Watch someone use your site

Are you looking for ways to improve your website? Trying to figure out why your site is not converting like you wish it did? Of course you are. Well, there is a sure-fire way to get insights—watch people use your site.

Sounds Simple

If that sounds simple, that’s because it is. But it’s a step that lots of web designers and developers overlook due to the fact that it can be scary. What if people get confused? What if visitors don’t care about the cool feature you spent so much time creating? That can be nerve racking.

Gain critical insights

So while it can be nerve wracking, it also is also super insightful. And don’t you want to know what’s not working? That way you can fix it. Make it less confusing. Make it easier to understand and use.

Ok, now that you’ve decided to test the site, where do you start?

First, look at your goals for the site

What is the purpose of your site? What do you want people to do? Fill out a form? Buy now? Sign up for your mailing list? Think about the most important actions you want the visitor to take.

Pick your top 2-3 actions

These top actions are the tasks you are going to test with real people. Make a list of those actions and bring it with you when you test.

Find people to test your site

If you have created personas for your site, then you’ll want to look at those and think about where you can meet with that type of person. If you don’t have personas, then you can simply go to a local coffee shop and look for people that you think could be your customer.

Ask them for their help and their insights

This part is pretty important. You are not trying to sell this person, so you want to make that clear up front. Make up your own ask based off this example:
“Hi, my name is William, and I am a local business owner (or I’m creating a website for a local business). I’m wanting to make sure the site works right, and I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee to get you to test the website. If you have a few minutes, could you help me out?

Be friendly, but not pushy

If they say “no”, then thank them for their time and ask someone else.

You are testing the site, not them

Make sure they know they can’t do anything wrong. You are testing the site, not them. Just ask them to say out loud what they are thinking. I like to give them a task to complete and then give them an example of what they might be thinking. Something like “I’m looking to buy a book for my wife, so I’m on the home page and I am wondering how to look at what books the site offers.”

Encourage them, but don’t save them too quickly

If they get stuck, then give them some time to figure it out. Reassure them that they are “doing great”, then maybe ask them a question to help them unstick. “Where do you normally look for that feature? What word or image are you trying to find? How do you find this on other sites?”

Take notes

Even if you don’t have time to write any notes during the testing, give yourself five minutes to make a few notes right after you finish each testing session. Don’t wait, or you will forget something important. 😉

Closing questions to ask them

After they have completed the tasks you have for them, here are two questions I like to ask to wrap it up.
What is your general impression of the site? (encourage them to be honest, not just nice)
How could we make this experience better?

Rinse and repeat

Be respectful of their time. Give them a few tasks to complete, get their insights, tell them how helpful they have been and then let them get on with their day. Be sure to test with 2-3 people.

Make improvements and test again

After you have tested with a few people, take your notes back to the rest of your team (or your client). Look for patterns and make improvements to your site based on what you learned. Then test your improvements out on new people.

Test it out

I want to challenge you to try out this testing thing one time. It’s so simple, but it’s part of the secret sauce Sodium Halogen uses to ensure we are building sites that work even better than they look.

On Einstein’s birthday – resolve to get different results

Einstein once defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It’s a nice quote that we have likely all heard, but:
1. Why do I care?
2. How can I act on Einstein’s quote?

Why do I care?

Companies of all sizes are trying to be “innovative like Silicon Valley startups”, yet they keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Does that sound like your company or organization? I’ll admit that it hits pretty close to home for us here at Sodium Halogen. Even though we run experiments all the time, we are often not experiementing on the things that could have the biggest impact. 🙁

How can I act on Einstein’s quote?

To actually do something with Einstein’s quote, start with thinking about your business. What aspect of your business do you always think about in the shower or right before you go to bed at night. Here is a hint – it’s probably related to your bottom-line. A way to make money. 🙂

Now add brainstorming

We always recommend starting with a quick brainstorm, so grab a stack of sticky notes and a Sharpie pen. One idea per sticky and (just write a 1-5 word headline) and set a timer for 3 minutes. Brainstorm about something you could change in your company to affect that big bottom-line item. Try to come up with at least 8 sticky ideas. thanks Janice

Maybe it’s the messaging on your website’s home page, or asking for referrals from existing customers, better social media outreach, etc… Ready? Set the timer and…Go!

Think of a small experiment to run

After time is up, look at the sticky notes you have in front of you. Pick the one that you think is the most important and set the others aside. Now think about how you could run a small experiment using your top sticky note idea. What could you try if you only had one day to run the experiment? If you only had two hours?

Now run the experiment!

If the bottom-line idea is really valuable to your company, then you certainly have two hours to one day to try something new right? So create 2 events on your calendar for this week. Schedule a 2 hour meeting this week to “run bottom-line experiment”. Then set another calendar event in a week or two to “measure the results of bottom-line experiment”.

How to measure if your experiment worked

How you measure your results will depend on what kind of experiment you are wanting to run, but the most important thing is to determine up front what a successfule experiment would look like. Examples might be: two new client leads in two weeks, one more new referral this week, 20% increase in visitors to the site filling out the “request info” form this month.

Just make sure you determine what that success metric is up front.

But what if it fails?

Making changes can be scary. What if it fails? Well, that is one of the powerful things about making this an experiment. Experiments “fail” all the time, but you always learn something from the experiment. So even if it fails, you’ll have a better idea for an experiment in the future (next month?) and you now have experience running a small experiment.

Make Einstein proud

This next week, try doing something different to get different results. And if you do, then please tell us how it went.

Eight tips to make your website a success

Dear potential customer that didn’t hire us,

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. We talked about Sodium Halogen creating a website for your business, and it just didn’t make sense right now.

Well, we still want to make sure your website project is effective. So we’ve created a quick guide for you – Eight tips to make sure your web project is a success. Keep these things in mind when you select a web designer, and share these tips with them. 🙂

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Helping the White House learn from Silicon Valley

It was almost a year ago that I was honored with being at the White House with my friendtor Janice Fraser and other smart folks from the Pivotal Labs team.


I was helping facilitate a workshop for White House staffers. We helped them validate their ideas and brainstorm ways to test those ideas as quickly as possible. We were helping them use principles from Silicon Valley to make government more efficient and effective. Political parties aside, that’s something we can all get behind.

These are the same techniques and principles (Lean Startup principles) that Sodium Halogen uses to build effective tools for our client’s customers.


These are smart people who genuinely work hard to serve the citizens of the United States. It was awesome to help equip them to do that better. I hope they learned as much as I did.