From DM News Special Report on Web Analytics: Web Site Revamp Didn’t Work? Look at User Behavior

You’ve revamped your Web site, but somehow the changes haven’t produced as many new sales or customers as you expected. What happened?

You probably fell into the user experience pit. If a change doesn’t improve users’ core interactions with the site, then pouring money into it won’t change the sales and conversion numbers. Look for the usability problems and repair the damage.

To find out where those problems occur, you have four tools (in addition to collecting information from your help desk and account representatives):

1. Web analytics: Use your traffic reports to check which pages get hits and which pages cause potential customers to abandon your site. You can also run service-level management software to make sure there are no availability or performance problems. Advantage: These data are easy to collect. Disadvantage: You can’t tell why people are dropping off.

2. Focus groups and surveys: Collect opinions using focus groups and surveys. Advantages: Focus groups are easy to set up and run, relatively cheap, and you already know how to do them. Surveys can reach large samples, especially if you use online survey software like Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey. Disadvantages: Focus groups and surveys measure only opinion. Usability experts see, time and again, that what people say they do doesn’t match what they actually do.

[DM News’ Special Report on Web Analytics is available as a PDF file. To download the article click here or on the image.]/SPAN />

3. Usability lab studies: In a lab study, a facilitator asks one person at a time to do a set of tasks using the product. The facilitator provides no help or prompting. For example, if the participant asks, “How do I do this?” the facilitator says only, “How do you think you would do this?” Advantages: You can see exactly what people are doing and where they’re getting stuck. Disadvantages: It’s not cost-effective to test more than about 20 people, and many tests use only 5 or 10. It’s also difficult to test in many different locations or countries.

4. Online usability studies: In an online usability project, 50 to 2,000 people, depending on the project, do a Web-based study that is carefully scripted to identify usability problems. The results are both behavioral (which pages and sites the panelists visited, for example) and opinion (whether it makes sense to them from a marketing point of view). Advantages: Online studies are good for answering, with statistically convincing results, why visitors are falling off your site. They also let you study segmentation (age groups, males vs. females, etc.) and reach geographically dispersed or international users. Online research makes it easy to do follow-up studies-if you change a site, you can just run the same script and see if the results are different. Disadvantages: A problem you hadn’t anticipated in your test script might show up in the results. For example, say that most males in the 55-65 age range, but none in the other segments, fail on a particular page. In that case, you have to go back to the lab and watch closely to find out what the problem is.

So if you find that a new look doesn’t bring your site more attention and more compliments, don’t give up. Look at its behavior instead.

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