According to the results of an international study by leading market research company Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), it is the quality of a website's search tools, regularity of content updates and personalised information that hold the key to encouraging repeat use and attracting new visitors to the site. A total of 13,371 users worldwide were interviewed on 24 different sites within the six-month period of November 2001 to April 2002 for the study.
The research was carried out using WebEval (TM) Satisfaction, TNS' online website evaluation tool, across 14 countries - Argentina, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom - in the six months between November 2001 and April 2002.
The most interesting finding is that the best advertising of a website is something that one could do little to influence - "word of mouth." It is a lesson that several online companies could do well to heed. For example, at the height of the Internet boom, in the year 2000, companies like www.indya.com, which was later taken over by STAR, and substantially downsized, spend an estimated Rs 75 crore on advertising that spanned all media. Despite all this, the site was unable to keep the buzz going.
In fact, according to the study, word of mouth is far more important than search engines or links for attracting regular users. The number of regular users of a website who say they first found the site through friends or relatives is double the number of users who say they found it through a search engine.
The study points to a relationship between website user satisfaction and word of mouth recommendation. Analysts say that this relationship highlights the importance for companies to continually strive to understand exactly what satisfies their website users. Says Arno Hummerston, head of TNS Interactive Solutions Worldwide, "This study confirms that website user satisfaction not only encourages repeat use but is essential in driving traffic to the site in the first place. The importance of personal recommendation for attracting loyal users means unsatisfactory sites undermine the opportunity to expand their long-term user base."
In India, the WebEval study was conducted through www.ZDNetIndia.com, an Indian IT portal. The survey included a sample size of about 350 respondents. Among the criteria that the survey used to gauge user satisfaction with the various aspects of a site were design, content, search tools, reliability, download time and so on. Crucial among these were the quality and the exhaustiveness of the content, the design and user-friendliness of the site - specifically the effectiveness of search engines, and the way the site was customised.
Among the factors that attracted user ire were the inability to update a site frequently and slow download time, something that analysts say increases with heavier graphics. In fact, in all the 14 countries surveyed, these factors were cited by more than 30 per cent of survey respondents as being crucial to their evaluation of a particular site. Most of those who participated in the survey were heavy Internet users. Over 90 per cent of the respondents said that they used the Internet every day, while 70 per cent of the users accessed it from their homes. And most of these (over 88 per cent) had been using the Internet for over three years.
However, in the battle for survival among net sites, these alone may not be enough. Says Hummerston, "While most companies seem to be getting the basics right with 71 per cent of the users happy with site navigation, 69 per cent with user friendliness, and over two thirds of the users satisfied with the exhaustiveness and quality of website content, regular users want more than just easy navigation and basic content." © 2002 agencyfaqs! Internet services : the new growth area