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By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.
This article originally appeared in Folio magazine

Focus groups and surveys of visitors can give you critical data
about who is visiting your site and why, and how they feel about what they see.

Publishers have been conducting research on their print properties for years, and most can cite detailed studies showing who is reading their magazines and how readers feel about them. Few publishers, however, can claim the same level of insight about their web sites.

Considering the high costs of maintaining your site in both money and staff time, wouldn't the answers to the following questions be extremely useful to you?

If you knew exactly the types of people visiting your site, you could create more appropriate content and speak more intelligently to potential advertisers about the value of placing ads on your site. If you knew why visitors were visiting your site, you could create content that would maximize the value it provides to them. And, if you knew how visitors feel about your site, you could redesign it to better reflect the lasting impression you want it to create.

There are three basic research methods you can use to gather this information: registration, surveys, and focus groups. Which method you use depends upon whether you want to know who is visiting, why they are visiting, or how they feel about your site.

Keeping your site current and valued by visitors is key. Whether you use registration, survey, or focus group methods, it is important that you continually gather information about the characteristics and perceptions of your visitors. Without this information, your site may become lost and forgotten in the dark recesses of cyberspace.

  • Create a Review Panel to Evaluate Your Site

A cost-effective approach to improving your site is to assemble a group of people to evaluate it independently. They can provide feedback on technical aspects of the site, as well as its look and feel. The panel can include subscribers, potential subscribers, Web site developers, and graphic designers. They can be either volunteers or paid for their services. Paid panelists are more likely to provide their feedback in a timely manner. Be certain not to include members of your staff or others that may have a vested interest in your current site. It may also be advisable to change the composition of the panel periodically so that fresh ideas are brought to the table.

A panel can be ongoing, used on a one-time basis, or used periodically as events warrant. (An ideal time to use a panel is prior to a site redesign.) It can be coordinated internally or by an outside research firm. A written report should summarize the panelists' views and provide suggestions for improving the site.

I am very much interested in your views on this topic.
Please reply with your comments and suggestions to .


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