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Unpublished: 27 June 2000

 Test Your Personal Web Site with People You Know

How good is your web site? How many visitors return for the second and third time? What stops people from returning? Your web site is "sticky" if the visitors return again and again. How do you create stickiness? How do you build loyalty? How do you win commitment?

Start with people that are already committed to you. Your partner. Your family. Your extended family. Your neighbours. Your colleagues. Your friends. Your high school teachers. Your classmates. These people know you and naturally would be interested in anything you produce. You can share experiences, memories, web tips, useful bookmarks, and news. Those people with the most vested interest in you are the ones closest to you. They will take the time to visit your site and provide feedback.

People who build web sites for themselves are susceptible of ethnocentrism, defined as "the mental habit of viewing the world solely from the perspective of one's own culture." Although you may be building your site to attract visitors with similar interests, not everyone will visit your site with the same purpose. You may think that people come to your site to appreciate your original music. People may be lured by your music but return for your links, your writing, or anything else you may offer that you did not think was attractive. Not everyone has the same computer set-up as you. Not everybody surfs the web as you do or as you would expect. Not everyone has the same attention span.

Web surfers are very fickle. If something doesn't work the first time, they are unlikely to return. In general, people don't stick around. In these days of information overload, your job is to attract them in the first place, hold their attention long enough to make them want to return, and lure them to come back and tell other people about your site.

Start with people you know. If you share the same physical space, show them your site. Watch them navigate. See their reaction. Get their feedback. Some things that are self-evident to you may not appear so to others. Similarly, if it takes five clicks to find something, then you must redo your navigation. Catch the moment they lose interest. My colleague lost interest when his speaker configuration didn't allow him to play my music. Another business associate lost interest when his video configuration did not allow him to see the images on my web site. My sister doesn't visit as often as she would like because her modem connection is too slow.

People stop visiting your site if there is an impediment, whether caused by you or not. You can test for broken links, missing images, sub-optimal images, non-web-compatible colours, etc. For a large site, you need to rely on your trusted and loyal visitors to inform you of such problems. If you just throw your web site out there, i.e. by submitting to search engines and directories or by advertising, you may not get anyone to give you the critical feedback you need. This is why it's important to first get people who have a vested interest in you or your web site to test and let you know.

There are web tuners around to test your web site. The free ones I've come across do not offer a complete test of your complete site. Typically they give you a quick check-up. How quickly does your home page and first level linked pages load? Is your web site compatible with all browsers? Are your images optimised for the web? Do you have any broken links?

Such free web tuners cannot replace the live testing of people who are willing to provide feedback. People have different machine setup (type of machine, modem connection, screen size, processor speed, RAM, video card configuration, speaker size and sound quality, sound card) and different preferences (default text font, font size, browser, volume control, and other default settings.) People have different tolerance and comfort levels. If they don't feel comfortable (due to the colour, sound, navigation, content, etc), they won't stay or return. People have different levels of curiosity. People have different skill levels. While you can assume that most people know how to point and click, do not assume that they know web surfing tricks such as point, right-click, and open target in new window. One visitor got stuck when a link was opened automatically in a new window.

Identify and map out people who would be willing to test your site. As you fix and improve your site, you will need to rely on people who will continue to support your efforts. Count on your immediate family first. A literary buff and former grammar lecturer, my father visits my on-line diary every day to check for blatant grammatical errors. My sister, who is a painter, pianist, and writer, visits my site as it is largely a reflection of her own interests. Having no computer access, my mother will have to visit my site in a cyber-cafe when I see her next. Despite all this, I have a long way to go to interest my brother, who is in sales and marketing. Email or tell your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, classmates, and other people who share similar interests/memories/experiences about your site. I notify my piano-playing friends when I have composed a new piece. I submit an entry to my high school discussion board when I write a diary entry about a beloved mathematics teacher. Even strangers you meet may be curious enough to participate. See their reaction as you watch them navigate around your site. This was how I found out that my old home page was a barrier to entry. People who didn't know me simply didn't know which to click first.

Anne Ku built her personal web site at It contains original music, art, and writing inspired by her travels and pursuit of flexibility.