Friday, May 13, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: Gazehawk makes heat map usability studies fast and affordable

As a tool for improving the usability of websites, heat maps are quite valuable. They can literally show you where people’s eyes go on a page so you can understand the likely consumer paths. And indeed the unlikely consumer paths. In either case, the information helps identify strengths and opportunity areas (Jeez, I have been in advertising too long – I find it impossible to type the word w*aknesses anymore) of a particular design, and the relative merits of alternative designs.

An interesting start-up called Gazehawk has developed a platform to make heat map testing something that virtually any business can afford. Essentially it uses your webcam to track the visual activity of browsers to reveal what they are paying attention to, and how they navigate a site.

The service, however, provides more than just heat maps. It also collects comments and observations from your respondents, a replay of the web cam “shows” of your respondents, and personalized recommendations based upon the test results.

There are four packages currently available for purchase:

A $495 starter pack that provides ten respondents, heat maps, and gazing studies. Ideal for early iterations, or for small organizations that might otherwise forego any form of testing and “roll the dice.”

An $995 A/B test that offers two sets of ten respondents, heat maps, and gazing studies. This is a good approach for organizations trying to better understand the relative merits of two different designs.

A $995 Professional package that puts your design through the paces with 20 respondents, and adds more advanced reporting to the basic heat map and gazing study bundle.

An enterprise offering that can be integrated into a site for ongoing or periodic testing of new content, design changes and features. Pricing for this offering will depend on the breadth and depth of service required.

I was thrilled to find this offering. I have worked on many web site designs and builds in the past, and testing has always been a bit of a googly. Inevitably there are cost overruns on certain features or design elements, and often the first area that gets cut is usability.

Often, a kind of ersatz testing methodology gets shoehorned into the schedule – something like bringing a couple dozen people in from Craigslist to go through the motions of site usability, and then report on their experiences. I’m not saying such a methodology has NO value, but the usage situation is so artificial, and ultimately we must rely on what they want to tell us.

It’ll be interesting to see how the availability of such services transforms our industry. As we all know, there is, over time, a converging sameness to site designs, whether it’s the Appleesque nav/three box/three small box stack, or a handful of other approaches that are easy to execute. On the one hand, sameness s good in that it helps consumers know where to look as they enter new domains. On the other hand, truly remarkable design and UI is few and far between.

Gazehawk promises a number of great improvements to their service over time as well, from the ability to target respondents by demo to new visualizations of valuable consumer information. I am very excited seeing this much great stuff from a very new company and look forward to watch them grow.

Thanks to ad:tech for publishing this first!

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