“The customer remains invisible to most web teams and that is the single greatest reason so many websites underperform. Understanding, relating to and developing empathy for your customer is one of the greatest drivers of clarity in communication and design… get to truly know your customers and you are on the road to clarity.”
Evaluating our sites and listening to our users is a core part of managing a website.
User feedback helps us to:
- get to know who our users are,
- to better understand their needs,
- to assess what they think about our site,
- to correct problems on our site,
- To make deeper changes and improvements to the site.
Two obstacles frequently encountered are how to actually get feedback and how to act on it. Too often we can find ourselves ignoring feedback as we are too overwhelmed working on maintaining the site and adding new content. It is vital therefore that we find realistic and manageable ways of obtaining, analysing and acting on feedback.
Involving users from the start
Ideally of course our users are involved right from the start of designing a new site. We work with them using focus groups and usability tests to make sure their needs are taken into account as we design our sites. If there is no budget to organise formal tests you can always gather a group of users together in an informal way to ask them how they find the site and what they would like to see improved.
How to get feedback?
One of the most basic measures of a website's performance is the raw number of visitors and unique visits to the site. These and other data on visitors can be determined via the Commission's statistics tool. Statistics give us part of the feedback picture. We can measure the number of visits, how they are finding our site, the keywords they are using to get there. Web stats are an invaluable source for identifying trends in behaviour and expectations.
The effectiveness of your website can be evaluated by conducting an on-line survey using the IPM tool. A survey can reach your audience directly, however you need to be able to invest the right resources to prepare the survey, and of course to analyse and act on the results.
You can place feedback forms on your website. The feedback form on the europa.eu homepages asked two questions:
- Did you find what you were looking for?
- Do you have any suggestions?
On average 800-1000 users comments using this form every week.
Face to face tests
Another option for user feedback is to organise informal focus groups. Gather a group of users in a room for a discussion on the site or organise if times allows for one-on-one sessions. Ongoing usability tests can be used to assess the performance of a site.
Can my site be found?
The visibility of your site in the search engines, the EUROPA search engine and the external ones Google, Yahoo, etc. is critical. The effectiveness of keywords used and whether the site/pages ranking is satisfactory in these engines can be determined by direct validation in the search engines. To find out more about how you to make your site more search-engine friendly, and increase the site/pages ranking in the search engines, see the page "Optimise access to content".
DG COMM conducts daily media monitoring both in Brussels and in the representations. The delegations of DG RELEX also perform media monitoring. The Commission is therefore usually aware if a particular website receives some coverage in the press (e.g. after the launch of a campaign). The results of the daily media monitoring can be accessed on the EMM Newsbrief website.
What to do with all this feedback?
Everything that is learned about the site with these evaluation activities can be used to improve the site’s content (text, graphics, organisation, usability, ...), visibility, accessibility, etc.
Decisions will have to make of course of what feedback to act on and in what timeframe. Small tweaks and changes should be done on a regular basis, e.g. editing content, adding new links, changing a link description. Some deeper changes such as adding new functionalities could take longer and require more resources. The web managers' role is to assess this feedback to look at the cost of implementation and to assess the impact of making the change.
Case study: europa.eu feedback
The homepages of the EU website were relaunched in September 2009. We were eager to get user feedback so we placed a straightforward feedback survey on the 80 or so pages behind the homepage. We are averaging around 1000 comments and suggestions a week. So what do we do with all of this?
Every week we analyse the comments and make immediate changes when necessary (e.g. adding a links, improving a link description). Our contractor compiles a monthly evaluation report which combines user feedback plus statistics. We have a monthly 2 hour meeting every month when we make decisions on short/medium/long term changes to site.
We plan to report on the site what exactly we are doing to act on the feedback – so giving feedback on the feedback. We are also looking into placing a short and regular pop-up survey on the site to gauge feedback and we are exploring the possibility to do regular users testing.
Interesting post on measuring the success of public sector websites.