Thursday, November 09, 2006

Web Usability and Content Relevance

Usability of a product is a complete unknown...until you do user observation tests of typical, external, unfamiliarized users.

You have no idea whatsoever of how easy your product is to use.

You have no idea whatsoever of how well written your site is.

You have no idea whatsoever of how relevant your content is.

You have no idea whatsoever of how smooth your navigation tools are.

You have no idea whatsoever of whether your forms work the way users need them to work.

...until you conduct user observation tests.

Just because you and your wife and your staff and your golf buddies can use it--that's no guarantee that typical users will find it easy, satisfying, and relevant to their needs and goals. I'm not trying to tell you the obvious, I'm merely emphasizing a fundamental principle that tends to get lost in the shuffle too often.

But a user observation test, which I have for a long time spelled out in explicit detail (see my sidebar link), is best done by a trained and experienced Web Usability Analyst, who not only observes user behavior, but also knows web norms and ways to fix any problems.

Usability is very poor on most sites, I mean the bigger sites. A blog has few functions, usually, so blogs are pretty easy to make highly usable. Relevance of content is the big factor in blogs, which most fail miserably in. I myself wage a constant war in my bloggy soul: what should I post next?

The toughest thing for me is: do I post a personal passion, or a professional insight?

I always hope, that when I feel compelled to write about Ted Haggard, repressive regimes, DRM, Net Neutrality, Ken Lay, or whatever I'm angry about, I can make it relevant to webmasters, bloggers, software developers, IT heads, etc., i.e., actual readership, audience, fan base of this goofy little blog.

Content Relevance is ascertained in a variety of ways:

* user comments posted to your blog

* user emails to you or webmaster

* user posts about your content on their own blogs

* other blog posts about your content

* links to your content

* offline discussions of your content, as in conferences and books

* wide area knowledge of what's relevant to your audience (e.g. what other bloggers in your field or industry are writing about)

Now, I shut up and you talk. How say you?

How do you test the usability of your site, and how do you determine what content to publish?

How do you know that your content is meaningful, useful, and appropriate? In design, writing style, terminology, features, functions, interactivity?

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