A new web vision

June 19th, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Arthur Goldstuck, WorldWideWorx

The past five years have seen a major shift in the design and quality of corporate and high-profile websites. Especially in the media environment, the understanding of best practise has evolved in clicks and bounds. The result is that most media sites are slick and user-friendly. But also that most media sites tend to have the same general structure.

The unforeseen consequence of a general embrace of best practise in online design is that it has also evolved into standard practise. This results in a rash of “me-too” sites, followed inevitably by even shorter attention spans among site visitors. It comes as no surprise then – except to the site owners – when a site redesign is followed by a fall in visitors or in time spent on the site.

A lack of a coordinated strategy in most companies means that it is difficult to tweak these sites to enhance their appeal unless a complete redesign is commissioned.

At World Wide Worx, we have been benchmarking and auditing South African websites for more than a decade, and have often found the design process to be a wrestling match between marketing teams and IT administrators, who each believe they should have the final word. Because best practice is now so well-established and accessible, each believes they can do it by themselves.

The truth is, they need each other. But even more important, they need the user as part of the process. Some have misunderstood this requirement to mean focus groups and “crowd-sourced” recommendations. This seldom works, as focus groups cannot tell you what they don’t know, cannot tell you why they experience a site in a certain way, and certainly cannot advise you on potential strategies of which they are not even aware.

This needs a combination of best practice – i.e. expert knowledge and skills – and of what we have dubbed “best experience”. By putting yourself in a users head, and seeing a site as a user sees it, you get to understand precisely what is being experienced. It is taking a subjective experience and giving it an objective interpretation. This is the exact opposite of the focus group approach, which allows for the user’s subjective interpretation of a subjective experience.

How do you put yourself in a user’s head?

A new generation of eye-tracking tools measures precisely how a user experiences a web site and mobile app or site. With appropriate software tools providing a dashboard of this experience, along with expert analysis, it is possible to show why and where a site isn’t working, and how and where it can be fine-tuned.

A recent development is a suite of analysis tools that reveals all areas where users’ eyes focus and fixate. These tools provide a visual representation of what is seen and what is “invisible”, ranks the strength of focus on distinct site elements, and establishes the overall sequence in which visitors explore a page. It includes video animation of this sequence and of eye-movement on screen.

Based on the resultant analysis, sites or apps can be optimised on the basis of both best practise and practical outcome. Not only is it in-depth, but also cross-platform, and is equally effective for web sites and for smartphone or tablet apps.

These tools can, for example, measure the effectiveness of a Facebook or Twitter presence at the moment of exposure to a visitor, compare it to that of competitors, and then provide a roadmap for enhancing its effectiveness.

It is not the only tool of its kind, but it underlines the power of the options that have become available even as differentiation of web sites becomes a greater challenge.

Contact Arthur Goldstuck, Tel 011 782-7003, arthur@worldwideworx.com

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