Are You Being Served? - Professional Tester, December 2000
- Would you use a shop where the assistants were slow and unfriendly?
- Would you be happy if you went to the supermarket for bread and all they talked about was garden furniture?
- Would you buy a car from a dealer who wouldn't even tell you the most basic details about it
Of course you wouldn't. Yet every day we are being asked to accept this type of service on the Internet. With slow, unwieldy and poorly designed web sites abounding as companies follow a "knee jerk" reaction to get on the web; the Internet is fast becoming divided between the have's and the have nots. Those who have a quality web site, those who have committed time and resources to this medium, those who have reaped the benefits of a global market. It's no longer a question of whether this will happen, only which side of the divide do you fall on.
In today's business your web site is your shop window, billboard, customer services center and salesroom all rolled into one. For the millions of people who surf the web every day the only image they have of you is the one you project through your web site; and in a world of fast food and snap decisions the first impression is the only one you'll get to make. So is your web site really serving you?
OCS Consulting has a long history of delivering business benefit through IT (16 years in the IT industry is about forever), and in recent years they have applied their expertise to the field of e-Business. So it's not surprising that OCS started to ask the same questions.
- How many web sites are really adding benefit for their owners?
- Who is pushing back the limits of the web technology?
- Where are the great designers?
- Who's web sites are damaging their image and losing business?
To answer these questions OCS went to the only reliable source of information, the web sites themselves. Deriving metrics from the OCS Web Development Methodology a mixed team selected, assessed and graded over a hundred web sites.
" We used a real variety of people on this project, I didn't just want internet experts to be involved. For a site to be successful it has to be accessible by a range of different types. So the team was drawn from people right across the company, both IT experts and normal web users . " Clive Bates, Manager of e-Business Testing
Sites were selected for companies from a variety of business streams, sizes and age; the aim being to create a balanced cross section. Each site was assessed on a number of attributes, and then blind re-checking used to produce a consistent rating. The checks fell into two categories:
- Basics, e.g.
- Accurate and up to date content
- Added Value, e.g.
- Welcome back messages
- Two way communication
- Site search engines
- Visual links
" As the sophistication of your average Internet user increases, companies are going to have to accept that their web sites need to keep pace. Gone are the days when all you needed was an electronic version of your marketing material. People expect a lot more these days, and anything that isn't actively moving your business forward is just as actively damaging your image . " Brick Du Bourg, e-Business Development Manager.
- The results of this survey revealed some interesting trends:
- Only 14% of the sites surveyed met or exceed the 70% quality benchmark set by OCS.
- Over 15% of the sites scored a surprisingly poor 50% or under.
- Bricks and mortar companies on average scored better.
- Dot Com companies were generally poorer, showing signs of hasty attempts to jump on the Web Site Band Wagon.
Our detailed investigation of the resultant information showed that the high scoring sites were those that provided users with real added value. This was evidenced by the provision of extra information that was relevant to the site or product(s) being sold. Other aspects were the provision of a small but useful feature i.e the provision of a contact number or postal address, as there are occasions when only an email address is not appropriate.
Other key factors that made some sites really stand out were the visual impact of the site, the security features if necessary whether protection of data by id and password or financial transactions. Finally the overall feeling of quality and going the 'extra mile' would help a user notice the site and more importantly be willing to come back to it.
On the negative side, aspects that caused sites to have low scores were not only slow sites, but those that had little information about the organisation, service or product, or worst of all out of date information.
Interestingly, but probably not to/o surprising, out of the 27 market sectors examined, the best represented market sector was Retail - PC's whilst the worst was Services. The graph at the end of this article shows the average results for each sector.
The web site and the Internet are now an integral part of modern business practices. You can no longer relegate development and maintenance of your web site to the brand new IT graduate locked away in the basement. A site needs to be aligned with all elements of your business from strategy level downwards, to become an integral part of how you image, market and sell your company. It has become a cross departmental responsibility with input from all parts of your organisation, requiring multi-skilled to teams design, create and maintain.
A web site is a tool. It is no longer enough to simply have one, you must know how to use it. With thousands of companies developing new web sites every day, the need to stand out, be unique and provide a value added service for you customers is paramount. Used well the rewards can be unlimited, poorly designed, implemented and maintained it can be the single most damaging thing to your ogranisation's image.
Your web site is out there, being viewed by thousands of people every day. So the only question is, who is your web site really serving? you or your competitors?
" This survey has changed our view on how web sites are being used across the industry. Even now we are applying what we've learnt to improve our own web site, and are more than happy to share the results with others. " Maurice Aroesti, Chief Executive of OCS Consulting.