Evaluating web technology : the use and measurement of web initiatives in public horticulture institutions

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University of Delaware
Websites provide an additional channel of communication between an organization and external audiences. Understanding how audiences are curating their own experience, and how to make content work accordingly, is best monitored by continual evaluation of online practices; both of the institution internally and the external user audience. For-profit website values are typically determined by some form of e-commerce, but most non-profit institutions must include an investigation of mission-based return on investment (ROI), because they exist for more than just maintaining a revenue stream. The objectives of this thesis were to 1) investigate the premise that evaluation is a necessary element of a successful website, 2) research the current status of web technologies within public horticulture institutions so as to provide a record of peer activity for benchmarking opportunities, and 3) provide a framework from which diverse institutions could build an evaluation strategy, inorder to determine the value of their websites and make informed improvements. This study included both quantitative and qualitative methodology. A survey was implemented to identify current web initiativesand existing web evaluation practices; case studies were conducted that appliedsurvey questions on a more detailed level with three institutions. Results indicated that formal, decision-making evaluation is not commonly performed in public horticulture institutions. Although 65% of survey participants indicated they utilized some form of website evaluation, their methods varied. Of formal methods, such as online analytics software, actionable data proved to be under-utilized. This indicated that many institutions are not making informed decisions from their data, but instead, using generalizations to support plansfor reasons other than what their data has shown. In light of findings, subsequent recommendations focus on providing institutions with justification for website analysis and an understanding of how metrics can be used for website improvements, to make business decisions, and to better understand users.