Your e-commerce website – Is it any good?

I’ve just been working out what I need to do for the year ahead and most of my free time will be devoted to my Usability research at Staffordshire University, I’m currently planning which papers to write and setting deadlines.

This should be a good way of obtaining a wider view of e-commerce usability and web 2.0, as on a coding level – whilst you obtain invaluable technical knowledge and proficiency, you can lose focus on the overall picture of what makes a website work.

In day-to-day development work, individual tasks are completed, each design element is implemented but just like a football club filled with star players does not always result in a title winning team; sometimes a website can equal much less than the sum of its parts.

Sites often get the basics wrong! But because they are unattractive, unexciting jobs, which will probably go unnoticed and will not result in whoops of excitement from a Sales and Marketing team or a Director, too often not enough time is spent on things such as:

  • Defining a clear navigational hierarchy and site structure
  • Improving the site search algorithm to return more accurate results,
  • Ensuring that the site is accessible to disabled users.

You might have a customer discussion forum, you might have customer reviews of your products, you may add flashy Web 2.0 widgets that you hope add a ‘coolness’ factor to the site. But I am suddenly reminded of a question that drummer Andy Edwards asks on a fairly regular basis… ‘Is it good?’

It is a simple question and the answer is largely a subjective one. You can produce something very simple, but it can be ‘good.’ An example I can think of off-hand is the song ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin, great song, but the drum pattern is on the whole very very simple, but when listening to the overall song, it sounds good!

Each individual developer can get so wrapped up in finishing their individual task that nobody is taking that step back and looking at the site and asking: ‘But is it good?’

Unlike music or film, judging whether a site is ‘good’ is much less subjective and you could define your own criteria based upon what you are hoping to achieve with your site. Task-based usability testing with participants representative of your users go a long way towards measuring whether your site is ‘good.’

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