Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Looking at your web site and online presence through fresh eyes – 1

Posted in Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on February 13, 2011

Web site developers and their clients use a lot of tools to measure site effectiveness and performance. One approach to this that I would mention here and in this context of this posting, is eye tracking. This is used in evaluating web site mockups and prototypes to increase the likelihood that the features and content options that you would offer as most important, are positioned on the screen where viewers are most likely to view, and immediately when first facing a web page. This is very useful in fine tuning web site home pages, and basic structural design of a site. But I start writing this posting thinking in terms of a type of web site eye tracking study I have never seen before – but that I am sure would be quite enlightening.

I have seen a great many web site eye tracking reports with their topographic map-like overlays superimposed on images of web pages. And the counterpart to topographic map depiction of elevation in these presentations corresponds to visual activity and focus on the various parts of the page. Some areas of a screen always tend to be much more viewed, and much more quickly viewed than others – by most viewers.

It is important to note that viewers tracked in these studies are always first time viewers, coming to see the web pages under consideration for a first time. And that is where my study idea enters this story. My guess is that if a standard set of new and first time viewers where eye tracked for a web site, and then site owners and stakeholders were tested on those same screen shots, the first time disinterested viewers would show a standard range of viewing patterns that would create a standard “topographic map.” Owners and stakeholders might view those web pages with a measure of internal consistency and pattern within their group too. But these two pattern sets would be quite different, and especially where the site is known and familiar to the owners and stakeholders.

They would in effect see through and past the details and clutter that new viewers face. They would “see” the content and functionality areas of importance to them and their views of that business behind the visible links and in ways a first time viewer would not be able to. They would start with a very different and much more elaborate set of assumptions as to what is there and should be there on that site and where it would be.

• We do not see our own web sites the way our customers do, and this is most assuredly true for first time web site visitors and prospective, potential customers.
• Most of the time we do not know this, and even just as an abstract potential and we do not think and plan for it in our marketing or sales, customer support or other online offerings.
• The basic principles I write of here apply to our use of social media and to our online presence in general, and particularly where we offer richly formatted and complex content. Think social networking site organizational profiles, blogs and any other complex and information rich channel here.
• And even more limited (in principle) and sparser formats and channels offer potential for this type of disconnect when reached through handhelds with their more limited user interfaces.

My goal in this posting is to introduce an area of online channel design and of marketing and communications practice, where we loose opportunities but do not even realize the disconnects we are creating. I have also been writing this posting with a goal of provoking some thought. I will write a follow-up piece on this in a few days that will look into this set of issues in more detail and with a goal of offering approaches for more effectively addressing them.

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