Whether you're overseeing the Web operations of a multinational corporation, building and maintaining a Web site yourself for a nonprofit organization, or putting out a small personalized site about a hobby, you want to satisfy the people who visit.
Looking at sites that others find satisfying, and those they don't, can provide important insights on what and what not to do with your site. Finding satisfying Web sites can also be satisfying in itself.
The survey results of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (http://theacsi.org), a project of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, sheds some interesting light. This ongoing project recently focused on three of the most important sectors of the Web: search sites, news sites, and social media sites.
Of these three, search sites as a category received the highest user satisfaction score, an American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) score of 77. The top ranking search site was Google, with an ACSI score of 79.
Following Google, in order, were Bing at 77, Yahoo at 76, MSN at 75, AOL at 74, and Ask.com at 73. Google's history of satisfying users accounts for its large market share, approximately 70 percent of the total search market, according to ACSI, with Yahoo and Bing following at 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Google's secret is no secret. It has a clean and uncluttered default interface, give users plenty of options in customizing how it appears to them personally, provides quick access to basic tools, offers advanced tools for those who need them, isn't overly intrusive with its advertising, and generally delivers what it promises.
News sites were found satisfying though not as much as search sites, with the category receiving an ACSI score of 74. The satisfaction leaders, in order, were FOXNews.com at 82, USATODAY.com at 77, NYTimes.com at 76, ABCNews.com at 75, MSNBC.com at 74, and CNN.com at 73.
The success of FOXNews.com is due largely to its highly loyal following and the smooth integration of Fox TV network's on-air personalities into the Web site, according to Claes Fornell, a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan.
The Fox TV network also does a good job of directing TV viewers to its site for more in-depth stories or unique information. The other large news sites with affiliated television or print operations are also adept at this, according to Fornell.
Despite their popularity, social media sites as a category aren't seen by users as satisfying their needs as much as search or news sites. The category received an ACSI score of 70, though the social networking sites pulled this score down.
Wikipedia's success is attributed by Fornell to its consistent user interface over the years and its lack of commercialization. The interface of this user-produced encyclopedia, however, changed appreciably this past May, though Wikipedia gives users the option of returning to the previous interface, which is the kind of flexibility common to most successful Web sites.
The relatively low satisfaction score of Facebook, despite its popularity, is a result of privacy concerns among its users, frequent changes to the site's user interface, and increasing commercialization, according to Fornell.
MySpace was once the social networking market leader, and other observers have noted that if user dissatisfaction at Facebook continues, this will provide an opening for an upstart site to displace it in a similar way that it displaced MySpace.
Much about success as a Web site has to do with respecting users--their time, their concerns, and their goals.
People online operate in Internet time, and that means short attention spans. The flashy animations that you think will wow users, with many, will just slow them down then cause them to move on. Similarly, intrusive ads that stop users in their tracks will cause many to back away and go elsewhere.
People online, in general, are concerned about compromising their privacy. Make sure you communicate your awareness of this concern and that you provide users with tools to safeguard their privacy to whatever degree most suits them personally.
People online, as elsewhere, are looking to have their needs and desires met. The best way a Web site can succeed is to help users succeed in finding what they're after.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.