Measure a successful Web site

To be successful in e-business, you have to keep an eye on how your site is performing and what your customers think of you....

To be successful in e-business, you have to keep an eye on how your site is performing and what your customers think of you. Danny Bradbury explains how.

As any e-commerce expert will tell you, getting your company online is the easy bit of any e-business effort. The real work comes in making it succeed afterwards.

Given that different businesses want different things out of an e-commerce initiative, the criteria will vary depending on your commercial model. If your revenue comes from advertising, for example, then you'll need to find out how many people are clicking on your advertising banners. If you're focusing purely on how many books you sell, then an evaluation of your success will involve a look at how well your back-end logistics are functioning.

No matter what the nature of your electronic business is, a common requirement for all e-business operations is that their sites respond quickly to customer requests. Non-technical executives need to understand how well their e-commerce system is performing if they are to market it effectively as a sales channel for potential customers. There are a number of tools and services that you can use to find out how well your e-commerce infrastructure is serving your customer base. They can be tailored to provide information in lay terms, meaning that you don't have to drill down into bits, bytes and other geek speak to get a clear picture.

One such tool is eBA Servicemonitor from systems management company, Candle. The company says that most IT departments monitor the performance of their Web sites simply by using internal systems management software. The Servicemonitor product is supposed to offer a more realistic evaluation of how a Web site is performing, tracking users across different geographies and Internet backbones. It works by downloading a small Java program onto the user's PC. Using it, you can examine how long each Internet page takes to download, and you can build up reports showing you how long the Internet site has taken to respond and how long customers have spent navigating the site.

The product's navigation analysis feature highlights another important success criteria that many companies overlook. Application response time is one thing, but if your Internet site is poorly designed, then you may find that customers fail to place any orders, either because they find the site unattractive aesthetically speaking, or perhaps because they find the structure of the Internet site confusing. Many companies may find that that customers get lost on their site because it is not clear how to get to a particular section. Other problems might include a verification process that is too long - customers start placing an order and get halfway to the point where they finally check out, only to close their browser because they become bored.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of installing software to measure your online success, then another approach is the Perspective service, from US-based online performance measurement company Keynote. The company has attached a network of software measurement agents to Internet backbones in a number of cities worldwide. These software agents feed data back to the operations centre that analyses data on Internet performance.

There is one important difference between services and tools such as the two mentioned above, and conventional systems management tools that run behind your firewall. They are geographically-aware, and enable you to find out how people perceive your site from different locations across the globe.

Simply measuring technical performance won't give you a complete picture of your online success. Finding out end-user perceptions of the overall experience that your site offers is an invaluable tool when defining the strengths and weaknesses of your e-business operation. One way to find out how people feel about your site is to offer them the chance to feedback directly while visiting it. Conducting online surveys on the site, enabling end-users to fill in checkboxes detailing their experience of the various aspects of your e-commerce service, can provide a snapshot of how your customer base sees you.

There are also some Web sites that carry reviews and opinions about e-commerce players. One such site is the Power Rankings service, run by market research company Forrester. Shopsmart, an electronic shopping portal, also offers reviews and rankings of the most popular e-commerce sites.

Measuring your online success, is as much about your public image as your technical performance. The two are linked, but your image is also connected to areas such as your ability to deliver products on time and the design of your site.

Critical factors in measuring your success

  • Use specific tools to measure your online performance

  • Find out what end-users are doing on your site

  • Make your evaluation geographically aware

  • Check out news groups related to your area of business to pick up comments about your service

  • Monitor review sites for an independent assessment of your public image

    Web site measurement suppliers

  • Candle Corp

  • Keynote

  • Power Rankings

  • Shopsmart

  • Read more on Web software