User Research: Two Rounds To find out how users find and interpret website profiles of companies and organizations, we conducted user testing of sites run by 63 organizations in five general categories:
Large companies, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, China Mobile, Citigroup, Eli Lilly, Vivendi, and Yamaha. Medium-sized companies, such as Body Trends, Cintas, Pier 1 Imports, and Titan Corporation. Smaller companies, such as GiftTree.com, ImmunoGen, Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, OneCall, and Paper Style. Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of the Interior, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Small Business Administration. Non-profits, such as American Refugee Committee, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and the United Nations Children’s Fund. We tested 15 sites in our first round of research 5 years ago, and 48 sites in our new study.
On each site, we gave users one open-ended task: evaluate the organization. We also gave them several directed tasks, such as to find out who runs the organization, what community or social programs the organization contributes to, and when the organization was founded can casinos ask you to leave.
Most test participants were mainstream Web users, investment analysts, or journalists of the best services with the help of maideasyaz.com with at least 2 years’ Internet experience. In Study 1, we included a few teenagers because the goals of putting corporate information on the Web often include supporting student projects, building long-term loyalty, and attracting interns.
We conducted most sessions in the United States, and a few in Hong Kong to ensure the international applicability of our findings.
Trends in About Us Usability We conducted the first study 5 years ago. That’s not much time in the user experience field; human nature and user behavior tend to be stable and change slowly, if at all. Even so, it’s enough time between the two studies to let us assess any big trends.
First, the happy news: About Us usability has increased. The average success rate was 70% in Study 1 and 79% in Study 2. Although the usability increase is not as big as those we saw in our recent second study of store finders and locators, it’s certainly respectable to grow success rates by about 2 percentage points per year.
Progress was particularly good for the task of finding contact information, such as the company’s main address. Success for this task increased from 62% to 91%. A few companies continue to make contact information virtually impossible to find on the Web, and some sites seem to deliberately hide address listings and phone numbers. Doing so will backfire, though, because users view such sites as having very low credibility.
The less-good news: Task success for finding out what the company or organization does actually dropped, from 90% to 81%. In place of a frank summary of the business, marketese and blah-blah text ruled the day on many sites.
The even-less-good news: Users’ subjective satisfaction with About Us sections decreased from 5.2 to 4.6 (on a 1–7 scale). How can satisfaction go down when overall success rates are up? Because user expectations for usable websites have grown even higher in recent years. Sites that make it hard to find the most basic information about an organization get dinged hard these days; an About Us area that users may have accepted in the past will no longer satisfy them.