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.

John Broady
John Broady

Hi Soeren, Thanks for the comment. 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 updated the post to eliminate any confusion. John

Soeren Sprogoe
Soeren Sprogoe

I must admit I was a bit confused after reading this article. I think you need to start by defining what you mean by "Web 2.0 Content", and especially how you actually sit down and produce it (quote: "Web 2.0 content is the among most expensive to produce"). One of the most common definitions of "Web 2.0" is a social, interactive web, where the users themselves are the contributors. And if you follow this definition you can't actually sit down and produce "Web 2.0 Content" yourself. Here's how I read the article: - First the introduction sets me up to reading something about measuring the effect of Web 2.0 content, and using it in the best way. - Then I'm all of a sudden reading stuff about Flash, Videos and AJAX, which doesn't necessarilly have anything to do with Web 2.0 Content. - Then it goes on an rants about targeting relevant content. I'm sorry if the above seems harsh, but after reading the article a couple of times I still haven't figured out what it is about. Maybe I just need to brush up on my English :-)


I have a 1988 Reatta & that consule still works great. How many comp[utrs do you have that are that old??