What is the Value of a Website Usability Audit?

I was surprised by the question when I was asked to explain the value of getting a website usability audit. The proposal was already sent, but the question of its worth remained open.

To be frank, if someone requests a service but doubts its value, my bells immediately go off. It is not rewarding for me to put in the effort, care and skills if in the end, the recommendations will be ignored. Unfortunately, ignoring the advice provided from a site audit or information architecture review, for example, is common. It seems like an enormous waste of money to ask for help and then decide it is not going to be used.

When Is a Website Audit Helpful?

Website audits, the way I perform them, include website testing. Maybe it’s because of my software QA background, but no site audit by me is begun without first knowing the company’s business requirements. Stakeholders have their ideas and opinions about what they think is important to have and I want that information. Companies are sometimes less informed about their target market. They have a limited perspective, ideas based on hope, and they rarely ever consider human behavior, special needs, country cultural differences, or thought to watch anyone use their website in various environments.

A form for checking requirements.Right from the start, testing should be set up and ready to go during the development stage and after the site goes live. It should be part of ongoing maintenance during the life of the website property. I can guarantee you that 80% of my clients do not do this.

A website audit ends up being performed when:

  1. The data indicates traffic declined after a redesign.
  2. The data indicates traffic bounces after landing on the site.
  3. Revenue is not meeting expectations.
  4. Revenue tanked.
  5. Pages rank well but conversions are poor.
  6. There was a redesign and all hell broke loose after that.
  7. The site is a few years old and no longer meeting user or business expectations.
  8. A professional SEO insists that one is needed to provide support for their marketing strategies.
  9. The site was never tested to begin with.
  10. Someone at the top is hell bent on owning a successful business and knows a site audit plays a part in cementing that success.

Why Is a Website Audit Ignored or Not Requested?

Mysterious events occur in my consulting work year after year and I’ve yet to wrap my head around it.  The first is not wanting a site audit. It is not logical to me to hire a designer or have someone in-house build a website and not know if it works.  And yet this head banging reality is so common that I began to think it is normal procedure.

I was surprised by the question when I was asked to explain the value of getting a website usability audit. The proposal was already sent, but the question of its worth remained open.

Why? Companies are not hiring the right website designers.  Here is the brutal truth about website ownership if you intend on making a living from one. It will take a team of people to build it, test it, maintain it and promote it. One person can not do it all, despite every possible attempt by people to do it this way. A graphic designer is not a performance engineer. An SEO is not an accessibility specialist.  A user interface designer is not a data analyst.  Someone needs to be trained in programming, mobile design, information architecture, human behavior, persuasive design, functional testing and content writing.

A website owner has expectations but lacks an understanding ofwhat is involved for website ownership today.  Hiring someone to perform a website audit is one way to know the truth about the status of a website. It’s about as fun as asking someone if you look fat. You already know the answer and dread hearing the truth anyway.

The second, most confounding mystery, happens when a client requests a website audit, knowing, in fact, that it will likely result in a strong recommendation to redesign it. All the signs are there but they need an official report with documented findings to prove it to stakeholders.

So, they have the site audit and testing done.   I’m not talking about a little review. I’m talking about a whole official site audit with every rock and stone turned over. The shopping cart is tested, both front and back end. The information architecture, customer journey and content are mapped and restructured with taxonomies, mental models, and conversions heuristics thrown in there. When I’m done with an audit, the client will know if they are at risk of an ADA Title 3 lawsuit or users are unable to use it from their mobile device. This is a robust audit. It is vital to have one performed before any redesign is begun or if considering a refresher with design enhancements.

When the Client Pushes Back

Some clients insist they know more than you do. Their competitors have a certain look that they like, and they want that too. Even if you do comparative testing and can show the competitor’s site is not the proper application for their business requirements, the client still wants what they have. So, they ignore the entire audit. Easily this situation costs between $10,000 to $50,000 if the audit included an SEO audit and yet the refusal to implement the recommendations, design specs, or action items is the result.

A table for recording critical errors.

Every site audit contract should contain a clause that essentially says that if you tell them how to make their website rock and roll, and they choose to ignore your advice, and continue to suffer and wreck their brand, you are not responsible.

The same situation occurs with landing page design work. There are all sorts of ways to design them. Each version must be tested. No one landing page should be expected to make anyone an instant millionaire. Landing pages succeed when the target market is understood. That means understanding and studying how they think, behave, and respond to specific situations that drove them to perform a search in the first place. A landing page may answer a question. It may also save a life, relieve stress or help a user win a TV contest. The requirements for a landing page can be specific. Every color, image and word are chosen to be there for a reason, backed by sound research and not “a feeling” or an opinion.

Landing page design is complicated from a user interface design perspective. It is a set of skills matched with data feedback and testing procedures that require training and software to use them.  Like a website audit, this is another area where site owners pay enormous sums of cash, only to ignore the recommendations for implementation.

What Do I Need in My Website Audit?

A full website audit for a large website may be expensive when performed by trained usability specialists. If a site owner has a good idea where an issue is located, that area can be the focus. Sometimes the audit is to test for mobile user experience only. What is not recommended is when a site has a global target market and an ecommerce section, and the site owner wants under 5 pages audited.  Those 5 pages will not represent the performance or user experience of an enterprise website that targets customers from many countries. They can be, however, proof of concept or examples of a larger audit or used for discussions with stakeholders who may need convincing that a full site audit is warranted.

What is The Value of Getting a Website Audit?

Your brand. Your reputation. Your bank accounts.  You value those things. It makes sense to do whatever it takes to properly support them.

Performance testing and website audits sometimes seem to be a dying specialty. With automation and tools used for testing and cheap plug and play web design software, there are ways to cut costs without understanding the risks that often result by doing so.

Risks?

The other day we had the oil furnace serviced in our farmhouse. I got to chatting with the gentleman as he stood outside his truck, which was jam packed with supplies, tools, hardware and all the goodies of his trade. We talked about farms and horses while he polished up a piece of apparatus. His job is to make sure the unit is safe and operational.  It requires maintenance and his skills. He clearly loves his work.  I made sure to tell him we appreciated him coming out and the several hours he spent cleaning and servicing the unit in an old farmhouse basement with low ceiling.  He concluded with praise for the furnace and how well it had been cared for before we bought the property and took over the duty. It will last “forever” he said.

A website audit and testing are worth the investment if you want your online business to be successful and risk-free for a long time.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

About Kim Krause Berg

Kim built her first website in 1995, launched Cre8pc.com, a teaching site about SEO, in ’96 and Cre8asiteforums in ’98. While employed as a user interface engineer, she was trained in software functional testing and human factors design. She has been a consultant since 2002. In 2012, she sold Cre8asiteforums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and in 2014 formed her LLC, Creative Vision Web Consulting, from which she consults for client companies large and small. The User is Out There is Kim’s weekly column, where she’ll guide you through the labyrinth of usability, user experience, conversions, accessibility and mobile design. For more of her thoughts on these topics and more, check out her website, The User Is Out There.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *