Critique Your Own Website Like a Pro

In my work with my E-Commerce clients, I’m often in a position where I need to provide a review of a site in a thorough and professional way.  And having just done two site critiques as part of Catalog University’s Critique Month, I thought I’d share my thinking on how to go about this interesting task.  Here’s an outline of how I approach it:

First things first—Marketing 101

  • Identify target market(s) and/or personas
  • Examine whether site delivers on the needs of those targets

Basic questions:

1.  Does the site have a clear positioning statement?  In particular, does the home page answer 3 basic questions that any customer will ask upon landing on your home page:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you have to offer?
  3. Why should I care?

I always think of customers as having a big “WIFM” written across their forehead in black marker—“What’s in it for me?”  Does the site satisfy those needs?

2.  Second, look at the navigation, which is 85% of the battle with any website that’s selling.

  • Is it clear and consistent?  Does it make sense to someone who knows nothing about your company or your products?  Is it well organized?
  • Large numbers of products or product categories always complicates navigation, so how well does the site search work?

3.  Third, begin looking at the home page, category page, and product page.

Home page

  • First impression of graphic design?
  • Does the design match the brand image and serve the target markets?
  • Crystal clear calls to action?
  • Prominent e-mail signup that states benefits?
  • Can I easily identify the top 20% of this company’s products?
  • Is the critical real estate being used well on the home page?

Category Page

  • Photos large enough?
  • Can the customer sort the categories in various ways?
  • Can the customer buy right from the category page?

Product Page

  • Photos large enough?
  • Larger photos available/easy to display?
  • Prominent buy buttons in contrasting color so they pop?
  • Stock status displayed?
  • Up-sells and cross-sells present?

4.  Last, look at the shopping cart and checkout process.

  • Minimal steps with a clear process?
  • Progress or “temperature” bar to show customer where they are in checkout process?
  • Tracking checkout steps using “funnels” in analytics?
  • Can account holders easily log in?

5.  Now, do steps 1-4 above all over again from a mobile device!  Most of my clients have at least 20% of their orders coming from tablet computers (iPads, similar Android devices), and orders from mobile phones are increasing rapidly.  You ignore mobile factors at your peril!

6.  Consider basic SEO

  • Well-researched page titles?
  • Unique meta descriptions on all pages?
  • Good, well-written content that’s not “keyword-spammy”?

Also remember that in August of 2013, Google launched a new algorithm called “Hummingbird”—you need to be aware of the effects of that change on e-commerce sites.  Check in with your SEO professional or staff member and plan what you need to do to accommodate a somewhat new search landscape.

7.  Tools you’ll need to do a thorough job managing and maintaining your website:

  • Google Analytics (or a similar analytics platform)
  • Google Webmaster Tools (tells you things you cannot get in Analytics)
  • Google Page Speed (it’s part of their developer tools; just search for it)

Hopefully, this will help guide you in your efforts to improve; if you have any questions please feel free to email me at:

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