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12 Ways to See Your Website for the First Time

by Justin Palmer - September 4th, 2008

What’s possibly the #1 problem preventing you from improving your website?

You.

As much as we want to believe website optimization is all about tactics and strategy, often the key to success lies in our own behavior. In order for optimization to occur, we first have to properly collect and interpret data about our websites. However, if the daily processes which we use to collect data are overly systematic and rigid, inevitably out of the box thinking will cease to exist.

Let face it, we all get into ruts by doing things in the same old way. So how can we change perspectives and see our website through a different lens? Here’s 12 ways to help you look at your website as if it were the first time.

  1. Stand Behind Someone Browsing your Site: One of my favorite ways to inspire ideas is to hand my laptop over to my wife, and have her browse through a client’s website. As she does, I watch her browse the site and ask her questions. Because she interacts with the website as a much less experienced user, she often does things I wouldn’t expect.
  2. Stand Beside Someone Browsing your Site: Want to perform a low budget eye tracking study? Perform a similar experiment like the one above, yet this time focus more on the person than the website. Stand beside a friend or family member as they maneuver through your site for the first time. Pay close attention to where their eyes go as they browse. Are their eyes attracted to the page elements you would expect? Interact with them and quiz them on their impression of the website.
  3. Record Your Visitors: Screen recording allows you to see your website through the eyes of your visitors and offers an experience that traditional analytics software just can’t. The ability to see micro-actions, such as the cursor moving or visitors interacting with a form, is absolutely priceless, and something you will never glean from log files or Javascript based programs. ClickTale offers a free version of their screen recording analytics.
  4. Change analytics programs: Using the same analytics tools over and over can get you into a repetitive rut. I’ve found that looking at the same data with a different analytics program can yield insightful results. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with Microsoft’s new Adcenter Analytics.
  5. Try a slower internet connection: We forget how using a slower internet connection creates a shockingly different user experience. When page elements, such as images, embedded videos, or flash files hesitate to load, visitors may think your website is broken. For a disturbing reminder of a slow internet connection, check out this free application.
  6. Get an Analytics Buddy: Give a trusted friend or colleague access to your analytics data for an hour or two, and offer to do the same for them. They’ll likely interpret the data a much different way than you, shedding light on previously unnoticed trends.
  7. Use a Different Web Browser: As much as I love Firefox, I intentionally use other browsers on occasion. Sometimes even simple design modifications can cause rendering problems in less fortunate browsers such as such as Internet Explorer. Regularly viewing your website in multiple browsers will prevent simple rendering issues from going unnoticed for very long. Try BrowserShots for a quick screen shot of your website in all the popular browsers or give Google’s new Chrome browser a spin.
  8. Change your Screen Resolution: Using your web analytics, take a look at the 5 most common screen resolutions of your site visitors. If possible, adjust your screen resolution to that size and take a spin through your website. You might be surprised that certain mission critical site features such as add to cart or checkout buttons are obscured or below the page fold. Webconfs.com offers a nice little tool to simulate different screen resolutions.
  9. Adjust your Color Settings: Color settings on monitors vary greatly, frequently causing certain colors to have insufficient contrast with the background. Try adjusting the settings on your monitor, or using another monitor altogether.
  10. Browse with Script Errors On: You know those ugly little JavaScript errors that popup now and then? Make sure your internet browser it set to display them so know when one of your pages is broken.
  11. Use a Mobile Device: How usable is your website for a mobile user? Does it render properly? If not, try using a service such as Mofuse that can generate a functional mobile site based on an RSS feed.
  12. Work at a Different time: Apparently, I’m not alone in discovering creativity late at night. Taking a hard look at your website or your analytics reports when you feel the most inspired can yield surprising results.

Think about how you would react if you were actually able to visit your website for the first time? What would you tell yourself? Hopefully the tips above will help you uncover previously unknown issues with your website and improve upon them.

Have you used any of the tactics above? What other methods can inspire out of the box thinking and creativity?


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8 Responses to “12 Ways to See Your Website for the First Time” by Justin Palmer

  1. Steven Bradley Says:

    Some great ideas Justin. I especially like the overall idea that it’s you that’s responsible for your success. I think it’s all too easy for many of us to look outward and see all the outside forces holding us back. What’s happening out there is irrelevant. You and only you have the power and ability to make yourself a success or a failure.

    When you hand the laptop to your wife do you ask her to complete specific tasks or just let her browse wherever she wants?

    It’s hard for me to see my site for the first time again after I’ve worked on it for awhile. I will listen to comments others tell me about it to gain a different perspective. If possible with a new design I’ll walk away from it and work on something else for a few days or weeks. It does help when you first see it again after a time away.

    One thing I’ll do when developing is grab an idea and run with it just to see what happens. Maybe move the sidebar from the left to the right or changing horizontal navigation to a vertical one. Sometimes it works, more often it doesn’t, but it gets me thinking about the site in different ways.

  2. Justin Palmer Says:

    Thanks Steven. Typically, when I let my wife browse a site, and just watch to see what she does. I’ll interact with her if I see that she’s confused, or doesn’t understand the purpose of a page. It’s all about seeing her first impression, which is priceless. Not that she’s an expert is website usability, but neither is the average user. You and I will never be an average user, so the more input we get the better.

    I like you tip about walking away from a design for a while to work on something else. It’s amazing the different perspective you can come back with after a little time. I think I originally started this post 2 weeks ago with a completely different title :)

  3. Audio Bible Says:

    I just started using crazyegg about 2 months ago and I am learning things I did not expect. For me I think the clicktales may even be better in some ways…..

    What do you suggest?

  4. Justin Palmer Says:

    @ Rick,

    I think both CrazyEgg and Clicktale both give unique perspectives, depending on what you’re looking for. Clicktale provides a great summary of a landing page, however doesn’t provide a complete picture of how people flow through the site. Clicktale, in contrast, provides an accurate picture of how people flow through your site, but its difficult to get a summary level of what is happening, without having to watch each session recording.

  5. 10 Tipps Ihre Website aus einer anderen Perspektive zu betrachten » Tipps, Muster, Checklisten, News, Urteile für Online-Händler » shopbetreiber-blog.de Says:

    [...] folgenden Beitrag haben wir mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Justin Palmer für Sie aus dem Englischen übersetzt, zusammengefasst und leicht [...]

  6. License Plate Purse Says:

    This is pretty slick stuff.. I use ga now and just can’t get the same info that crazyegg could do for me. I am under 10k users a month for now and $9 a month is a bargain.

  7. Boost Conversion Rates: Web Marketing Success in 3 Words Says:

    [...] a fine line between making big promises and setting the bar too high. Take a fresh look at your site today through the eyes of a promise maker. Are you keeping them? Share and Enjoy: [...]

  8. Karl K Says:

    Add usertesting dot com to list, at $29 per user test you get screen capture video of visit and audio commentary of testor (with written comments as well). Have used on two new sites so far and been impressed with service and quality of testors.


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