February 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

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Teens aren’t as good using the Internet as many believe.

Teens aren`t very good at using the Internet--in fact, they`re not even as good as adults in using the Internet, says a study out last month from web site usability company Nielsen Norman Group. "Teens are not the technowizards many assume," at least when it comes to the Internet, Nielsen Norman`s report "Teenagers on the Web" concludes. Among the key findings: Teens achieved a success rate in completing web tasks of 55%. Adults achieve a success rate of 66%.

The Nielsen Norman Group tracked 38 young people between 13 and 17 in three socio-economic settings: rural, upscale suburban and disadvantaged urban. It also included a group of Australian teens as a check to make sure the attitudes the researchers were uncovering weren`t U.S.-centric.

No secondary strategy

The results loom large for retailers, says Jakob Nielsen, CEO. For one thing, teens` research skills are not as well developed as adults`. "Generally, adults will have some sort of secondary strategy to find something if their first strategy fails," he says. "Teens are less likely to have an alternate strategy."

That means retailers with a teen market can`t hide products or their attributes. "Retailers should make it easy to find products that are really relevant," Nielsen says. "They should highlight the properties that are important to teenagers." That`s particularly true of price, he says. "It`s a small thing, but it`s often too awkward or too hard for a teenager to figure out how to find a price and so they`ll give up and go somewhere else."

Teens` rudimentary research skills also mean that retailers should highlight product attributes so teens can easily compare products. "They should have enough attributes right out there so teenagers can see why they would want to click on one product vs. another," Nielsen says.

One stereotype about today`s teens is true and should inform how a retailer creates a web site, Nielsen says: They don`t like to read. "Many have difficult understanding dense and complicated text," he says. "They`re not willing to go through long pieces of text to find what they want."

Simple text

The answer is "richly illustrated sites with simple text," Nielsen says. But he cautions: "Don`t dumb it down. It can`t appear to be appealing to younger children or disrespectful of the teen audience."

But don`t go too far with the graphics, Nielsen warns. Flashy graphics are nearly as much of a turn-off to teens as they are to adults, he says. "They don`t like aggressively graphic designs with very bold colors," he says. "They prefer subdued, good-looking, clean designs without clutter."

Another factor holding back teens from mastering the web is a well known attribute of teens: They lack patience. "They`re very easily bored," Nielsen says. "They`re not willing to struggle through and try and try again."

A few other conclusions:

l "Being boring is the kiss of death. Teens want to do things."

l "Use of the word `kid` is teen-repellant."

l "Teens are drawn to sites that have social and interactive activities."

l Teens are attracted to colorful sites.

l Teens in the study averaged 5-10 hours a week on the web.

l Younger teens get frustrated more easily and are more likely to give up on a web task than older teens.

The NielseRetailers should ...

n Norman Group`s conclusions are based on interaction with 38 teens, not a survey. "We sit next to them and watch them," Nielsen says. "We watch how they behave, their body language, when they lean forward or when they lean back, when they sigh."

Nielsen urges retailers to conduct their own studies of how teenagers use their site. "They have to be watched while using your site," he says. "You can`t go by what people say."

Concludes Nielsen: "Internet marketers must design for the teens we have, not for the teens we wish we had. Teenagers` low reading skills and lack of critical research abilities may be failures of the educational system, but they are realities, and you have to cater to this audience if you want to win on the web."

kurt@verticalwebmedia.com

The Nielsen Norman Group says there are certain must elements for teens at a retail web sites:

  • Show the price at the first mention of the product
  • Allow shoppers to sort products by features they care about
  • Offer a wish list
  • Avoid requiring registration
  • Make checkout seamless and easy

The best designs to get to teens

  • Visually attractive, but easily usable
  • Balance text, graphics, white space
  • Keep it age-appropriate
  • Supplement text with pictures
  • Avoid meaningless pictures
  • Provide captions for illustrations
  • Include a Teens link, not Kids/Teens

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