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.

3 comments
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 :-)

kz
kz

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