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Website Management Section: Evaluation

When you hear the word ecology, you probably think about the natural world including the relationships among plants, animals, and natural forces.

The information ecology involves the relationships among the content, information access tools, the web context, and the users. A healthy ecology is necessary for positive information access experiences. In other words, if the user doesn't understand what they're supposed to do on a web page, they won't be successful. In the same way, the web tools and pages can be well-designed and visually-appealing, but if the website lacks quality content the user will be disappointed.

Let's explore issues and types.


Besides doing very specific evaluations of the content and technical aspects of the website, it's important to ask the "big picture questions" about the website and whether it is meeting it's goals.

Use the following questions to start your exploration:


Quality control is a critical activity of a web developer. In addition to basic coding validation, validation is also the process of checking for accuracy and consistency of content objects and the technical performance of the website itself. This can include everything from spelling errors and rotten links to web accessibility and operating speeds.


The quality of the information architecture can dramatically impact the effectiveness of your website. There's a good chance that you wouldn't return to a hotel with a leaky roof, a noisy ice machine, or a rude staff. The same goes with websites. Failed searches, the inability to locate information, and slow access speeds can all cause users to leave your site and never return.

You may wish to collect both quantitative and qualitative data during an evaluation. Use quantitative data when it's easy to take precise measurements. For example, you can count users, time on a page, or results of searches. Use qualitative measures when you're dealing with abstract topics such as impressions, likes and dislikes, or preference. A mixture of techniques and data can give you a well-rounded look at your website.

Generally, web designers evaluate their websites at many different points using formativesummativeredesign, andcomparative evaluation approaches.

Formative Evaluation

Before a website is brought online, a series of formative evaluations should be conducted.

Prototyping is used to test out ideas before the final layout and content are in place. Some people use paper and lay out cards on a table. Others create "mock" pages that contain sample information to get a feel for what the pages will look-like. In some cases, designers will create functioning versions of only a couple pages for an evaluator can get a sense for the final product without seeing the whole website. These are all ways to try out ideas without committing the time and energy to a design that might not work.

One-on-one testing involves observing how a single user reacts to the website. By observing how they read the screen, scroll, and make choices you can see where you might make changes. Some people ask the user to narrate their exploration providing insight into what they're thinking as they're making choices. Where do they waste time? Where do they seem frustrated? Where do they laugh or frown?

Expert evaluators can focus on specific aspects of your website such as technical and content components. One person may focus on editing the text of the website while another might focus on consistency of fonts and indentation. Yet another expert may examine the content quality or the technical aspects.

Field tests are conducted to see how the website functions in the intended user environment such as the classroom, library, or home. How fast does it run? What happens when many people are trying to download a movie file at the same time?

The purpose of the formative evaluation is to make changes before the website is opened to the general public.

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Go to the Formative Evaluation page at this website for more specific ideas on conducting a formative evaluation. Read about each type.

Summative Evaluation

Once the website is fully functioning, a summative evaluation should be conducted to ensure the website is able to meet the needs of the users. Is the website running smoothly? Is everything working properly? Surveys and questionnaires can be used to answer these questions.

Many people like to conduct one-on-one interviews. The advantage of interviews is the ability to ask clarifying questions. For example, if a user says the website is difficult to use, there may be many reasons from lack of directions or indexes to slow web access speeds.

Redesign Evaluation

Periodically, the website should be reevaluated to determine if it is meeting needs. A redesign may not be needed. However an evaluation can be used to determine what areas could be expanded or enhanced.

Sometimes website data and statistics can be used to make recommendations for changes. You may use data and statistics to justify budget requests, website expansion, or website updating. For example, at the 42explore website we track user statistics and try to keep the most popular projects up-to-date.

Comparative Evaluation

You may choose to compare your website with others. For example, how does your website compare to other school, classroom, or library sites? How does the new version of your website compare to the old version? It may be prettier, but is it also more effective? Some people find that adding a bunch of animation may add glitz to the website, but actually impede its use.


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