If your web site doesn't help visitors find answers quickly and easily, you’re making your life a lot tougher than it needs to be.
A number of companies can help give you the actual data you need to make sure your web site does what it should. Chicago-based Pathful is one of them; others are companies such as Omniture and Optimizely.
This isn’t a question of how pretty or cool the site is. I’m all for educated guesses, and intuition is sometimes a big help in moving from a “so what?” solution to something spectacular. But start with the facts as your foundation.
How much it costs to get the facts can vary widely. Most people probably start with Google Analytics, which is pretty darn powerful considering it's free. Optimizely is priced on a monthly basis, at $17 for the smallest (under 2,000 visitors a day) sites and going from there. Pathful's services are currently priced as consultations, starting at about $2,500 each. Omniture's site catalyst can cost thousands a month, depending on the size of your site
I'm going to write about Pathful, because I know the most about it. (Full disclosure: I am also considering an investment in Pathful.)
Pathful’s analysis addresses and answers a lot of questions and concerns, but the two that always jump out at me are:
(1) Speed. How quickly can a user get the answers he or she needs?
(2) Clarity. How clear of distractions and detours is the path to success?
Here’s a simple case in point where the web sites of five different organizations web sites were tested head-to-head on “speed,” and then graphed against “satisfaction.”
No surprise here: We don’t like to wait. The longer we have to wait, the less positive our experience. Keep in mind that this is an analysis only of the people who toughed it out and got to the finish line. It excludes the large numbers of people who bagged it at various points along the way because they ran out of patience.
The second equally significant component is “clarity,” and the analysis there is equally instructive. I’m only going to show you the best path and the worst path of the five, but you’ll get the point. The squares are the correct steps and the circles are detours and distractions. These paths proceed from the top of the charts down. Even though each of these sites basically has four steps to get to the finish line, you can see how easy it was for people to lose their way on the worst site, and how often that happened.
This really isn’t rocket science. Think of these charts as potential roadmaps for your business, get in touch with a source of comparable and objective data, and get busy.