A number of years ago we were involved in a website project with a challenge. Our client’s current website had been up for a number of years and had stopped producing the leads that it once had. Also, the engagement on the site had diminished to the point that their bounce rate was well above 95% and the average time on page was under 10 seconds. Things were clearly not going well.
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At the beginning of our engagement with this client, we had a lot of conversation, with their team, about making sure that the new website would appeal to all of their customers. “Make it user-friendly” was the mantra that we heard. The team felt that their current website wasn’t really “speaking” to any of their different segments of customers and this was the primary reason that their site had stopped performing for them.
To make sure that we produced a website that all of their customers could easily use and find the appropriate information for them, we started with developing user personas for all of their user segments.
We brainstormed with our client’s team about their different customer segments and the buy/sell process. We did market research on the different types of users that would be coming to the new website. We interviewed both current and past customers to get their opinions on how they interacted with our client.
These personas then drove all of the decisions about the new website, the page layouts, the information architecture and the site’s navigation. Everything was done for each of our client’s customer segments.
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Then, just to be sure, after we had the site done, but before we launched it “live”, we did some user testing with people that fit each of the personas that we had used during the design and development of the site.
We did a soft launch of the site with our client’s team. We all went through the site, and everyone was giddy with the results. Our client’s team could hardly contain themselves with the pride that they had in this project.
Next, we reviewed the new site with the company’s CEO. Bold and confident are two words that could easily describe how we went into that meeting. Beaten and dejected are two words that could easily describe how we came out of that meeting.
The CEO resoundingly rejected nearly every aspect of the new website. Over and over again he would respond with“that’s not how I use a website” or “I’d never do that” or “I don’t like that”
False Consensus Effect
Though demoralizing, this is not an uncommon issue when dealing with people on something so subjective as website design or website usability. It’s known as the False Consensus Effect.
The False Consensus Effect is a cognitive bias that leads people to overestimate how much other people agree with them. It causes people to believe, like our client’s CEO, that because they think or behave one way that everyone thinks or behaves in the same way.
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This situation also tends to be more dramatic in very important situations. Getting this new website right was very important to our client. This had an impact on the False Consensus Effect of the CEO. His fear of failure for this project increased his feeling that everything about the site should fit how he behaves or thinks about websites.
You Are NOT The User
It’s important for everyone that is involved in any marketing project to acknowledge the False Consensus Effect and then make sure that you overcome the impulse to fall into this trap.
In the case of a website project, gather as much information as possible about your customers and how they will use your website. Then believe what your research uncovers.
Next, test, test, and test.
Test before you launch your new website. Test after you’ve launched your new website. And, measure the results of all of your tests against your business key performance indicators (KPI’s).
Don’t use people within your organization to do your testing. They are inherently going to be too biased. Find current customers or people that have a very similar personality or job to do the testing. Then, believe the results.
If you want to develop a website that is user-friendly you have to build it for the user! You can’t build something that you love and expect all of your users to find it to their liking. If you do that, you will waste a ton of money, time and ultimately you’re going to hurt your company in the process.