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Website Evaluation Section: Criteria

What does an effective, efficient, and appealing website "look and feel" like? Some websites have glitzy graphics, cool animations, and fun themes. Others have great site maps, quality photographs, and great original content.

A few websites manage to combine the best of visual design with quality content. These balanced websites become "classics" and enjoy return visitors who view the website as their "home" on the Internet.

Use the resources in this section to evaluate websites. Seek out those websites that you think have the qualities needed to become a "classic." Some items may not apply to the website you're exploring. Rather than viewing these resources as a checklist, use them as a guide as you develop your own professional website review.

Website Evaluation Criteria

When evaluating a website, it's important to record information about the environment in which the evaluation was conducted. In other words, did you use the website during a peak time of day or at night? Did you use a machine running Macintosh or Windows operating system? Were you using a low or high speed connection? This information is important in order to understand the context of your critique.

Evaluator Information

Record your name, title, and contact information such as email address so people can contact you about your evaluation. Also indicate the date and time of your evaluation. If you evaluate the website during peak hours your reaction might be different in terms of speed, availability of instant assistance, and other services than if you used the website in the early morning or late night hours.

Website Information

Record the website title as it appears on the entry page across the title bar. Also record the URL (web address). You may also want to write down the location such as the city, state/province, and other information. Indicate the type of website such as school or library page.

Computer Information

When possible, conduct a website evaluation on multiple computers using different display configurations and times of day.

Operating System, Browser, Plugins

Record the operating system such as Mac, Windows, or Linux along with the specific version. Indicate the web browser used as well as the specific version.

Does the website require any particular software, drivers, or plugins? For example, some websites indicate that you need the Adobe PDF reader or Flash plugin to use some resources.

Screen Size and Display Settings

Every website looks different depending on the monitor size, screen size, and display settings. If possible, check the website on multiple display settings. On the Mac, these settings are found in the System Preferences under Displays. In Windows, choose Start and Control Panel, then Appearance and Themes and open the Display to see the options.

Background Information Review

Record the following information about the website you are evaluating:

Overall Impressions Review

A person's first impression of a website is important. If the website loads slowly or is confusing to navigate, some people won't bother to go further.

Start by gaining an overall impression of the website. When you review a book, you may examine the author information, scan the table of contents and flip through the book before beginning to read. The same is true of a website.

After a quick glance at the entry page, examine the links across the top and bottom of the page. Look for a page that describes the website. It's often the "ABOUT THIS SITE" link. Can you determine the scope of the website and its intended purpose? How often it it updated? Does it look "fresh and engaging" or "static and dated"?

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Content Aspects Review

Although a website might be "pretty," the true test of whether people will really use the website is the quality of the content.

The website should meet the needs of its audience. Who is the audience for this website and what content do they need?

The website content should be high-quality and easy to access. Can the end user easily access the information needed?

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Design Aspects Review

The design of the website will impact whether people find what they need and enjoy their experience. It's sometimes difficult to balance a need for a consistent design for ease of use with an interesting visual design that will appeal to the audience.

As you examine the design, be sure to consider the audience. Will they find the design both functional and attractive?

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Navigation Aspects Review

Website content is worthless unless the end user can easily access the information. The navigational aspects of the website are critical for its success. Website navigation should be seamless. In other words, the user shouldn't have spend time wandering around. Everything a user needs should be a mouse-click away.

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Technical and Usability Aspects Review

A website should function properly regardless of the computer or browser used by the audience. A website with broken links or page errors can be very frustrating.

In addition, the website should be accessible to all potential audiences including those with visual, auditory, or other challenges.

It's important to run a web accessibility test on the website to determine whether it meets recognized guidelines.

Go to the HiSoftware® Cynthia Says™ website. Enter the website URL and this free service will test single pages for web content accessibility. Check that the interface is set to Section 508 in the Accessibility Report Mode. Click on the 'Test Your Site' button to see results from the webpage for which you entered the URL. You don't need to understand all of the results to benefit from the test, but Reviewing Cynthia Results provides some beginning help.

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Maintenance Aspects Review

A poorly maintained website is frustrating for end users. Displaying last year's calendar or outdated library hours reflects poorly on the school, library, or organization.

Consider the following questions as you are evaluating the website:

Content Enhancements Review

In addition to the general evaluation, you'll alway want to explore the specific features of the website. There are many optional features that may be included depending on the particular focus of the website.

Check those that apply:

Library-Specific Resources

Resources

To learn more about evaluation, explore the following websites:

As you evaluate websites, you may choose to create your own evaluation tool. Use some of the following web resources for additional ideas:

Evaluating Internet Resources from Teacher Tap at eduScapes - Lists evaluation criteria and links to many other resources

Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask from UC Berkely

Great Web Sites for Kids Selection Criteria from the Association for Library Service to Children

Criteria for School and Library Websites

The Connecticut Department of Education has developed a set of Guidelines for Designing Successful School Website that are aimed at schools and libraries.

David Walbert at Learn NC has written an article on Best Practices in School Library Website Design. His recommendation is to "keep it simple, don't take on more than you can manage, and focus on what you know."

Explore the criteria for a school and library web page award:
Web Site Award Rationale from the Arizona Technology in Education Alliance - Two great rubrics to use for website evaluation.


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