December 03, 2009

Effective Website



Abstract

In the changing trends of website usage and Internet, it is becoming hard to identify specific metrics and quality standards for a website. These standards and metrics vary with the category and segment to which the website belongs. According to Peterson 2008, there is no single calculation of engagement useful for all sites. However certain measurements are common across all websites. These include layout, brand awareness, security and privacy. While other factors like session time, page hits, sales through website, trust and return on investment have a different priority for websites belonging to different segments. These metrics can be broadly categorized into one of the following: - 
1) Site Traffic & Usage 
2) Site Usability 
3) Content 
4) Reliability 
5) Value Add to Business Model 
6) Customer Service.
Diagram A: Effective Website

In this paper we will discuss about components that contribute to the above metrics and how they co-relate with each other to form an Effective Website.

Value Add to Business

The most important fact that should be noted during development of the website is that how it will do value-add to business model and how to directly or indirectly benefit from it. According to SEMPO-2007, one of most important metric is Return on investment - ROI (ranked 4th). The returns mainly are direct financial gains but are often tracked to off-line returns. These depend on cost of generating online sales, conversion rate, overall online sales and total increase in revenue. The investment includes development and maintenance of website, paid ads and investment for search engine optimization.

Diagram 1 : Value Add to Business

According to Lowry, Paul Benjamin et al. 2008, websites with less brand reorganization are disadvantageous as customers are more brand aware and trust on well recognized brands. Co-branding with well known brand can do a great value add to a less familiar brand. It also adds trustworthiness of the website. For new entrepreneurs and growing business, I would recommend using brand-association-trust-model BATM for increasing the trust and positive brand awareness. A detailed explanation of BATM is given by Lowry, Paul Benjamin et al. 2008.

For websites with recognized brands, it is important that they maintain the brand image and keep track of competitors' revenues and sales. Sites like Amazon, e-Bay and JCPenney are highly successful in doing online sales by creating their own brand image over a long period of time. Other recognized organizations like VISA, PayPal and American Express earn huge revenues by co-branding with both big and small reliable websites who do online sales of services/products. Google has created a different model where it hosts business transactions for other websites by the feature of Google-CheckOut.

The effectiveness of the above metrics is measured by the following metrics:
    * Cost Per Acquisition
    * Return on Investment
    * Online Sales
    * Click Through Rate
    * Conversion Rate
    * Increase in Total Revenue

According to Nielson//NetRating and SAMPO – 2007, people have increased the use of internet for gathering information about products/services and then buy it offline. In such cases it becomes difficult to measure the effect of website and correlate to offline sales. Few things that can be done to track are selling promotional codes & gift cards.

Site Traffic & Usage

Certain metrics of Value Add to Business can be measured and related directly to Site Traffic / Usage. According to Saba Oct 2008, other than on-line sales and heavy traffic the metrics that play an important role in today's INTERNET are unique visitors, page views and time spent.

Now a days due to change in technology to Web 2.0 it is becoming difficult for companies to measure the exact effectiveness of a page or site. Due to asynchronous loading of certain portions of the page the page visit reduces dramatically. Companies have started giving importance to session time, click depth, and bounce rates. According to Peterson 2008, the users who return to their website in a slow and methodical way or who have subscribed to feeds and blogs are engaged visitors. These visitors can also be users with long session time, viewing critical content. Peterson 2008, also says that visitors who drill deeper in website (click depth), frequently they return (recency), stay longer time on site (duration), frequently provide feedback and subscribe to the website are the most valuable and engaged customers. These calculations should be done during the span on one session and across multiple sessions. According to Miller 2008, how long the user stays on site or how deep user drill in the site depends on the response time and latency of the website. These timings should be resolved up to 1 millisecond level. This will increase the performance of website on internet.

Diagram 2: Site Traffic / Usage

According to Nielson//NetRating, 78% of people use more internet for searching and collecting information for local business/service. And 67% of people prefer internet yellow pages over telephone directories. Of this 67%, 84% people say that it's faster and 63% said that it's more updated. So it is very important that your website ranks higher during internet search. According to SEMPO 2007, search engine ranking is important for both local business and corporate websites. According to Washington.edu, people don't click beyond 3 clicks for searching any item on the internet. For this the website should be in the first three results of search on the first page. Usage of right keywords, titles, headers help websites to rank higher in the search engine results.

I would recommend using Google Analytics for measuring Site Traffic/Usage metrics. It provides excellent reports to track the usage of website, conversion rate, identify the demographics of the website users, average session time, new visitors, distinct users and many other metrics. It also tells you how many pages are indexed by Google. According to Horn 2002, Market Leap (www.marketleap.com) is also a good tool for verifying popularity of your link. Other factors like usability and brand awareness also impact the Site Traffic & Usage metrics.

Site Usability

Site Usability is one of the important factors for engaging customers. People like friendly interface for websites. People can remember the content of website if it is easy to understand and readily accessible. According to Smartwebby, a clean layout with focus on content enhances the looks of the website. According to typography people like to symmetrical layouts throughout the page. Change in the layout distracts their attention and increases difficulty in looking at the content. According to Miller 2008, a layout that holds all the content together is considered as good structure. These layouts should render the same way for all kind of technologies. i.e. Home/Office computer or on mobile device.
Any good website should be cross browser compatible. It should work consistently on major web browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and other mobile device browsers. With the huge variation in the screen resolution of displays, (smartwebby.com), the website should be designed so as to support all kind of resolutions.

 Diagram 3: Site Usability

The navigation should be easy to understand and well categorized. According to Smartwebby.com, easy navigation is plays a big role in determining the session time and average time spent on the website. After reading the content of the current page users look out for links and pages of their interest. If the navigation has too menus then use dropdown for it for simplicity. The navigation should be flexible enough to accommodate any increase or decrease in number of links in menu. Highlighting important links is also important so that users can find them easily. According to Washington.edu, including back link and consistent navigation menus keeps the users from getting lost in the website. Another important aspect of navigation is (Washington.edu) site map. Creating site map in the logical form instead of physical structure in directory helps user to find relevant content on the website. Having site index, alphabetical listing of all the topics with duplicate entries for alternative words also helps user and search engines to find relevant content on the website.

According to Washington.edu, large sites need internal search feature to find the content present in the website. This feature should also be available on all the pages for easy accessibility. Try to consider the location of the search feature during the design of navigation as more and more people have started using internal search. According to Chakraborty 2003, personalization plays an important role for engaging users. Personalization, means treating each user individually as per the preferences set by the user. Google, MSN, Yahoo, AIM and many more are leading websites for customization and personalization. According to Chakraborty 2003, personalization gives users greater control and freedom on the type of information they are exposed to and how such information is displayed. Web technologies like AJAX, JavaScripts, xHTML and XML have helped developers to provide extensive features of customization.

Another important factor for usability and revenue is the ease or ordering. People don't like to fill long forms or go through several pages for ordering any item online. According to K Sinha et al. 2004, ease of ordering includes various payment options supported by the website as well as by back office. Feature for customized ordering increases the number of online sales as customers can customize and order the goods they need. Eg Laptop & Furniture Ease of ordering also includes financing options for expensive items like T.V., Laptop or Furniture.

Startup or companies can use Google-Checkout for receiving payments as it enables them to accept payments from a reliable source. It increases brand awareness trust for website as less recognized companies can co-brand with Google. Well established and huge organizations use their private gateway with online transaction service providers like VISA, MASTERCARD, American Express, PayPay and many others.

Content

A good website should have content specific to their targeted customers. The format and language vary with different gender, age, country, religion and many other demographics. According to Horn 2002, relevant and accurate content make website more popular than any other factor. Relevant content near the top of the page makes it more accessible then some critical information in a corner or split across images or pages. According to Horn 2002, it is important to have relevant title, keywords and Meta tags for a page; this will increase the rank of the page in search engine results.

Diagram 4: Content

According to Miller 2008, the content of the page downloaded today should be consistent with the page downloaded yesterday. There should not be much difference between the content. Consistency should also be with the frequency of update so that users don't get many surprises when they see the webpage. Washington.edu, says that putting the last updated date on the webpage is one of the most effective way of avoiding surprises and setting the right expectation of the customer. Miller 2008, gives stress on highlighting the updated content so that user can find the relevant content easily. Frequently updated content also increases the rank of the website in search engine results. Google Webmaster tools specifically ask for the frequency of update for the content of the website.

The content should be able to convey the right message to the right customers. Discount Domains says that, your website should be able to convey the message that you can deliver the right goods/services at right time. Try to be clear about the purpose of the website. According to washinton.edu if owners of the website are clear about the purpose of the website then the visitors of the website will also be clear about the purpose of the website. It is advisable to put the purpose of the website in one sentence or paragraph. Washington.edu says that defining the target of the website will keep you from moving away from your goals and help you create a good website.

Home page is also important part of the website content. Most of the users new enter the website through the home page. If the content on the home page is not so relevant then the user will not return on your website. Becker 2008, says that it is a great idea to put three sentences on the home page that "Why to Buy from your site?".

According to Becker 2008, the best way to get relevant and good content is by brainstorming with small cross functional teams, and then supplement the brainstorming with the statistical data of customers.

Reliability

No customer will visit or buy from your website if they don't trust on your website. Trust is the most important part in the virtual world of internet. Accurate content is highly relevant for websites that involves critical information like finance, news and weather. Accuracy also implies updated content because the stock prices of yesterday or last year's news are accurate but irrelevant. Updated content also adds to the accuracy of the website. A website with accurate data is more reliable.

Privacy of personal information and data is the most important part for reliability of the website. If my data is not kept confidential on the website then I won't visit that website. According to a research conducted by OSC: NewsWire 2000, Forty Five percent of the Ohio's citizens named privacy as major concern for not doing online purchase. But this is an old article and I would like to say that this no longer is a valid reason. Due to rigorous laws and IT Acts, every website must have a privacy policy and have to follow it. There are very few companies who bleach it and strict actions are taken against those websites.

But due to increase in the usage of the internet hardly any user reads the privacy policy of the website and just clicks on "I Agree" to move ahead. An interesting issue was raised by online community when Google released Google Chrome. Certain Legal policies of Google says that it has right to sell the information of customers to other companies. But as Google has a big name people rely on it and its is not misused so far.

Diagram 5: Reliable

Security of data over the network is also an important factor for reliability of the website, especially while doing online financial transaction. People consider VISA, MASTERCARD, Google-Checkout, PayPal, American Express and VeriSign as highly trustworthy channels for secure payment on the internet. According to WhiteHat Security, eight of the ten websites are vulnerable to attacks. This is a high and scaring figure. Does this mean that when we surf internet, we are exposed to 80% of risk. NO- I believe that due to cheap options of webhosting available on the Internet, there are thousands of website that we are not concerned about. Such websites are either created for testing or just for fun. We are exposed to risk when we are on internet but the figure given by WhiteHat is not relevant to common Internet User.

Customer Service

Customer service is highly important for B2B and B2C websites which normally sells services and goods. Often we find that the information provided in Contact Us is outdated or incorrect. According to DiscountDomains.com, the information provided in Contact US or About Us has the highest impact for gaining trust for a new visitor or customer. Discount Domains says that Contact Us page should have e-Mail Id, relevant phone number, fax number and a physical address of the company. Physical address adds to the trust of the website as it adds a physical touch to the virtual point. Providing an email is not just the end of customer service, in fact it is the beginning. According to DiscountDomains.com when a potential customer is ignored he will never return as there are chances that the customer will get great response from competitors. Good website should have automatic responding system. But I would say that a great website should have a good responding system which sends personalized response and then it is followed up by a representative as soon as possible. The greater the delay the greater the chance of losing the customer.

 Diagram 6: Customer Service

More the shopping features – more the customer will engage in the website. Customers love options like price comparison, feature comparison and customization. Ordering methods include both online and offline ordering methods. According to Nielson//NetRating and SAMPO – 2007, people have increased the use of internet for gathering information about products/services and then buy it offline. So it is important to have a consistent product online and offline. According to Nielson//NetRating online shopping has increased as customer don't want to waste time in travelling to the store in increasing traffic. Also online shopping gives customers features to compare products across different brand.

There are limited payment options available on online for shopping. Most common is using a credit card and PayPal account. Order tracking is important when goods are being ordered. Other options like differed payment and discounts attract customers. After ordering, certain customers like to watch how their order is being shipped and delivered. Features like email notification and online tracking help such customers.
According to K Sinha et al. 2004, good shopping features, payment methods, ordering methods, order tracking make customers extremely happy. These features enable customers to return to the website as these are the last foot prints left in the memory of the customers mind before leaving the website.

"In order to make an effective website it should increase brand awareness and profitability of the organization. Brand awareness will increase both online and offline sales. But it is difficult as there are large number of fake websites on the internet which is difficult to control but using the above metrics it can be increased gradually."
References

References

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