Web Design PT3: Learning from Your Mistakes

Web Design
In reviewing Elliot & Davis PC’s existing website content, we were able to structure a new website that better served their needs.

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

In this digital age, technology is advancing at a dizzying speeds.  If you own a business, it is practically mandatory that you have a website.  Not having a website could hurt the success of your business.  But having a website that is not meeting the needs of your users is a mistake that can also hurt your business.

There are many tell-tale signs that your website is not measuring up.  Some signs include a lack of traffic and a high bounce rate.  But these signs do not tell you where your website is going wrong and how to fix it.  To find your mistakes, you’re going to need at least two things:  your user personas and a content analysis.

What is a user persona?

I introduced the concept of users and user personas in my previous post, Website Design PT2: You Have Users.  You can read more about everything that goes into a persona there.  But for the sake of this post, a user persona highlights essential information about who is coming to your website and what they are trying to do on your website.  Mostly likely, you have a couple user types that vary in age, experience with your company, and experience with technology.  Each of these types would have their own persona.

What is a content analysis?

A content analysis is a two-part process that involves a content audit and an analysis of that audit.  A content audit is a listing of the individual webpages, the information on them, and how the pages link to one another.  An audit can vary in detail from a top-level skim or detailed sections of your website to a comprehensive listing of every page and link on your entire website.  This information is usually organized into a spreadsheet because the depth and amount of links can become very complex.  See Figure 1 for a sample of a content audit.

Figure 1. Sample of a content audit.

The purpose of a content audit is to define what information is on your website currently.  Once this is known, you can compare this information to your user personas, and specifically the tasks your users are trying to accomplish.  This is the analysis portion of a content analysis. Typical questions during the analysis include:

  • What information do I have that my users want?
  • What information am I missing that my users want?
  • What information do I have that my users don’t want?
  • What information am I repeating in multiple places? Should that be repeated?
  • Is there information I have that should be repeated in other places?
  • How many steps does it take for my users to find the information?

These type of questions help you identify information that you are missing or that is unnecessary. Sometimes to find the specific wording or the specific organization of content that is preferred by your users, a content analysis is paired with user testing.  User testing, like user personas, allows you to gain insight into the thought processes of your users by questioning how they would search for the information you provide.

Learning from Past Mistakes

Using a content analysis in tandem with your user personas will allow you to identify where you’ve gone wrong in the past and to fix those mistakes in the future.  Learning from your mistakes is essential in order to your website to contribute to the success of your business.  All websites are large structures of information, but a well-designed website doesn’t feel large.  A well-designed website pays close attention to their content and how it is organized.  They avoid mistakes like too much information, a lack of information, or hard to find information because these are all issues that will drive away their users.  For your website to be successful, you need your users to keep coming back.

If you operated alone in the world, this information would be everything you would need to know to redesign your website.  However, this is not the case.  Businesses have competitors and allies and neighbors.  In the digital world of websites, your business is not only being compared to your biggest competitor, but also to every website your customers have ever used.  Your content needs to be competitive in terms of your industry, but your look, features, and navigation need to be competitive with the latest websites out there.  This brings us to the next step of the process.

The Next Post…

This post the third in a series of posts on website design being published this month.  If you’ve enjoyed this article, watch for my next post, Website Design PT4: Competition in a Digital World, where I’ll be explaining how to discover who your competition is and how your website is measuring up.   The post will go live on Thursday, August 28.  If you missed our first post, Website Design PT1: 5 Wrong Assumptions, check it out to learn about 5 common assumptions about website design that couldn’t be more wrong.  Our second post, Web Design PT2: You Have Users discusses the concept of users over online audience, and how understanding users can help you create a more effective website.

Website Design PT2: You Have Users

Web Design
In our redesign of CAI’s website, we structured the content for their users.

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

When attempting to understand the choices and motives of your online audience, there is one essential fact you must know.  You can call them your audience, your customers, your clients, or your whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you understand that they are much more than these labels convey.  When they are online, they are users.

What is a user?

A user is a person with a purpose and existing expectations.  When they arrive on your website, they have a specific task they want to complete, and they have existing expectations on how they will be able to complete it.  Their expectations are based on a mixture of previous experience with the subject matter, other websites, and internal intuition.

A user differs from an audience in the respect that they are not on the website to read what you have to say.  You and your website are only one half of the conversation.  A user represents the second half of the conversation.  They arrive on your website with thoughts and questions about the subject matter.  As they seek to connect with you through your website, they will operate as they are having a conversation, not as if they are listening to a lecture.  In order for your website to be successful, it must anticipate the thoughts and questions of your users.  Otherwise, you will be leading two separate conversations in which neither party is satisfied with the outcome.

How can I anticipate my users’ needs?

In order to anticipate the needs of your users, you must first get to know who your users are.  You can start by segmenting your audience by new/returning visitors and demographic data such as age, gender, martial status, profession, etc.  However, the greatest websites often go much further, asking questions about their interests, values, beliefs, likes/dislikes, and so on.  In addition, they also question the motivations, tasks, and goals to be accomplished by the users when visiting the website.  All of this additional information is often complied into user personas for each user type who visits the website.

A user persona is a profile of a specific user type that explains not only common demographic data, but also a head shot, name, and personality of the user.  The purpose of a user persona is to aid the web designers and writers in imagining a specific person rather than a vague demographic.  It is much easier to create effective designs for a specific person with wants, needs, and goals than a faceless grouping of demographic data.

The personality and values of a persona can often indicate previous experience, preexisting thoughts, and the most important questions on the subject matter for that specific user.  This information is what provides insight into how that user will behave on the website.  Understanding this information for each persona is what will help you anticipate the needs of all of your users.

The Next Post…

This post is the second in a series of posts on website design being published this month.  If you’ve enjoyed this article, watch for my next post, Website Design PT3: Learning from Your Mistakes, where I’ll be explaining how to analyze your current website for how it does/does not meet the needs of your users.  The post will go live on Thursday, August 21.  If you missed our first post, Website Design PT1: 5 Wrong Assumptions, check it out to learn about 5 common assumptions about website design that couldn’t be more wrong.

How Google’s newest search ranking algorithm puts the focus on quality user experiences


This excellent video by SEOmoz explains, in everyday terms, how Google changed the way it ranks websites for search results, and how this affects your web strategy.


View original post and transcript: How Google’s Panda Update Changed SEO Best Practices Forever – Whiteboard Friday

I am a big fan of this new ranking philosophy and strategy, because it puts the focus of creating and maintaining websites on building sites that are interesting and valuable to their audiences, fun or at least easy to use, and well-made.

The more that Google and other search engines emphasize user experience, the harder it becomes for people to game the systems in the hope of getting big returns on low-quality web content.