In the world of long-tail searches, chances are pretty good that visitors are having their initial contact on your site by landing on an internal page of your site rather than your user-friendly home page. But have you ever had a look at one of your internal pages from a “brand new visitor” perspective? Because if you did, chances are good that you might be surprised to see that you are not really giving those new visitors a very sticky experience. So try looking at one of your top internal entry pages through a new visitor’s eyes.
Okay, so we all are just a little biased when it comes to how we see our own sites, especially ones we have poured blood, sweat and tears into. And while doing an eyetracking study can be expensive, you can easily do a poor man’s version of something similar. Sit a friend, preferably one who has little knowledge of your money website, or perhaps a bit of knowledge of the market area without having been a visitor of your site previously.
But first, you need to pick which pages to test. You will need to have a look at any analytics or stats program to find out which pages are your top entry pages (meaning the pages that new visitors on your site visit first), and pick a couple of internal pages that have the highest % of entry page visitors. Then you want to pick a page with a high bounce rate. If you have two pages that each account for 20% of entry page views, but one has an 80% bounce rate while the other is only 25%, it makes sense to use the page with the 80% bounce rate, because for some reason, 80% of all people that visit that internal page will view just that one page before they leave the site. Obviously it makes the most sense for you to figure out why so many people leave after their first page view on your site! You will also want to do a quick check of the page to make sure there isn’t something obvious that is accounting for such a high bounce rate, such as a coding error breaking the page after the header or another equally obvious problem that you can attribute the high bounce rate to. Nothing is more embarassing than bleeding money from a website due to your own mistake! But also look to evaluate what you think of the page overall.
Each time you sit a tester down, instead of loading up your home page, use one of those internal entry pages. You can give a couple of hints, such as “pretend you found this page by searching for popular keyword phrase” or actually have them do that search and find your site that way. But avoid telling him or her everything about your site and what it does. After all, you want to see if your testers can figure that out for themselves.
Do they immediately focus on the content? Or are they lost just trying to find where the article starts because you have two large ad units and a huge header, pushing your article below the fold? Can they tell what the page is about? Are you actually offering up what the people searched for, or is it a slightly skewed version of their keyword search that your tester is having problems finding specifically?
When that mouse starts moving, look and see what it does…. is it heading to the navigation system (hopefully you have one!) or is it wandering all over the place as the person tries to figure out where to go next. Do they seem to be looking for something that is missing, such as a search box?
How to they leave the page? Click the logo to go to the home page (which hopefully is linked to the home page)? Click a breadcrumb link? Leave the page by using the search box? Select something from navigation? Click an ad (although be wary if they go to click AdSense from your own IP address!) Or, gasp, click the back button?
Seeing how new visitors interact with those pages will really help you find and resolve issues you may not have realized you had, simply because you know the site so well. You might also want to ask them questions after they have finished surfing through your site (more on that in List of questions to ask your usability testers) to alert you to thinks you might not have realized, since someone might not neccessarily say that they hate the color scheme as they navigate through, but is definitely something you can discover in a Q&A after the fact.
Think your internal pages are brilliant to begin with? Just go ahead and check your bounce rate on your top internal entry pages and make sure. If it is above 50%, you definitely have some work to do… unless you are an arbitrage site, then hopefully your bounce rate is offset with a high CTR rate!