Easy to use trumps everything

A report released yesterday by Stacy Lynch and Vivian Vahlberg of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University says that being “easy to use” beats better or more complete in becoming a user’s favorite Web site.

And their study re-emphasizes the fact that becoming one of a user’s three to five favorite Web sites in critical in growing audience.

From the Center’s Web site:

“To make the ‘favorite’ list, being unique isn’t particularly helpful because so few sites can truly deliver unique content,” said Stacy Lynch, MMC associate and author of the study. “What really matters is being ‘easy to use.’ This goes beyond being attractive to presenting information in a way that makes sense and avoids the problem of being ‘too much.’”

Speaking at a session at the Associated Press Managing Editor’s Convention in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Vahlberg said: “Easy to use trumps everything.”

Both quality and quantity rank behind easy to use, and users form strong habits with the same group of favorites for five years or more. Sadly, local newspapers often aren’t on that short list.

Younger users and people that aren’t news junkies are often overwhelmed by the array of information on news sites. “They value sites that makes choices for them,” Vahlberg said.

One site that does seem to resonant with many users is CNN.com, the researchers said, pointing to its Elections 101 section as one good example.

The three main bullet points from the study:

  • Many of users’ preferences are driven by a desire to manage and cope with overwhelming amounts of information and a seemingly infinite number of choices online. We saw people using a variety of techniques to sort and sift information more easily and, when that failed, to limit the amount of information coming in.
  • Online users have strong Web habits that rarely change. Participants described a routine focusing on three to five “favorite” Web sites that they have used for at least several years. Habitual behavior appears to be even more pronounced for news and information Web sites, with strong preferences for familiar sites.
  • Across all Web sites, the differentiating experiences seem to be being “easy to use” and making it “easy to find what I’m looking for.” This goes beyond being attractive to presenting information in a way that “makes sense” and avoids the problem of being “too much.”

Download the study.