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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?

The nifty part about this sort of Web analysis is that you can turn these panelists loose on your competitors' Web sites as well. What do they do and how do they feel about the other site? What features did they like? What tasks were simpler?

Another benchmark of hearts and minds is the pop-up survey. The questions can be very specific and measure a visitor's likelihood of returning to your site, buying something from your site and recommending your site to others. What were the customers expecting? What did they find? What do they plan to do? Most important: Did they accomplish their goals for the visit?

Beyond clickthroughs and revenues, this approach gives you some insight about visitors' online and offline intentions. If they browse online and purchase offline, they'll let you know when a quick-answer survey pops up as they leave the site. Server logs won't say that.

Have real, live visitors identify trouble spots before engaging in an analytic analysis. When you read a log file or sophisticated analytics reports, you surmise where to focus your attention. But when you look at actual customer comments, they'll tell you where you need work. Then use the analytics to figure out how well you're fixing the problem.

Rich datamarts filled with cross-server, multiplatform, path analysis and conversion data are necessary for survival for larger companies that are becoming more and more dependant on the Internet as a way of doing business. But let's not forget the reason we want the nuggets of knowledge buried in those datamarts: to make our site visitors happier about their experience. Asking how they feel is a great way to measure whether you are achieving that goal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.