The Metrics of Success on the Web

Firstly, what is success? Success is measured as an event that accomplishes its intended purpose.

To determine the success of a website, then, is to first define its target or intended purpose.

In the case of an online book store, the purpose of the website is to sell books to a wide audience and to become the preferred website for buying books online.

In the online world, as it is in the traditional business environment, the number of people who enter the business premises, or in this case, visit the website, greatly increases the chance of the website being a success.

What will make a website succeed as a business?

Marketing a website is vital to generating increased traffic. As sales increase so does an intrinsic part of business increase – profit.

With profit comes increased opportunities for the business to grow and to ultimately offer better service to its customers. This also ensures that the business can continue buying stock and doing business – therefore generating website traffic and awareness should be a top priority for the website owner.

But this in itself will still not make the website a success as the entire purpose may not yet have been met.

Marketing will get the target audience to the website but the website will need to offer value added services that will make the customer come back. This can include a wide range of books, rare or specialised books, ease of payment and quick or free delivery.

Appeal and user-friendliness

The appeal of the website is target market-specific, as a website about women’s beauty advice would not necessarily appeal to a man. The content of the website greatly determines the appeal.

The appeal of the content for the target market should therefore be included as a key component of the website’s intended purpose.

Another aspect of appeal is user-friendliness which applies to all websites as it is the vehicle in which the content is delivered to the user.

Using uncluttered and simplified interface elements makes it easier for the eye to catch the various sections of a page, making it easier for the user to read the content and find navigational items.

Complementing colours and legible font sizes will also help create a pleasant and engaging reading experience. Animated transition effects, using technologies such as Flash or Javascript, should be kept at a minimum as it uses more system resources, slowing the user’s web browser down, and also impedes the time between user requests and content delivery.

Using standardised and familiar interface elements, like a clear and easy-to-find navigation at the top of the page and a sitemap in the footer, helps users to instantly relate to the website and makes navigating and finding content easy to do.

User participation and interaction

Increased user participation and interaction has become the norm with modern websites. This is mostly due to a range of new technologies becoming available in the latest web browsers. Among these technologies are Ajax and Flash which has added real-time interaction to the web experience.

User participation increases the appeal of the website for the user which subsequently drives the website closer towards its success. User participation also contributes to the content of the website and can increase traffic through the use of social media services.

However, caution should be taken not to add every single feature that the social media and Web 2.0 world has to offer. If market research and common sense shows that it will not have a practical and lasting function, other than it being a trend at the time, then it should be avoided. Other than it being an unnecessary function, it will also be an extra cost on development, both in time and money.

What is required to enable this interaction?

The most obvious requirement for user participation is of course the users. Having a well implemented marketing and advertising campaign will take care of generating traffic to the website but if the information is not delivered and viewed in an accessible manner the marketing will lose its effectiveness and the website will not succeed. This takes us to the technological aspect of the website which actually precedes the marketing phase.

Most web servers today will have all the necessary technologies in place to handle and process the more complex programming tasks needed for user interaction.

The key tools that are required is a database server such as MySQL, used to store all the user contributed data, and a server-side programming language like PHP, to process the data, store it and display it again. Client-side processing, through Javascript, Ajax, or Flash, is achievable with most modern desktop web browsers.

There are many great third party Javascript frameworks available, such as jQuery, Prototype and Dojo that make implementing user interaction-level programming tasks quicker and much easier than creating a custom Javascript framework.

Special consideration must be given to mobile devices, as the technology used in theses devices are still in a more primitive stage than its desktop counterparts.

The measurement of success

The bottom line in ensuring a successful website is creating a website that focuses on a target market through its content and visual appeal and follows interface design standards that users are familiar with. If these conditions are met then the users will be able to easily find what they are looking for and they will return to the website looking for more.

There are of course many finer details to design that constitutes a good website interface but what experience dictates is that simplicity in design is key. Even in this age of heightened user-interactivity, less is most often more.



The Web – Ready for the Real World

Human civilization has been around long enough to have established many different political, social and business structures. Technology has developed along with these systems and is still ever-changing. The wheel has been around since before records began, steam has given way to electricity and there seems to be no end to what may still be possible.

My Grandfather always said that Man has advanced more in the past 100 years than in the whole history of the world. Transport and communication have come a long way. Amongst all these mature technologies, the Internet is still very young. Just how old is the World Wide Web, and do we measure it in dog years?

The Toddler

As its father, Tim Berners-Lee changed the nappies and endured the sleepless nights during the web’s infancy. The formative years saw the establishment of standards that would later pave the way for the first websites. Steve Crocker’s “Request for Comments” series laid down a firm base for the education of the Internet and, as more people contributed, the web grew into a kindergartner. Computer geeks used their programming skills to hack together websites that resembled finger-paintings. Colours, fonts and animated giffs adorned websites that belched out badly formatted information. Hit counters informed you of the popularity of a website (although they were easily rigged) and feedback forms allowed you to submit messages to the webmaster.

The Youngster

The web grew up a bit and the years that followed showed an increase in interest from the world. Businesses started to see the potential in the youngster. With the right guidance, it could achieve great things. But, as with most adults, the world had its own problems to deal with and trusted that the web would make it’s own mistakes and so learn to be a better person/thing. Of course, prepubescent youths just want to play and are mostly oblivious to what is expected of them. Programmers made advancements in scripting languages, but these were no more than tree-houses and the web was still seen as an annoying brat that was neither here nor there.

The Teenager

Fashion-conscious, rebellious and self-assertive, the web entered it’s teenage years. Designers joined the party to add a much-needed visual edge to websites; programmers started creating more intricate systems and marketers better utilised the advertising tools at their disposal. Website owners began experimenting with different web-services and users become more trusting of websites. Internet payments become more popular and websites moved from being simply informational pages to actual business tools.

The Graduate

Today, the web is changing faster than ever before. Professionals colaborate on many levels to produce cutting-edge websites, products and services. Companies have integrated the web, either solely or as an extension, into their day-to-day business. People (young and old) use the Internet to manage many aspects of their lives and information multiplies on a daily basis. Even so, the web is still young and immature, but (like a young adult) it is ready to go out into the real world and realise its full potential. We have the skills and the resources we need to do amazing things and it is up to us, as Internet Godparents, to steer the web in the right direction. There is still so much to learn, with many more mistakes yet to be made. The future is bright and it will be a long time before the World Wide Web has fully matured, but I think it’s ready. The tools are available and the foundations have been laid. Personally, I am very excited to see what the web may become. So, to all websites out there, I say this: look sharp, think smart, focus on your goals and don’t lose sight of your dreams.