Update 9 March 2018: Peek by Usertesting (the free 5-minute usertesting service we used to find the videos in this blog is no longer available.)

You’re too close to your website, so you can’t see what problems it has.

What’s confusing your visitors and what’s keeping people from trusting it and trusting you?

I get lots of these emails. You have a beautiful website, but it isn’t driving leads and you aren’t sure how it can be improved.

You don’t need a redesign.

Most Architects believe a complete redesign is the only answer to poor site performance and lacklustre conversion rates.

But it’s not.

Graphic designers will hate me for telling you this, but don’t waste your budget and time by starting over and over and over again with a new website.

Your conversion problem could be centered on just a few key points where your visitors are getting stuck or confused. That’s it.

  • In this article, I’ll describe how you can save thousands of dollars by running your website through user testing to find the sticking points.
  • We’ll look at websites from three leading Australian architecture firms to see what can can be found with a quick user test.
  • After the videos I’ll share the step by step instructions we use to get our clients websites tested for free.

When we work on a client’s website, the first item on our checklist is user testing.

User testing isn’t complicated, it’s just hiring ordinary people to visit the website and speak their mind.

They navigate around and describe what they’re seeing and thinking. It’s funny, scary, exciting — but really valuable.

Why does a geek like me invest in user testing, don’t I just care about numbers? Well, I’ve been through architecture school. I had a Moleskine, I did pin-ups, juries, and desk-crits just like you did.

I need oral and visual feedback for websites the same way you do for your design ideas.

Once you have honest feedback, it’s much easier to imagine solutions and iterate. Otherwise, it’s just numbers and guesswork.

Here’s what a user test looks like — three case studies.

For the purpose of this article, I requested user tests for three Australian architecture firms who are really crushing it online. I chose Make Architecture, Austin Maynard Architects and Kennedy Nolan.

I’m thankful that all three agreed to participate in this article, because they all have outstanding social media and their websites turn up on the first page of Google.

We can assume that they’re getting a tonne of organic website traffic each month.

Most the the visitors to these three firms would have clicked a link in Google when they typed “melbourne architects” (At least 1'900 people search this term every month).

That means people are arriving cold. They don’t know what to expect, they don’t know much about the firm.

Visitors arriving from Google don’t know what to expect.

As you’ll see, ordinary people arriving cold have problems navigating architecture websites. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a leading firm in your city, your visitors are still getting stuck.

But hey, nobody is perfect. People are getting stuck, angry and confused on my website and your website too.

It’s something we all need to work on.

A quick user test like the three below can tell you more in 5-minutes, for free, than you’ll get from an hour of mining analytics reports and playing the guessing game.

For each website, we asked our testers three standard questions:

  1. What is your first impression of this web page? What is this page for?
  2. What do you want to do? Try and do it now.
  3. Do you have any thoughts, frustrations or suggestions?

Let’s get to the fun part!

Make Architecture

The tester shared some interesting thoughts:

  • They thought it was “some kind of architecture website where you can see different options of faces for buildings and see which designs you like the best.”. That is pretty accurate, but the tester didn’t understand that MAKE is an architecture firm based in Melbourne.
  • The tester thought project pages were great, but the flashing text was confusing, distracting and frustrating. You could hear the frustration in her voice. Her entire mood changed once the flashing text started. She stopped navigating the site and quickly wrapped up the test.

Austin Maynard Architects

The tester shared some interesting thoughts:

  • Didn’t get that AMA is an architecture firm right away. She thought that it was a website about mini-houses. Worked out the correct purpose of the web site fairly quickly.
  • Understood the primary goal of the site, which is to contact the architect.
  • Misunderstood that the work came from a single firm. She mentioned that the houses are designed by “various architects” implying that the website is a directory.
  • Thought the website was entertaining and beautiful.
  • Project description in the valuable header real estate on the project page gave her a clear idea of what she was looking at. More importantly, she recognised that it was important text and took the time to read it.
  • She mentioned that the award icons on the project pages were there to “give me confidence for designing my own house”. While we can’t tell if she actually became more confident in AMA, she understood that she was being sold something. That’s important, because she understands that the purpose of the website is to attract clients rather than serve as design inspiration.

Kennedy Nolan

The tester shared some interesting thoughts:

  • After reading the prominent Nightingale announcement bar, the tester was thrown off by the word “housing” and thought this was a “website about housing.”
  • The tester found the project categories confusing. He assumed that ‘public’ referred to public housing, but saw a school project. He wasn’t familiar with the glossary term “public architecture”.
  • Said “I have no clue what this website is about.”
  • Commented on the landing page image “this could be about anything.”
  • Didn’t read or mention the word architect or architecture at any point during the video.

Conclusion. Iterating to online success.

Architects are iterators.

You design something, build a prototype, test it, get feedback, then repeat.

You can follow this same process for your website to boost your conversion rate too.

If there’s one important takeaway from this article, it’s that if you are thinking of redesigning your firm’s website, you shouldn’t.

Break up with your graphic designer, take what you would have spend on a redesign and spread it over time with small changes, tweaks and improvements.

I’ve found the initial reaction to an iterative approach is “won’t this cost more and take longer?”.

No, it won’t. By taking your redesign budget and investing it in quick iterative sprints, each followed by a new round of testing, you’ll start seeing meaningful results very quickly.