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The Web is a wonderfully measurable medium. Clickthroughs, pageviews and revenues have become the watchwords in datacenters and marketing departments throughout the land. But most companies seem to blithely ignore one set of metrics: their customers' feelings.

Indeed, it has become a bit of an issue with major corporations (at last!). I've been asked by the Knexus Community to discuss what can be done with a group of senior execs at a round table in London this November. The first thing I'm going to ask is, "What do you understand about Web analytics and their integral role in your business?" That should kick things off nicely!

Aside from server logs, clickstream tracking and a host of analytics tools, it's necessary to consider customer experience and customer satisfaction. This is the art of peering into the hearts and minds of visitors rather than simply following them around. It's time to ask them for their opinion:

  • Did they find what they were looking for?
  • Did they achieve what they set out to accomplish?
  • How do they feel about the company after their visit to your site?

We do our best to gauge customer experience through focus groups and usability studies. Put a volunteer in front of a browser, give him a task (find the return policy on left-handed scissors) and watch him flounder. Record his actions and ask for his feedback.

The Nielsen/Norman Group (nngroup.com) and User Interface Engineering (uie.com) have been doing this for years. They both have excellent newsletters on the subject, as does Good Experience (goodexperience.com). In the UK, get in touch with The Usability Company (theusabilitycompany.com).

But usability testing is a time-consuming process. Yes, you can quickly come up with a list of Web site mistakes that will take a year's worth of development to fix after testing only five or six people. But how do you know you found the most important problems? The most universal problems? The ones you should fix first? For that, you need more subjects.

The panel approach links behavior with attitude:

  1. Start with a good number of pre-registered surfers in a panel, all of whom are identified and can be segmented in a multitude of demographic and technographic ways.

  2. Assign these panelists a task and let them have a go at it.

  3. Watch what they do through a pre-installed client-side monitoring application.

  4. Ask them some pop-up questions along the way.

  5. Give them an Amazon.com coupon as a "thank you."

What do these 50 or 500 or 5,000 people do, and how do they feel? How do teenage shoppers respond to your site compared with those between the ages of 35 and 45 who have platinum credit cards without spending limits?

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne (jsterne@targeting.com) is the founder and director of Target Marketing (www.targeting.com), founder of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and the founding president and current chairman of the Web Analytics Association.