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Validating your data

As more products and services make the move to online, web administrators and marketers are keen to learn more about the people, organisations or companies using the website. Often this information is held in back-office systems, typically Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and financial systems.

Most organisations know that out-of-date , ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ data can lead to embarrassing slip-ups. We've all been sent letters with our surnames misspelt, or have been called Mrs when we are, in fact, a Mr. While it is often a minor inconvenience, more high profile data slip-ups can be embarrassing and costly to organisations in terms of reputation and turnover.

Moving online presents the website's owner with a unique opportunity which, if done right, can save large amounts of time and money, as well as avoid unwanted mistakes.

Right first time – collect correctly from the start

If data is collected wrongly at the start of an organisation's relationship with a person, it is often hard to put it right further down the line. Small fortunes are often spent 'normalising' and de-duplicating ‘dirty’ data held in database systems. Equally, data mining and reporting becomes a simpler task when the data is ‘clean’. I am paraphrasing a bit, but the term "rubbish in, rubbish out" seems very apt in this case.

Therefore collecting good data at the beginning can be of huge benefit. We have all completed online forms, and we know which ones are good and which are not so good. This article's scope doesn’t look to cover good and bad design of user experience -this, in itself is a massive topic! The focus here is to look at ways to improve the quality of the data collected on the form – be it well or badly designed.

Use data validation

Validation is an excellent way to check that someone is entering good data. It could be as simple as checking that a date has been entered in the proper format, or an email or phone number is correctly formed. Often a website will ask you to retype a key piece of data to ensure it has not been misspelled.

Consistency is key

Agree standards so that your website collects data in a consistent way. For example, if you collect an address as: three address lines, county, country and postcode in one place, ensure that someone doesn’t just put a large free text box for the address to be entered in any format, elsewhere on the site.

Third-party tools

A proliferation of online tools means that is becoming easier to check your data’s validity against bigger databases. For example, a user can find their address by simply entering a postcode. This saves them time in having to type it out, and so reduces the risk of a ‘typo’. It also helps with the consistency as detailed above.

Similarly, a person’s bank details can be checked on a Direct Debit form to ensure that an account number and sort code match for a given bank.

These services are usually subscription driven, relatively cheap and can be simply integrated with almost any website form.

Keep it up-to-date

Collecting the data correctly from the start is only half the battle. A good set of data will soon degrade if it isn’t maintained. People move house, switch mobile numbers and change names. Organisations are often the last to know when this happens and the longer it remains that way, the worse the situation gets. The interactive nature of the web means that there is a unique opportunity to refresh data more frequently than in the past.

Make it easy

Allowing users to edit their own personal information is a cheap way to maintain data. Presenting their data to them in an easy-to-find place on the website will make it a simple and hassle-free process. A clean design will also help when using techniques such as presenting a person’s profile page on login (be sure to offer a way to switch this option off, as it can frustrate). It also provides the person with a sense of control over the information you hold about them.

Make it worth their while

Incentivise people to update their data. So for example, online billing is often cheaper than the paper equivalent. This makes people more inclined to keep it up-to-date as it has a positive impact to their pocket.

Sometimes the incentive doesn’t have to be quantified in terms of money. A faster turnaround time, by simply doing a task online, can also make people reject the paper equivalent. If something gets put into the post, ask yourself if it can be sent to an email address instead? The pay-off for your organisation is that you get the opportunity to check some of the data you hold about them - for example, their email address.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the battle to keep data up-to-date is an ongoing one - like painting the Forth Bridge - it's a never ending task. However, there are steps that can be taken to assist in this process and lighten the burden, such as implementing good form data validation techniques at source.

Is your website capable of validating your captured data? For advice and information about how netXtra can help, call us on 01787 319393. Alternatively, you can get in touch via the form on our Contact page.

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