I recently heard this funny story about baking a Christmas ham:
My daughter was in the kitchen, helping me prepare our family’s Christmas dinner. She looked up from peeling potatoes and asked, “Mom, why do you cut the ends off the ham before you put it in the oven?”
I stood staring blankly at the ham in its pan, its ends carefully sliced off. I had no idea.
“I don’t know, honey. That’s how Grandma always did it.”
“Oh, OK,” she said, turning back to her potatoes.
But I couldn’t let it go so easily. I called my mom and asked her about cutting off the ends of the ham -- only to get a long silence from the other end of the line.
“You know...I don’t know. That’s how your grandmother always did it. Let me call you back.”
About an hour later, my mom called back, laughing. She’d talked to her mother, and found out that the reason Granny had cut the ends off her hams was that her oven was too small for them to fit, so she’d trimmed the ends to get it in there.
All these years later, we carried on a tradition that no longer applied…
When is a website’s UX like a Christmas Ham?
What made the story funny for me was that it illustrates how often we simply stop seeing what’s right in front of us -- and keep doing things long past the point at which they stop making sense. It’s not that the mom’s solution didn’t work -- because it did. But it required extra, unnecessary steps, creating drag on the process.
Oftentimes, brands update the look-and-feel of their sites, neglecting to analyze the effectiveness of their user experience. Sure, your banner slider works, but are visitors clicking on your CTAs? Your product pages are gorgeous, but do they convert? Does the shopping interface support buyers by offering recommendations for related products? And how easy is it, really, for a visitor to find what they’re looking for, as opposed to where you want to steer them? If you haven’t looked at the overall experience of your site, you might have a Christmas ham.
The kid peeling potatoes notices where the process breaks down (or why you want an outside expert doing your UX review)
In our story, it’s the person who’s not involved in maintaining the strange ham-trimming practice who thinks to ask the question: “Why are you doing that?” In essence, she’s a third-party observer, with no real skin in the game, and that frees her up to notice things that her mother -- who’s very involved -- does not.
Think about it:
- Your designers like the way the site shows off your brand.
- Your copywriters believe their messaging is compelling.
- Your developers stand by their carefully constructed (and tested) code.
- Your stakeholders feel they’ve contributed input to a solid investment.
And why shouldn’t they? They’ve all worked hard to bring your website to fruition. But have they really considered how each of their contributions affects the others? Do they see the overall arc of the interactive journey they’ve created? Have they accounted for what happens leading up to, during, and after the sale?
Or are they too close to their creation to see where interactions go awry or visitors bail because of something that doesn’t feel right to them?
The only way to find out is to consult with an outside UX expert. But how do you know they’re an “expert?”
You can’t beat a tradesperson at their trade: The advantages of consulting with a certified UX Professional
It’s not just the “outsider” perspective that makes a UX consultant valuable; it’s also their certifications. A certified User Experience (UX) Designer or UX Analyst has gone through credentialing with a respected program, such as those offered by Human Factors International (HFI), the Nielsen Norman Group, General Assembly, Adaptive Path, or even a university’s degree program. These folks have been professionally trained to perform analyses, conduct research, and facilitate several different types of user testing. They’re part designer, part data analyst, and part anthropologist -- keen observers and curious explorers who know how to make digital interactions work for your customers.
Certified UX professionals are deliberate and analytical, as well as creative, so they don’t guess at their approach to identifying and solving problems for their clients. They have a clear plan and a set of proven methods.
What’s inside an Expert UX Review?
Not surprisingly, Expert Reviews vary widely, depending on the type and depth of your outside expert’s training, but they all involve using a variety of technologies and approaches to gather data and analyze what you already have, talking to end users about how to best meet their needs, and making recommendations for how to close the gap. Your UX analyst or designer will generally look for the following high-level components:
Overall user experience. Here we address the overall credibility, trustworthiness, reliability, and consistency of your site’s presentation, including visual design, layout, and interaction design. The focus is how well site elements come together to communicate with and support your visitors’ interactions with it.
Accessibility. Users have a wide variety of needs, some of which fall outside aesthetics and good messaging, and this part of the Expert Review takes a look at how easily people with special needs can interact with your site and its individual elements.
Navigation and linking. How you help your visitors find and use site information is as important as the information itself. An Expert Reviewer will evaluate the organization, labeling, visual cues, and effectiveness of your navigation and linking strategy.
Searchability. While your navigation should provide a solid foundation for helping site visitors find what they need, an accessible, well-architected search option can get them to specific content more quickly, so we look at the availability and usability of search.
Content. This analysis has less to do with your messaging and more to do with how easy your content is to read, scan, and understand.
Compliance. Where appropriate, an Expert Review will analyze your site’s regulatory compliance, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
After the review, your UX expert will often contribute to scoping and planning any changes he or she recommended. Many UX professionals also have visual design, front-end development, content strategy, or other useful skills to help your team with implementing the changes.
With consumers doing more and more of their shopping online, your commerce site has a lot of competition. Attractive design and compelling content are great, but they aren’t enough to convert visitors and nurture repeat business. To meet those objectives, you also need a user experience that helps site visitors find, learn about, and purchase what they need, and the only way to do that is to ensure their interactive path is clear, simple, and trustworthy.
An Expert UX Review provides an informed, outside analysis of your site’s performance, as well as recommendations for improving it for your customers and, ultimately, your business.