Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Usability and Omniture Analytics in the B2B Field

Qualitative and Quantitative, Yin and Yang… There is not enough talk between the two worlds. In most Usability studies, professionals are tasked with improving the user experience, including the reduction of errors, time on task and subjective impression of a site without consideration for measuring quantifiable metrics. Site improvement recommendations, user feedback and observations are gathered, poured over and delivered to the client for the improvement of the site in question. Though the majority of usability professionals are not currently using any type of quantifiable metrics (as documented by the Usability Professionals Association in a survey from the summer of 2005), it is widely agreed upon that there should be standardized metrics in place for tracking the ROI for user-centered design processes. But with the business-to-business field, this can be a long cycle before any improvement is seen, as it is understood that the purchasing funnel is far more diverse and considerably longer than any business-to-consumer transaction.

Just recently, Omniture released a paper discussing the 5 Most Critical Steps to Track in B2B Online Marketing, which is a powerful piece that simply outlines ways to track some of the most important metrics in the B2B field. Not only does it outline these steps in a simple and tactical way, it inadvertently acknowledges, at least in a couple of areas, the best ways to track the success of usability improvements. In this document, they discuss the fact that the "B2B Buying Cycle encompasses a series of micro-conversions as prospects progress through different phases," and that these micro-conversions can act as "leading indicators of offline sales," allowing you to see improvement online and assume improvement offline, depending on the integration of your offline sales metrics to your analytics. Now, with any Usability Study, you will need a problem to fix, whether it’s known and you have some hypotheses about what to expect and how to approach the issue, or it’s unknown and is flushed out during the process of testing; but if these are being performed on a B2B type site, then the known issue can likely be tagged to any one or combination of these types of micro-conversions, or if the issue arises through testing, then creating a dashboard to measure the improvement historically as well as after the fact should be a simple process. These micro-conversions can be something as simple as video views, product comparison tools or case study downloads, depending on the target you are testing against and the issue you have on the site.

This brings up the point that, if you do not have any type of analytics in place like Omniture Sitecatalyst, or Hitbox, then ROI or online measurement are terms that you should put out of your mind. Keep things relatively qualitative and measure your offline successes and customer feedback. But if you do have an analytics solution, then you have an immediate way to quantify the success of your qualitative usability study.

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