Posted by: Laura Phillips Garner | March 7, 2010

Consumers Will Tell You If Your Web Site Works. Just Ask Them.

Companies must measure their interactive marketing communications to create better Web site experiences for their consumers.

How can companies find out if their Web sites are effective? That’s easy. They should ask the consumers who use them.

Yet, in a medium that has the capacity to gather information so easily, consumers do not seem to be polled often on the subject.

It’s a simple premise. If consumers take their time to visit a company’s Web site, the company should give them the chance to provide insight into the information and services it offers on the site and how well it offers them. If consumers do not want to be surveyed, they can opt out. If they do agree, the information they provide is golden. After all, what company would not want to know what they are doing right and what they could be doing better?

So, what kind of information can marketers find out? It goes beyond Alexa and Overture rankings though those do tell a company—an anyone else for that matter—how many people are visiting a site during a given time period and the demographics of those visitors. It also goes beyond click through rates, hit rates and click streams often used to measure online activity.

According to the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism Integrated Marketing Communications Program at West Virginia University, interactive marketing communications researchers have validated a set of eight measures that specifically evaluate Web sites. It all started in 1999 with Qimei Chen and William D. Wells of the University of Minnesota and their Attitude Toward the Site (AST) scale, which evaluates consumers’ attitudes of the personality and design features of corporate Web sites based on their entertainment, informational and organizational features. Since then, researchers have designed interactive marketing scales that measure:

Consumer attitudes—These scales evaluate how consumers feel about the advertising messages presented to them through the site and whether or not they are satisfied with their interactions. They signify willingness to interact with the site again although they cannot predict that attitudes toward the site will last.

Efficacy and effectiveness of interaction—These scales evaluate the consumer experience with the site. They involve ease of use and productivity for the consumer, the intuitiveness of the site design, the productivity of the online shopping experience, the speed of response to a consumer’s action, and the safety of transactions by and individual attention paid to consumers. They indicate trust, intention to purchase, shopping performance, intention to purchase and return, future customer relationships, overall purchase satisfaction, perceptions of flow, and customer loyalty.

Informativeness—These scales assess how helpful the information on the site is to consumers and if it is presented in a way that supports their decision-making. It involves the richness of the audio and video experience on the site (vividness); whether or not the consumer found the site annoying, confusing, messy or deceptive (irritation); and the level of product information and ease of comparison shopping (product choice). Indicators of informativeness tell whether or not a consumer is into the site and interested in its information, trusts that information, and will consider the information in a current or future purchase decision.

Intensity and quality of interaction—These scales measure how efficient, individualized and accessible online interactive purchasing experiences are compared to similar face-to-face interactions. Rich, accessible, personalized interactive experiences signify high perceived involvement or connectedness between company and consumer, receptivity and openness to online interactions, service quality, security, and confidence in the online shopping process.

Decision outcomes—These scales measure whether or not a company’s products, customer service such as billing and delivery processes, marketing messages and information are valuable to the consumer. They can indicate a high level of convenience, decision quality, and trust by the consumer.

Intention—Scales regarding intention to click, customer loyalty and intention to return measure the likelihood that a person will behave a certain way with the site in the future. They show willingness to provide word-of-mouth encouragement to peers and correlate with the site’s speed of interactivity, navigability and service quality.

Behavior, usage and gratification—These scales measure the consumer’s level of stimulation in response to an interactive marketing message (arousal), absorption by the elements on the site (focused attention), and captivation (flow). They also discover how fun, playful or entertaining a site is as well as how enjoyable, exciting or interesting any shopping experience on the site may be. They demonstrate the consumer’s level of perceived involvement in the site and their likelihood to return to the site or purchase a product.

Presence—These scales measure how much the consumer feels like the online environment is like their physical world. Either consumers feel the virtual environment is more real than their physical environment (telepresence), or they feel that they are in the virtual world and their physical environment at the same time (social presence). These measures indicate how captivated consumers are with the site and how satisfied they are with their interactions on it.

Perceived control and vulnerability—These scales measure how much in command people feel they are of their online activities, how much they trust that marketers will not take advantage of them, and how much they trust a Web site with their personal information. They examine the competence, reliability, honesty, sincerity and integrity of the site, how well consumers believe the site will fulfill their expectations, and how successful the site will be in protecting their information.

–Laura Phillips Garner

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