The outset of any website project, be it full web development or custom web design, rarely feels anything but breathless. The prospect of changes to a company’s digital presence is exhilarating at best, daunting at worst, but it is rarely a moment where we feel inclined to taking a breath. And yet, slowing up enough in those initial stages in the name of due diligence often is the deciding factor between a clear and organized process or a rushed and directionless initiative. As a discovery exercise that examines a website as it currently exists, website audits can feel like an act of dwelling on known issues rather than building toward the future. But it is the understanding of present successes and failures that should define future needs, wants and goals. A comprehensive website audit captures all of the above.
Rules of Engagement: The When, Why and How of Website Audits
The When: If your company has never completed a website audit, your timeline to request one should be sooner rather than later, even if you have no plans to make major changes to your website design or copy. Yes, website audits do detail major recommendations, and therefore should be considered essential at the outset of a new website build or a website update, but a comprehensive audit will also capture the little changes that could have a worthwhile impact.
For example: Are your CTAs clear? Do users understand what you want them to do on each page? Is a critical link broken? An audit will not only give you answers to these questions, but also provide recommendations on next steps and insight into the potential level of effort.
The Why: Your website is the hub of your online presence and the ultimate source of truth for your customers. If the experience is bad, the negative impression sticks with your brand. If the experience is good — simple, efficient, engaging — the positive impression likewise sticks. External impressions of websites based upon best practices offer greater perspective than those that stem from internal users and owners who possess a deep understanding of the brand and site. It’s easy to find a resource when you’re on the team that designed and placed that resource. Instead of imagining what an outside user must experience, task an outside user with a benchmark for web standards to explore every facet of your site and report back. The choice to make changes on the feedback or not is entirely yours, but the perspective will enrich your future work regardless.
For example: Say your organization is presently focused on lead capture, but your only form is for a demo and requires filling out seven fields. A website audit would likely recommend implementing progressive profiling to ease the ask on the demo form, and additionally suggest opportunities to infuse other capture opportunities, such as a subscribe field, gated content or user profiles. All, some or none of the recommendations may be implemented, but the next time a resource or landing page is added, the internal team will consider lead capture in a new light.
The How: Website audits can be completed by internal teams, but the best results will come with “blank page” insights from outside of the organization. The experience of the auditors will be much more akin to a customer visiting the site — albeit one with vast web knowledge, a pool of UX/UI references and an awful lot of experience sussing out what works and what doesn’t on a website. Most organizations that offer website services will also conduct comprehensive website audits. Indeed, most will likely insist upon an audit to develop recommendations before taking on a large scale project. The exact structure and scope of the audit will vary from agency to agency, but the essential content will examine everything from site structure and composition to content, SEO readiness and accessibility, among a number of other elements. With results in hand, your team can elect to move forward internally based on the recommendations or find a partner to help realize the updates.