Web Watchers

Employee Spotlight

Name: JUDY THOMAS

Title: Online business consultant

Employer: Electronic Data Systems Corp., an IT services firm in Plano, Texas

30-second resume: Graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station with a degree in journalism and a minor in business. Completed an internship at a public relations firm; designed its Web site. Became assistant webmaster at Texas A&M; learned design and maintenance issues. Joined EDS's advertising department; analyzed online ad campaigns. Took a temporary position with EDS's online marketing and communications group last year, focusing on Web metrics; position became permanent last December.

Overall responsibility: Helps company determine whether intranet and external sites are helping achieve business goals, focusing on integrity, performance and usability. Evaluated Web metrics software for purchase by EDS. Works with internal and external clients to establish metrics; creates performance reports; designs and manages user feedback mechanisms.

Skills boost: "Understand how to design and maintain a Web site," Thomas recommends. It's not necessary to be a "code junkie," she says, but it is important to understand the implications for users of the design and internal workings of a page or site.

Thomas says she continually meets with business groups to understand the goals for their sites and surveys users on how they interact with a site. "You don't want to be the Web analytics person who's stuck in the closet," she says.

Thorough knowledge of how a specific site works is critical because statistics alone can mislead. For example, internal tests and Web spider and cache server hits can inflate total page-hit numbers. "You will never get exact metrics," says Thomas. "It's as much an art as it is science."

- Watson is a freelance writer in Chicago.

Skills

Basic hard-skills portfolio: Web design and programming; information architecture and design; interaction design; user-centered design; usability testing, including running and evaluating representative user test sessions.

Be aware that the analytics/metrics/usability field is young and fluid. Different approaches to metrics demand different skills, with some companies seeking tech-heavy "Web analysts" with hard-core database skills. Others want candidates with strong business skills.

Bonus tip: Don't work for a company that doesn't support metrics and usability. Such companies will be sold on usability only when they see it increasing sales elsewhere.

Training

Build at least one Web site, starting from business concept to tracking user behavior, to get a good overview of metrics and usability. Vendors offer training on their own metrics tools, although out-of-box solutions won't cover everything.

Read up. The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman, is a good place to start. Check out www.useit.com and www.usableweb.com for information and links to other usability and design sites.

Salaries

Most Web metrics/usability positions pay from $75,000 to $120,000, although a top usability expert can command more. Some metrics job titles include Web analyst, user experience manager and manager, database marketing.

Sources: Jakob Nielsen, Web usability expert and principal at Nielsen Norman Group, Fremont, Calif.; Robert Hatten, IT director at Domain Source Inc., Irvine, Calif.; and Judy Thomas, online business consultant at EDS

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