Sometimes over my morning coffee I monitor forums where authors exchange advice about their websites. The responses to “What do you think of my website?” very often go a little something like this: “Looks great!”
Sometimes, I want to reply, “Are we looking at the same website?!“
Even the best user interfaces have flaws, or miss the mark for at least part of their intended audience. Doing a proper critique takes a lot of time and careful consideration (and can be painful), but it’s worth it and worth doing right. Here are some tips to get the most out of your critiques.
When asking others for their opinions about your website:
1. Know who you’re asking.
Ideally, you want to ask for feedback from your target customers, people who are experienced in matters of website design, usability or online marketing, or have been through the process of building a successful, effective website. If you are talking to your peers or anybody who will listen … understand that some of them may have terrible websites themselves, and you may not get useful feedback.
2. Be specific about what you’re asking them to evaluate.
“What do you think of my new website?” is going to mean something different to everyone you ask. Think about your business goals — if it’s to sell books, consider asking questions such as, “Is it easy to find information about how to buy my books?” If creating a personal brand is your goal, ask “Based on your initial impression of the site, what would you expect my books to be about?”
10 things to look for when evaluating your author site:
1. Is it clear what you want people to do? If you want people to hire you for a speaking gig, do you have a “Hire me to speak” link on every page? Is it easy to see/find?
2. Do you have information on your home page that’s not repeated anywhere else on the site? For example: you have a new book, so it makes sense to highlight it on the first page, but what if someone finds your site through a search engine and lands on one of your internal pages? Usability research tells us users don’t navigate sites in a linear way, they may not ever click on the “home” button in this scenario. So make sure your most important information is clearly accessible from your main navigation links.
3. Is your site readable? (Choice of colors, use of contrast, appropriate typography.) You may like hot pink text on an orange background but your users may get eye strain rather quickly and abandon the site.
4. Do you own the images you’re using on the site? Nothing says “unprofessional” like a stolen stock image with a watermark displayed across the top. Plus, stealing is bad. There are lots of public domain and free-to-use images on the internet if you’re grabbing watermarked images because of budgetary concerns.
5. Have you organized your site content in a way that anticipates user wants and needs? What are they there to do? If we assume they’re there to find out where to buy your book, how easy is it to find those buy links?
6. Check for technical problems that users may experience. Check your site on multiple computers and devices and see if there are any problems navigating or reading the site; check your page load time (if your site takes too long to load, users may abandon); make sure you don’t have any broken links or forms; check to see how your site displays in search engines.
7. Did you proofread your site content? Everyone makes mistakes, but as a writer, it’s important to pay special attention to typos and grammatical errors. Just this week I was looking to hire a writer for a project I’m working on, she had a great deal of experience, but there were so many typos on the site, I abandoned. I wouldn’t trust someone who is not careful and detail-oriented to do a great job for my clients. This is a no-brainer.
8. Do you provide some way for your site visitors to connect with you? If you have a blog, do you provide an RSS feed? Do you have a “contact” page in your main navigation? If you’re on Facebook, do you have “follow us” badge or link that’s easy to find? Are you providing links to your profiles on GoodReads, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube? Is your blog connected with your GoodReads profile?
9. Have you made it easy to share your web content? Facebook “like” buttons and social sharing plug-ins make this easy, and it’s a great way to drive traffic to your site.
10. Are you providing value to your audience? Is your content helpful, entertaining or informative?
Well, that’s a start and I hope you find it helpful. If you’re interested in having a formal website evaluation done by the Launch the Book team, we would be happy to help. If you’re brave enough, we’ll do it for free and give you our best recommendations for how to improve your site if you’ll let us post our findings on LaunchTheBook.com — if interested, send an email to Taughnee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy critiquing!