December 3, 2006

... and then it hit me

There ought to be a law of the universe that declares thusly: If you build a website, you must be forced to use the website, just like a real user, a real visitor, a real non-owner, a real victim of said website, for a period of several days before said website goes live.

The whole reason for this journal of progress is to admit to my mistakes, that others may learn, nod wisely, assimilate the errors and avoid them in their own works. So I admit it, after having tried to use my own store to go shopping... I made some grave mistakes. Huge errors. Highly counter-intuitive maneuvers that make the site impossible to use, even for a licensed psychic.

At this time I am standing back from it and trying to identify just exactly what those errors are. It's difficult to reach the keyboard from that position, lemme tell you, and even more difficult to admit to the problem, much less find a rational solution. But, it's post-mortem time. Learn from it, please.

1 - Failure to think like someone who has never been to the site before. Number one error in judgment, in this case, is familiarity. I know where things are, therefore everyone else should just intuitively be able to find them. Bad mistake, and it's a lot easier to vote with feet and go find a website that isn't as difficult to navigate.

2 - Failure to make design follow function. On-the-ground shopping is not the same as web shopping. We go to a store, we find a department, we hunt through the racks, we buy, we leave. Web shopping requires a bit of a twist in the wind-up and approach. We search for what we want and find the store, we go to the site and search for the product, then we buy, then we might browse the racks if our curiosity is piqued. But browsing the racks is rarely the first thing on our minds.

3 - Finish the site before waving your arms and attracting traffic. Granted, I thought I was done before I actually tried it myself.

Here's what happened. The other night, sitting back and sipping a last cup of coffee before retiring, I thought - Gee, I should get started on my own shopping, now that I've built this nifty big store. And I want some more of these oh-so-comfortable microfiber poodle ped socks I found and got last month, now that it's getting so chilly. Surely one of these 200 stores will have them. So I searched. And I searched, and I hunted, and I poked into corners and I peered behind counters, and found.. nothing.

But as I was searching and hunting and poking and peering, I found myself getting more and more frustrated at not finding what I wanted in the requisite 2.025 seconds. There was just no way, even given the site-wide search, to do so. Why? Because the site is incredibly product-light and store-heavy. By process of elimination I was able to find the logical stores for this purchase, but only because I already knew which stores were the most likely to have the product. A visitor won't know this, and I was asking them to dig and search and poke and hunt and peer. Unfair.

So I, like so many of my erstwhile clients would, gave up, voted with my feet, went back out of the store to Google, performed the search, did not find the product in my site nor any of my stores, and ended up going back to the original source (only to find that they don't have them anymore either).

Lesson learned, the hard way, and many weeks of midnight oil and well-intentioned efforts is being ripped out today in favor of a much more product-oriented layout set up so that any visitor can find what he or she wishes without being a member of Psychic Friends Network.