When to use a page-rating tool to solicit visitor opinions

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Some of the best b-to-b Web sites use quantitative page-rating tools to get immediate feedback from visitors. But Web content managers warn that while page rating can provide very valuable information, it shouldn’t be the primary source for site feedback.

"Page rating is best used for a ‘canary’ test of your site," said Sun Microsystems’ Ben Hansen. "That is, is it dead or alive? You want it to quantitatively measure two basic things: Could you find the information you were looking for? And was the information ultimately useful?"

Ideally, the page rater will ask for a scaled answer, say 1 to 10, to these questions.

Hansen said to expect the numbers to look a bit odd. "It’s definitely not a bell-shaped curve. Visitors tend to respond on the extreme ends of the scale, so don’t be surprised [if you get] a more U-shaped distribution. In this case, averages won’t be very useful."

"Unless something’s really out of whack, you’re probably not going to notice any major fluctuations on a daily basis," Hansen said. "But what it’s useful for is tracking page performance long-term—especially to see if the rating goes up once you’ve made fixes to it."

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen, however, has one caveat about page-rating tools. "If your site doesn’t generate much traffic, then quantitative measures such as page raters won’t be statistically valid. And basing decisions on what could just be feedback ‘noise’ is worse than not getting any feedback at all." —Roger Slavens

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