Best practice makes perfect
I am not a great exponent of using technology for the sake of it, which is unfortunately what traditionally drives a great deal of current web development.
That appears to be the case with the recent drive by many businesses towards adopting Web 2.0 technology.
Having a Web 2.0 site for the sake of it is a very dangerous thing to consider, cool as it may be.
Thats why a lot of Web 2.0 technology is used for microsites or specific campaigns as they can be targeted towards a more specific audience.
I cant see many banks for example being too far along into planning on how they can make their entire site Flash or AJAX-based.
Nor can I imagine where user generated content would fit into their online operations, going by the definition of Web 2.0 that refers to a perceived second generation of web based communities and hosted services such as social networking sites, wikis and folksonomies that facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.
It is also worth taking into account that Web 2.0 requires a shift in the metrics site owners use to judge the performance of their websites.
With many Web 2.0 sites, for example, page views as a measurement of user behaviour no longer delivers accurate results, since the concept of pages is meaningless on sites where users might be carrying out several activities on a single page (such as uploading their own content, commenting on other videos and directing people to their blog, for example).
Rather than measuring pages, website owners will want to measure unique visitors to find ways of segmenting their user base into distinct groups based on their behaviour.
Ultimately, the most important thing to consider will always be: Why do your visitors come to your site? Not what you or the CEO would like them to do when they get there, but why do they come in the first place? If you dont know or understand this, you wont be able to get your internet marketing to hit the mark, right through from search activity to encouraging users to taking a desired action in your site.
In the case of search for example, theres little point in buying thousands of keywords in the hope that you can attract (i.e. potentially kid) visitors into coming, unless you can measure what works – and in terms of a demonstrable return in the form of conversions or cash, not just increased traffic figures to wave under the CEOs nose.
It can be difficult to get out of developer or site-owner mode and begin to consider how real people use your site.
Usability testing is a first port of call for this.
But dont start at the home page.
Start from Google, or any other place you may be using as an influencer, paid or otherwise, and walk, or should I say surf, a mile in your customers shoes.
What happens when Joe Public logs on and starts playing around with your website (and sadly thats the somewhat defensive attitude a lot of developers have)? I know youve got a sign saying Dont use the back button but what happens when I do? And isnt it absurd to develop something that disallows the use of one of the most frequently used buttons in a browser? As a geek and heavy internet user, let me assure you that your e-commerce engine has one chance to get it right.
If it breaks, redirects me, bounces me out, loses my shopping cart or tries my patience in any other way, its back to Google to find someone else.
So unless you have a monopoly on whatever you sell, it needs to work quickly, smoothly and with absolute clarity.
The technology needs to support, not lead.
By all means redesign the site to take advantage of Web 2.0 design principles, but only if a more immersive and engaging site is going to help you.
It should do, but if you want people in and out quickly, it might not be the best thing.
Internet users havent changed all that much – yes, they respond to shiny things, but ultimately when they have a job to do (and a lot of what we are talking about here is tasks rather than indulgence), they want sites to be clean, simple and easy to use.