Author: Shari Thurow & Nick Musica
Publisher: New Riders, 2009
Aimed at: Website owners and web professionals
Pros: Straightforward and well explained approach
Cons: No magic bullet
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
The goal of most websites is to attract lots of visitors who are favourably impressed by their experience and are converted into consumers/customers of the goods and services on offer. Unfortunately this isn't something that is easy to achieve and the situation has spawned an entire industry of its own. Or rather two: SEO (search engine optimisation) concerned with how to raise awareness of a site's existence; and web usability promoting a positive user experience and ensuring that visitors are able to do what you want them to do - for example successfully complete a purchase transaction.
This book covers both and opens with a chapter on Search Usability which is where the two concerns intersect and looks at how users arrive at a website. This chapter introduces the concept of "the scent of information". This idea comes from Information Foraging Technology but it used throughout this book as being about the cues that help people find their way around a website and its content and something that should be maximised - If the scent of information is strong, people click.
Chapter 2, "The Scent of Information and Web Search Engines" introduces three types of queries: navigational, transactional and informational that are then looked at in detail in the following three chapters. The advice here is clearly presented and well illustrated with examples - but there's nothing revolutionary about it. Similarly in Chapter 6 "The Scent of Information and Landing Pages" there's plenty that will strike you as good, but familiar, advice.
Site success and how to measure it is the topic of Chapter 7. This explains some jargon and introduces an acronym SWAG - Stupid (Smart or Scientific) Wild Ass Guess and superficially looks as though it is full of hard facts - but it's really just standard stuff that is well presented. Chapter 8 emphasises the need for everybody concerned in a website to be involved in improving search usability and the final chapter is devoted to how to improve it.
Although there are only a few pages on usability testing they contain several valuable and practical testing methods - so whatever you do don't skip this final chapter. It rounds off with a dozen misconceptions it feels it needs to dispell, the first one of which is "Myth #1: There is a Magic Bullet". By the end of this book you'll already know there isn't but there is in fact a lot of wisdom in this collection which is therefore more than a postscript and probably deserves a chapter of its own.