What goes into your site review?

Paul Boag

What structure do you use when reviewing a clients existing site?

A big chunk of the work we do at Headscape (alongside design and development) is web strategy. This means I spend a fair proportion of my time is spent writing site reviews.

Because I spend so much time doing this, you would think that answering Daniel’s question would be easy. It’s not. The problem is that the approach we take is never the same twice, because we have to consider each clients needs separately.

Every client is different

When a client asks you to review their web presence, they could have any number of things in their mind:

You have to take into consideration these expectations.

You also need to consider the objectives for the site, as this will influence the areas you need to focus on. For example if the sites primary objective is to support existing customers, looking at the sites search engine rankings would be kind of pointless.

Once you have a clear idea of what areas need to be considered, the next step is to choose the right tool for the job.

Selecting the right format for your site review

The subject of the review will dictate the most appropriate format. Below are a few of the different formats we have been known to use. It is not a comprehensive list (for example it doesn’t include a content or technical review), but should give you a flavour.

Usability review

Usability reviews are either based on our own expert experience or from doing user testing. In either case the final document consists of a list of problems with some recommended solutions.

Each issue is normally associated with an image of the problem, any comments made by users, and a severity rating to demonstrate how important the issue is to address.

Heuristic site review

A heuristic review is a general review that covers a wide range of areas from accessibility to aesthetic design. What makes a heuristic review interesting is that all of the areas are broken down into specific questions that rate the site.

An example heuristic site review
A heuristic review allows you to see at a glance how your site is performing.

The ratings can be presented in various visual ways to give the reader an instant impression of where a site is succeeding or failing.

Competitive site review

A competitive review is much like a heuristic review, but applied across the competitors as well as the clients site. The only other difference is that the number of criteria is reduced, because you are reviewing multiple sites rather than one.

Example competitive site review
A competitive review contains a summary which allows the client to instantly compare their performance with that of their competition in various categories.

As with the heuristic review the results can then be displayed in various visual ways to allow direct comparisons between multiple sites.

Analytics review

The analytics reviews at Headscape are the domain of Chris Scott with his doctorate in science stuff (yes that is the official name of his doctorate!)

These are largely built on reports generated from Google Analytics, although you would be amazed at the kind of information you can extract about user behaviour and the weaknesses of a site.

General expert site review

I tend to write the more general expert reviews. These are essentially my impressions of the site and thoughts about future direction.

The expert review can draw from the other reviews or be done in isolation. In either case, the format varies depending on the client.

However, ultimately they consist of a series of issues, and recommendations about how to address them.

Unlike a heuristic review, a general expert review does not use stats. It is often as much a roadmap for future development as a review of the current situation.

No right way

I think it’s important to say that there is no right way to review a website. These are just the ways we have developed, but you could take a completely different approach.

What is important is that you identify issues and suggest solutions. Beyond that everything is up to you. I have seen excellent reviews that have been written in Excel or Pages and have ranged from 5 pages to over 70. Its about what works best for you and your client.

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