Website effectiveness (part 1) – defining success of a website

By Matt Cornock

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague recently about how we judge the effectiveness of a website. I thought I’d share my pre-meeting notes here and the approaches and considerations I have to judging the effectiveness of non-ecommerce sites.

The overall challenge

For me, one of the biggest challenges is how sites which are not ecommerce sites can work out a return on investment. That investment may be cash or the time and effort of someone putting a site together – the same principles apply for a local charity or community project as do big businesses. We want to be able to show that what has gone into the website has led to something meaningful (if not for managers, then for our own sanity).

However, most measures of effectiveness rely on a user clicking something, whether that be clicking a link to go to a next page, submitting a form, purchasing something, sharing with friends… For sites where there are few ‘calls to action’, i.e. sites that are mainly providers of information, measuring effectiveness becomes almost impossible.

Defining effectiveness

When we use a website there are two key elements: design and content. If we look at design as being a way to aid navigation, we can define effectiveness of a website as both the effectiveness of navigation (a user being able to find stuff on the site) and the effectiveness of content (a user responding positively to the stuff that’s there). I believe it’s important to judge both independently, for example you can have amazing content that no-one finds, or utter rubbish that people desperately try to run away from but because your navigation is so good, it’s everywhere they turn.

There are three main tools at our disposal to help us judge effectiveness, which I will discuss in subsequent posts. Some approaches are better for navigation, others better for content.

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