Marketers seeking online site critiques

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A survey button only on the home page would miss some of Sun's most valuable Web customers Marketers looking to learn what works and what doesn't on their Web sites are doing something disarmingly simple: They are asking site visitors for feedback.

When done right, this feedback feature provides a powerful tool that, along with careful analysis of traffic reports, can tell a company the strengths and weaknesses of its site.

Sun shines

One of the most aggressive companies in seeking feedback from its Web site users is Sun Microsystems, Mountain View, Calif. It put a large button on many of its Web pages offering site visitors the chance to critique the site.

Jonathan Fox, who heads Sun's 100-person Web marketing department, says a feedback button is needed on multiple pages because Sun's customers ("The profile tends to be a tech person or an IT professional," says Mr. Fox) often bookmark pages for fast access to the exact information they need.

A survey button only on the home page would miss some of Sun's most valuable Web customers, Mr. Fox says.

Hundreds a day

Sun's site is one of the most active business-to-business sites on the Internet, and Mr. Fox says he's very pleased with the response to the Web survey.

"Several hundred respond in a given day," he says.

Griggs Anderson, a Portland, Ore., market research firm, developed the surveyÅ"which went up on the site in JuneÅ"and is currently analyzing early results.

Mr. Fox says it's important to hire a professional company to design the survey, to ensure the viability of the results.

Additionally, it is important to post a survey rather than solicit open-ended commentary, Mr. Fox says. It is far simpler to quantify survey results than random comments, and sifting through reams of commentary can be a daunting task.

When the results are in, Mr. Fox will distribute them to three councils at Sun that determine the company's Web strategy. Using the data, the company expects to make changes and improvements to its site.

Thoughtful customers

And, say others, if a company latches onto customers that provide especially good feedback, don't lose them. Greg Helmstetter of Monsoon Media Development, Mountain View, advises companies to sift through the e-mail to find good suggestions and then ask those people to elaborate.

He also says that an easy way to increase your e-mail feedback is to include a real person's name in the e-mail link.

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