Do you remember the Buick Reatta? Designed to be the comeback car for Buick in the late 1980’s, the Reatta instead became infamous for its ill-conceived “Electronic Control Center”, a touchscreen console that lumped all climate and radio functions in a single, convoluted system. Drivers and critics howled about needing to navigate multiple screens just turn the radio volume down. Instead of being Buick’s salvation, the Reatta instead turned into an embarrassing flop. (For this and other cases of design gone terribly wrong, check out this great Wall Street Journal article.)
Fast forward to today. Unfortunately, much of today’s “Web 2.0” content is not so different from Buick’s experiment from 20 years ago. How many times have you found yourself on a Web site that’s peppered with slick animation, video and sound, only to be left scratching your head and wondering where to click?
Web 2.0 content is the among most expensive to produce, so it’s ironic that many companies make this content front and center without measuring (let alone optimizing) its performance.
UPDATE: (There are all kinds of Web 2.0 content. I’m focusing here on rich content that is produced in-house. But regardless of where your Web 2.0 content comes from, it’s worth measuring its performance.)
I propose this simple guideline: Web 2.0 content should always be a means to an end, not an end in itself. What’s the difference? Here’s an example: Let’s say a Google user types in the query “Finding Nemo review” and they land on your site. Are they really expecting a page with a video player front and center that shows the movie’s trailer? Of course not: They are obviously looking for links to movie reviews they can trust. If a video player is part of the equation, it would only work if it prominently displays a movie review. See the difference?
So before you deployWeb 2.0 content, ask yourself a simple question: “Is this content that my users would want to consume, and is this the way they would want to consume it?” To answer that question, you need to know not only what the page is designed to do, but also how your users are getting there.
Once you’ve decided to move forward, build in tools to track usage.
What’s that? You’re not measuring the performance of Web 2.0 content because it’s too hard to track? Nonsense! Today’s tools allow you to measure the performance of Flash, video and AJAX content with great precision, as well as to test alternatives.
Think of it this way: If it’s not worth measuring, is it really worth building?
And since you’re measuring, why not target while you’re at it? Targeting allows you to use one page for multiple purposes. A query like “Finding Nemo review” would bring text reviews to the top of the page, whereas “Finding Nemo trailer” would make a video player front and center.
Once again, it all comes back to relevance. It sounds too simple to be true, but that’s the real deal. The best way to predict relevance is common sense. The best way to measure relevance is to track performance. The best way to improve relevance is to test, optimize and target. So you see, even testing is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.