Feedback should fuel site changes

If your e-mail address is located anywhere on your Web site, even on the most remote subpage, you receive e-mail from the public. And, (bring up the volume of the sorrowful violin) if your address is on the opening page of your Web site, you get LOTS of e-mail (violin out).

The flip side of this predicament is that even though you're awash in e-mail, you are a possessor of real knowledge -- you are in touch with the users of your Web site.

If you read the e-mail messages closely, you'll find that the writers are telling you about your Web site: How easy or difficult it is to use, whether the site is efficiently organized, when it is time to increase the prominence of a link and other useful feedback.

One of the worthwhile goals of a Webmaster is to reduce the amount of e-mail received. Listening to your users is an important part of the e-mail reduction effort and can be a beneficial investment of time. If you offer a Web site that enables customers to quickly and easily find the information they seek, they won't have to write to ask you.

Ideally, your Web site was tested for usability before you published it online. For many of us, however, we do the best we can in site design and content, and then we make it available to the public.

Some users will provide direct and helpful feedback, but many just want the information that they are seeking, and if they can't find it quickly, they resort to clicking on the "contact us" e-mail link. A string of "Where is...," "How do I find...," "I can't locate..." messages are a knock on the door to change.

If you handle your own Web site, you can quickly make the needed adjustments. If another shop does the code work for you, let them know of the need for change. Keeping a running total each day of the general type of information requested, or where you referred users, can provide the information to support the change.

E-mail, now 30 years old, remains the killer app because it is easy to use. The goal is to make your Web site as easy to use, with the bells and whistles behind the screen helping people get the information they need.

If your users take the time to let you know something about your site, get the full benefit of their communication by improving your Web site based on their feedback.

Powell is the Agriculture Department's Internet and intranet Webmaster.

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