Testing Web content: Not rocket science

We loved a short and devastating story in BusinessWeek explaining just how bad the new! improved! Wal-Mart Web site really is.

We don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do at least rudimentary usability testing, which costs literally nothing. All you do is visit the site and attempt to perform readily-anticipated tasks. We did this a few times in our guerrilla usability analyses. You might not find all the faults in your site this way, but you will find the killer, dealbreaker, offputting, stop-you-in-your-tracks errors. Guaranteed.

En tout cas, Timothy Mullaney attempted to look up the book Code & Other Laws of Cyberspace.

At Walmart.com, you learn in three sentences that Code was published last year, is “categorized by the Library of Congress as intellectual property,” that it weighs 1.32 pounds as shipped, and that its International Standard Book Number is 046503912X. This data may help Walmart.com’s warehouse keep track of inventory, but it didn’t do diddly for me.

(Our Understatement of the Year Award goes to....)

It’s a different scene at Amazon. You get reviews from Amazon itself, from the New York Times, and from Amazon users who love and hate the book. You’re also alerted to related books, just as a good salesperson would do.

Can you believe it gets worse?

This isn’t about frills. Walmart.com doesn’t even give customers the basics. Take electronics. I went shopping on both sites for portable CD players and boomboxes, and Amazon’s superiority could hardly be missed.... On a GPX CD player, for example, the Amazon review and 33 user reviews were supplemented by a table that let me compare the GPX’s features with those of other players. Simple one-click boxes referred me to accessories and batteries. At Walmart.com, I got a jargon-filled quickie list of features with no explanations and the news that a similar player weighs 1.9 lb.

Do we need to keep beating the dead horse that content on E-commerce sites sifts the wheat from the chaff? A few articles (blogged before on this very site) explain how:

  1. Our own “Cutting the Cheese,” documenting the cheesy content at online CD retailers
  2. New York Times mention of academic research (and NUblog coverage)
  3. Nua survey, and REI.com experience, detailed in our coverage

Posted on 2000-12-17