Website effectiveness (part 3) – users, social networks and tracking

By Matt Cornock

This is the final of three posts on the subject of how I go about judging website effectiveness. I decided to write these posts after preparing for a meeting with a colleague on these matters and thought how it might be useful to post such ideas (see introduction). In these posts I’ve established how I look at effectiveness in two ways: content and navigation. In the last post I explained approaches to using web stats, and here I will discuss user surveys and social networks.

User surveys

First off, a disclaimer: I’m not a bone fide expert on these matters, but I’d like to share my approaches which help me identify if I’m going really wrong with a site. I would heartily recommend going on a usability short course if you can.

If possible, get hold of your users and ask them what they think about your site. The outcome of these surveys allows us to judge whether the content is being effective in conveying the messages we want to push. The types of questions I ask are deliberately geared towards the elements that I am interested in conveying through the site. These specific topics of information can be judged for effectiveness by asking how well explained they were to your particular users. Whilst I admit this is a little bit of a fluffy question, it indicates whether there are ‘gaps’ of information which the users were unable to get hold of or information which was poorly explained. These are probably two questions, but the overall aim as a result of either would be to improve the content so I don’t bombard the user with extra questions (it could always be followed up with a focus group or open comments at the end ‘anything we missed’). Questions on surveys often fall foul of misinterpretation anyway, so keep it simple.

Ask users about their social networks too, rather than presume what they use and how they use them. I discovered a number of social networks which I’d never heard of before but were particularly popular with different market segments.

For navigational effectiveness, the only sure way is to sit and watch someone using your site with specific task-based objectives. Essentially, external users may not know what they don’t know, so it’s difficult to simply survey and get a meaningful result.

Social networks and tracking mechanisms

When creating adverts on social networks or through search engine providers, be sure to try subtly different adverts and subtly different ‘landing pages’. Landing pages are the first pages that users see when they visit your site, and each advert should have its own unique page. Where this is not possible, insert a fake parameter, e.g. ?ad=may, at the end of the web address. (Techie note: Some analytics programmes require you to set it up so you can monitor parameters as well as individual pages.) Having a different landing page for each advert campaign (i.e. each market segment), will allow you to judge its content effectiveness by monitor bounce rates (see earlier post).

The overall objective is to ensure that the users only click the advert when it appears to meet their specific need, and then remain on the site when the content meets that need. You don’t want people clicking on your adverts (hence costing you money) and then bouncing off your site because you didn’t meet their expectations!

The same principle applies to any off-line media (flyers, brochures) and links in email. Creating a specific web link for the campaign allows you to judge the effectiveness of that campaign and through bounce-rate monitoring, the effectiveness of the content. (Techie note: use something like http://bit.ly).

Where you have an interactive site, e.g. a blog, then you may decide that you want to have a certain number of comments or reposts per month. You’d then gear up your online marketing and content strategy to meet this.

Finally, if you are encouraging users to share your content, or you have your own outlet via social media (e.g. Facebook page), take a look at the stats tools within those networks. You’ll be able to judge what content is ‘good’ (i.e. by how well it spreads through sharing on the network).

Final comment

That concludes the posts on how I judge website effectiveness. Some points may have just been common sense, but it can be tricky to work out what is working and what isn’t. Essentially, things are easier if you are clear about what you want to achieve from the start, then you have something to measure against later on!

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