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Your First Usability Test for Site Rebuild

     
12:18 am on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Say you have a small site (about 500 pages) that is a complete mess with respect to information architecture, mobile usability and, well, pretty much everything. And say this site actually has a pretty high value and a decent budget for a rebuild. What tests/studies would you start with?

What do you think is the first and most important early test for getting it right?

I would tend toward starting with the basics of information architecture. And in that respect, here are some classic oldies to grease the mental gears

Information Architecture for the Small Site Part I [webmasterworld.com] and Part II [webmasterworld.com]

What's changed in 11 years other than the fact that pretty much everyone knows what a card sort is now, whereas most people did not in 2004?
1:45 pm on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Download speed.
This was important at the beginning of this century and for a few years fell out as broadband became the norm. Now that mobile is important download speed has become critical again. That means creative use of CSS, minimal or creative use of images, etc.

Content optimization
I don't think of schema microdata in terms of ranking boosts or ranking factors. I believe it fits into the original concept of Search Engine Optimization wherein the publisher makes the content easy for search engines to crawl, understand and categorize. There may be a CTR boost, but that's almost besides the point. Separation of style from content, heading tags, proper use of bold and italics fall into this area. This is perhaps one of the top three most commonly overlooked aspects of page design.

Post-transaction/post-visit activity
This is perhaps what's changed the most. Justin Sanger opened my eyes to this a few years ago. This is concerned with what people do once they leave your site. Do they share your content? Do they rate your site? Do they recommend your site? This is important to ecommerce sites but not limited to that, important for pretty much all sites. This relates to how (or if) you collect email addresses and how you use that information to encourage relevant post-visit activities. Do site pages encourage sharing? Are you encouraging feedback? How is all that integrated into the website?

Managing on page activities
This has been important for many years but arguably it's increasingly important since search engines may be tuning the SERPs for quality. Signals that communicate satisfaction are important. I see this as somewhat like shepherding a site visitor. Considering focus points that encourage them to linger (like photos), font spacing and font choice which encourages longer reading by making reading easy to do, that kind of thing. Encouraging a deeper click, making it easy to research and discover more content on the site. That communicates a signal of quality back to the search engines and may contribute to better ranking.
4:39 pm on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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I'd start with K.I.S.S. and go from there.

If site is info, then decide if you are a (examples)
Magazine
Pulp
Book
News
Technical

... and then provide that content appropriately.

Start with USER and FINDING WHAT YOU HAVE

If they can't find it, the site is toast. :)

This forum title says it all.

Too many bells and whistles for the sake of art or technical savvy won't replace giving the user what they want, what they came to find, and then send them off happy.
5:09 am on Apr 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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>>Start with USER and FINDING WHAT YOU HAVE

Most definitely. That's what I am starting with... right now heatmapping on the existing site and planning to do other things (navigational click tests and so forth). I'll use the existing site to gather as much usability data as possible.... then step 2?

- card sort
- hand-drawn wireframes for nav tests
- other?

Martinibuster - this is a list of requirements/features for the end product, all of which I agree with. The question, though, is more about which first steps in the research and scoping process -- long before starting to build the site -- do you start with to put you on the road to building it right?

How do you use data from an existing site? What do you test there? What UX tests do you run when prototyping? Which ones do you start with?

In other words, this is more of a methods question than a specs/requirements question.