August 23, 2007, 12:00 AM

Few web sites are designed to be relevant and engaging, study says

Most retail and manufacturer web sites still aren’t taking advantage of techniques and tools—such as rich media—that can make their sites more relevant, engaging, and personal for consumers, a new study has found.

Most retail and manufacturer web sites still aren’t taking advantage of techniques and tools-such as rich media-that can make their sites more relevant, engaging, and personal for consumers, a new Forrester Research Inc. study found.

Only 15 of 432 web sites reviewed by Forrester Research since January 2005 have received passing scores based on the research firm’s web site review methodology, which tests for usefulness and usability. 82% failed to provide evidence on the home page that users’ goals could be completed deeper in the site, 70% made text difficult to read, and 65% failed to provide essential functionality that users needed to complete their goals, Forrester says in the report, “Desirable Online Experiences: Taking Web Sites Beyond Useful And Usable,” whose lead author is Kerry Bodine.

Nearly 60% of 107 sites reviewed for how well they communicated their brands online received a failing score, according to the study. “When we looked at failure rates by question, page layout-a critical ingredient for creating visually pleasing site designs-fared the worst,” Forrester says. “And functionality-which sets the tone for how customers interact with companies-had the second highest failure rate.”

Most web sites also doled out the same experience to every user, regardless of who they were and why they came to the site, the study found. “Many firms fall victim to the notion that their site visitors are identical to those of their competitors,” Forrester says. “Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota deliver vehicle information via remarkably similar web sites-but Forrester’s consumer data shows that these firms’ site visitors have significantly different demographics, attitudes and goals.”

To offer consumers the best web site experience, retailers and manufacturers should offer information that goes beyond basic product information, Forrester says. For example, Proctor & Gamble’s Tide.com provides extensive information on how to launder, iron and store 10 different types of fabrics.

Sites also should appeal to consumers’ personal interests, allow them to customize, share and connect with one other through social networking features, and use rich media to enable greater responsiveness and interactivity, Forrester says.

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