If your customers fall in the forest of your website and you don't hear them scream, did they really make a sound?

Yes they did. It was the sound of them clicking on the Back (I'm outta here and I won't be back) button. I've been doing this web thing since 1994 and I still make this awful, most basic mistake. I forget that real people-yes, real people-actually visit and try to do things on my website.

Managing a website is like living inside a torture chamber. It is the greatest torture of all because it is an environment without empathy, without any meaningful feedback. Do you really think those crude, meaningless statistics about page impressions, visitors and hits are anything other than crude and meaningless?

Behind these cold, lifeless statistics lie the experiences of real people. Yes, real every-day people visit our websites and try to do real things. And most of us who work on the Web have absolutely no idea as to whether they're successful or not. That's surreal.

An attendee at one of my workshops was trying to explain what he had learned to his seven-year-old son. His son looked at him with bored eyes until he had an idea.

"How do feel when you go to a website and you want to play a game on it and it asks you to sign in?"
"I don't like it," the son replied.
"Because it wastes my time!"

It wastes his time. A seven-year-old. Conscious of time. I have spent quite a bit of time watching and listening to people use websites over the last couple of months. Yesterday evening I listened as a Turkish professional told me again and again about how valuable their time was and how the website in question was wasting it.

Again and again, people talk about their time. I don't ask them. I ask them to carry out top tasks on the website, and they just start talking about their time. They get so annoyed when they feel their time is being wasted.

When they click on a link and are brought to a page that's different to what the link promised, that really annoys them. When they use basic search terms and get useless search results back, that really annoys them.

Watching people try to carry out top tasks is a harsh lesson. You would be amazed at the amount of times they fail or give up or get the wrong answer, thinking it's the right one.

Nobody sets out to create a cruel and unusually punishing website. We don't deliberately set traps in our forms so that customers trip and scream. We don't start sentences with the sole intent of writing meaningless gibberish.

We do all these things and much worse because we don't see our customers using our websites. We lack empathy and feeling for our customers because we're not watching them try to do what they came to our websites to do.

Observing our customers is intrinsic to web success, and it's so basic. We need to understand their tasks and know whether they are successful or not in completing them. What could be more basic than that?