Website User Needs Can’t Be Presumed

Site owners often tell me things like, “Users are going to love this feature” or “This tool is perfect for what our visitors should be doing.”  My response is usually, “Is that what testing has shown?”  The reason I ask this question is because many site owners make decisions on gut feel.  After making the gut call, many of them will lament/blame, “Users are really missing the boat with this, here’s all the great things they could be doing . . .”  Your users are not you, so don’t presume they feel just like you.  Do some testing to ensure that a feature or tool you are developing is something users desire.

Doing a short reality check on how well your presumptions match up with user needs is worth the effort.  In a recent conversation with a site owner, he was complaining about an event matrix tool that he had launched for his users to track events of interest related to his site’s content.  He was sure that every user would want to use it.  After spending significant time and energy, he discovered very few users had an interest.  He could have saved some time and/or developed a more desirable tool if he had done a reality check before investing in the tool.

Testing doesn’t have to be a giant undertaking, though for large sites or in depth campaigns it needs to be thoroughly planned.  For smaller sites it is less in depth.  Testing can be a sample of people that visit your site and provide feedback on how they use the site and what they’d like to see.  It can also be a user test session where a person uses the site and the site owner observes how and what they use.  This is sometimes more valuable, as actions will speak louder than words.

Here are the primary things to look for from the tests when deciding  if the feature you feel is great, actually cuts the mustard with users:

  • Navigation – A great tool is worthless if people can’t find it.
  • Usability – Users have to be able to easily use the feature or tool.  Make sure it is intuitive so that users will stick with it and get the maximum benefit.
  • Functionality – The feature or tool better do what you claim it will.  Setting expectations that aren’t met will harbor resentment.
  • Communication – You won’t have a lot of time to highlight your feature or tool using online communications.  Spend some time boiling it down to its most basic benefits so you can concisely generate interest.