and review user sessions to see how individuals navigate the website, encounter issues, and complete tasks. See above.

User Journey Mapping: Creating user journey maps to visualize the entire user experience, including touchpoints, pain points, and opportunities for improvement. My school of thought is that this is a requirement for all businesses.

If you still want things and expect customers to buy them, you should have a clear document (living) map of how your paths can intersect and what you are doing at those touch points to bring those customers to you. 

Performance Testing: Conduct load testing, stress testing, and performance monitoring to ensure the website can handle high traffic volumes and respond quickly to user requests. This is tough, arduous work, but it’s necessary. You can’t build the traffic you want to hit your goals if your website sucks and isn’t loading quickly. It just doesn’t work like that.

Continuous Monitoring: Implementing constant monitoring solutions to track performance, detect issues in real-time, and respond quickly to maintain a high-quality user experience. Again, this should be something you’re doing at any business level. As a smaller business, you can focus on things like uptime and page speed, but remember that the work is never done.

A ytechnology man hands-on with a drill, donning overalls.

Evaluating User Perception: Non-Technical Market Research Tests

Okay, now for the smoke tests. Again, these are not a replacement for the hard work above, but if you’re interested in getting a real-world perspective about three key core items of your web presence: Messaging, Perception, and 15 Seconds.

Here are the rules for each test:

  1. Don’t try them on anyone you already know
  2. Figure out a casual way to ask so that you don’t lead them to an answer
  3. You only have to ask five people to see if a fire might exist there.

Messaging: Who Am I, and what do I do?

Give the test person your phone or URL; when they get to the page, count 5 seconds (one, one thousand, two, one thousand, etc.). After five seconds, take the phone from them and ask them what you do. If they can’t tell you in plain English what you do, then the hero section of your homepage needs work. This is the first test and likely the most important one.

Perception: What grade would you give this site? Tell them you’ve been asked by a friend to grade their site, but you don’t know much about technical stuff. Please provide them with the URL and count for 10 seconds. Ask them to give a letter grade. Please don’t give them any hints. Let their response guide you. 

Fifteen seconds – While talking to someone in public. Please give them the URL and ask them to pull the website up and find specific information on the page for you because you’re having issues with your phone. Count 15 seconds. If the person can’t find the requested information and provide it before you hit 15, you have work to do on your speed, user experience, or information architecture. Your page should be fast and intuitive. This is a good litmus test for those two attributes.  

Wrap-up

You’re likely dizzy, given all the places we’ve visited. From low-effort approaches such as surveys and content audits to more sophisticated techniques like usability testing and continuous monitoring, there’s a testing method for every website owner, regardless of their technical expertise or available resources.

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