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Mike Fleming

Who’s to Blame for Your Bad Website Performance?

Mike Fleming
Who’s to Blame for Your Bad Website Performance?

The last time you launched a website, the performance didn’t turn out quite like you expected, did it? You expected it to be an upgrade. Conversion rates would be higher. There would be an immediate lift in sales. It’s so disappointing because a lot of people put a lot of hard work into designing and developing it; including you. You fought through all the discussions (probably arguments!) about color schemes, layout, navigation, content, calls to action, and on and on.

And then it didn't work.

Naturally, everyone’s first reaction is to begin thinking about who’s to blame.

So, who really IS to blame?

No one.

Everyone’s Doing the Best They Can

Let’s start with a little life lesson...

The blame game is what we play. Root cause analysis is what we need. The latter gets at the primary reason for a problem: why some process fails to achieve its intended outcome or it produces a surprise result…without addressing root causes, problems always recur. (Huffington Post)

For any group, company, relationship, etc. to be healthy and productive, you have to assume first that everyone is doing the best they can. When you do, you can move beyond negative emotions about the situation and deal with the real issue of solving the problem.

However, once we evolve to understanding the folly of this mindset (blaming), we feel freer and we become more productive professionally due to the minimization of unhelpful, distracting thoughts. (LifeHack)

If in your root cause analysis you find that positional changes need to be made based on competence, then so be it. But don’t let it be based on the unhelpful, untrue and distracting thoughts anger creates in an emotional situation. It’s just not productive.

So How Does Bad Website Performance Happen?

No one intends to create a website that doesn’t perform well.  So, let’s look at some root causes that tend to all work together to result in that output.

  • Lack of education. The people that create the website (designers, developers and decision makers) may not be educated in human psychology and interaction. Therefore, they build a site from their perspective, not focusing on the needs of users to complete the tasks they come to the website for.
  • Company culture. If the company isn’t customer-centric, learning about their customers won’t typically be a top priority.  They’ll build the website how they want it and expect customers to learn how to use it.  As Don Norman said in The Design of Everyday Things, “You are designing for people the way you would like them to be, not for the way they really are.”
  • Deficiencies of design. There’s a trend where every time technology advances, it repeats the usability mistakes of the past. It simply takes time for design sectors to catch up.
  • Time, budget and technological constraints. Everyone is trying to do the best they can with the resources they have available. Unfortunately, user experience considerations are the first thing to get cut.

Your Customers Blame Themselves

Ironically, the use of new technologies is one area where people will blame themselves for errors and frustration. They do this because the assumption is if it exists and people are using it, then it must be usable.

Take your average Baby Boomer and smartphones. All of us know of a Baby Boomer who stays away from the smartphone. And they do it because “I can’t figure out how to use that thing,” or “I’m bad with technology.”  They perceive that they are the one who is wrong or inadequate to use something.

The same goes with my 80-year old neighbors and their DVR. I showed them how to use their DVR once because they said they accidentally missed their favorite show one night. The next time I went over, do you think they had scheduled anything? Nope. But, they don’t blame the remote control or the cable system for that. They blame themselves for being old and “out of touch.”  But for them, it feels like they’re trying to navigate a labyrinth.

The same goes with websites. Users come to your site and by nature, don’t blame their frustration on the site. They blame it on themselves. And it’s likely that you blame it on them too. You think it’s easy to use because you built it.  You know your way through the digital maze. If you could only guide everyone through it, right?!

Optimize for Task Completion Rate

For any website, the best metric you could possible optimize for is not conversion rate. It’s also not bounce rate, pages per visit, or revenue. It’s task completion rate.  This metric answers two questions:

  • Why did the visitor come to the site?
  • Were they able to easily complete their task and have an emotionally positive experience?

Master this, and your website will help your business grow. Design in a way that forces visitors to go down paths YOU want them to go down, or doesn’t provide a way for them to easily complete their tasks, and your site will always struggle to have the impact you hope for.

Experience Users Using Your Site

In order to improve task completion rate, you’ve got to focus on human-centered design, or designing to accommodate human needs, capabilities and behaviors first. The main challenge here is that you have to go beyond sitting around a table arguing discussing the best decisions for the site. Human-centered design comes primarily through observation, and that requires knowledge, time, money and energy.

But the digital age has made this quicker and cheaper than ever before. If you’re just starting out, you can use free or cheap tools to get your feet wet.

For example, check out this survey that allows you to ask your web users the questions from above and give you feedback. What better way than to ask your users directly how your site failed them?

Or how about a remote user testing tool like usertesting.com where you can watch users with similar traits to your target audience try and complete common tasks on your website? I recently put together a test for a client skewed toward showing them how suboptimal their navigation was. They wouldn’t listen to me saying “Your navigation is messed up.” But for a few hundred dollars, they could watch multiple users struggle to find items they were looking for. They also learned numerous other things, like the fact that not telling users who’s shipping their products and when they are expected to arrive is a bad thing.

You have no idea why your website isn’t performing better, do you? You have no idea of the road blocks users are facing everyday on it, do you?  But you can.

Customer Experience Determines Growth

The biggest travesty of all is that no matter who the blame gets put on, a bad user experience will likely cause them to not further their relationship with your site and your business. As we know, cognition and emotion are tightly intertwined. A person’s emotional experience determines how fondly they remember interactions. If their experience with your website made them feel in control, productive and capable, they’ll remember their interaction with your brand as positive. If they felt confused, frustrated and angry, they’ll remember it as negative.

If you want your website to contribute to your business growth, it’s each little interaction that users have with it that makes the difference. Instead of blaming each other for bad website performance, start investing in learning how to make it better from the user’s perspective.

Mike Fleming specializes in PPC for Point It Digital Marketing a leading digital marketing agency helping businesses grow since 2002. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem.

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