This article is written mostly with a web site in mind, but you can apply the same basic philosophy to pretty much anything in the world and your life. The philosophy is this: things will never get better until someone (hopefully you) finds where the problems are, identifies them as problems, and removes them.
On a web site we have the distinct advantage of being able to see pretty much everything that happens within its borders. By using analytics software like Google Analytics, Coremetrics or (my favorite) Omniture SiteCatalyst it’s extraordinarily easy for web designers, programmers and marketers to watch what users are doing with your site. The problem, however, is that most of these packages have a tremendous amount of data that you can look through. So, what your focus needs to be is to determine what information you’re looking for and focus on that.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to focus on giving the visitor a remarkable experience. What is a remarkable experience? It’s one in which the user doesn’t want to leave you site until the goal is achieved. In my opinion, it’s not about flashiness or spectacle, nor about guiding the user through the loopholes you might want them to go through for add-on sales, extra page views, etc. Instead it’s about determining why is this person on my site and how do I get them to leave fulfilled?
That is your goal. If they are fulfilled they will return, and they will tell others to come as well. If your business model is sound, good will come of this approach.
As for the analytics, however, the question remains how do I fulfill my visitors goals? What is my purpose?
Well, for starters, you need to figure out what that goal is. If you’re selling shoes on your site, the customer’s goal is to find a pair of shoes he or she likes, and to order them – or maybe just to add them to the wishlist to ponder over – so your goal is to help them find the right pair of shoes. If your site is there to give home improvement advice, your visitors goals may be to visit the site to find out how to accomplish a simple goal around the house (like wire a light fixture) – so your purpose is to get them to the right set of instructions (so they can print out the wiring diagram).
Once you’ve determined what that goal is, you need to find out what the barriers are to your customers’ success in achieving the goals. One of the best ways to do this is to watch for what are called “exit points” or “exit links” on your site. Where are people leaving? If they’re leaving before their goal has been achieved, you need to determine if there’s a specific place where this happens. If so, then that’s where you are failing them. That’s the place you need to fix. If it turns out that there are multiple places where people are leaving, then you will need to dig deeper.
In either instance what you’re going to need to start to do from here is determine what one problem is. What is a single barrier to success that you can destroy? It may be obvious, such as a broken link in an actionable area of your failing page, or it may be subtle, such as a variety of distractions on your pages leading up to completion of a goal, which combine to deliver a confusing experience with no clear path to goal fulfillment.
The point is, you need to find just a single issue and start there. Your analytics software will hopefully be able to help you with this. Before you look at the data, first look at the page you are trying to focus on and determine what the goal of the page is. Figure out what a customer should do on that page to achieve the goal, and then look to see if they are acting on it or not. The page, of course, may have several goals, but if each path is not clearly laid out, and one of the paths leads to a failed goal, then one of your paths is not clear. It is imperative that you follow each of your paths and determine if any are failing – but first focus on the main path you want people to follow. If you can determine that a set group of users should be doing a set action and they are not doing it, then you have problems with your presentation. You have something you need to fix.
This is what you need to watch for. Where are the barriers to your visitors joy? What are the things you have created that are stopping them from achieving the goals they came to you to fulfill? You need to find them and destroy them. It’s only through finding them, identifying them, and destroying them that you can create a fulfilling experience.
What did you do wrong today?