Two large companies facing these issues are IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. To learn how effective their Web strategies are, we asked 50 people to visit each site to find information about buying laptop computers for their business.
This is the first in an ongoing series of "Marketing Shoot-outs" presented by NetMarketing.
For IBM, they were to find information about the ThinkPad 760E/ED and at HP they looked for information about the Omnibook 5500.
People had no major problems using the Web to find the information they were after on either http://www.ibm.com or http://www.hp.com --an impressive achievement for both companies. But there were major differences in the experiences consumers had during their visits.
Before someone can form an opinion of a site, they have to get there. Many of our respondents began by using such search engines as Yahoo!, Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Magellan and HotBot.
This proved to be cumbersome for many since most of the search results did not lead to the home page of the company for which they were searching.
One person who searched for the phrase "IBM ThinkPad" noted that "Infoseek found 2,259 entries; none in the first 100 linked to the page I wanted."
Most respondents simply guessed and typed "hp" or "hp.com" in the location field of their browser. They have figured out that just typing "CompanyName" will bring you to http://CompanyName.com.
A few tried "HewlettPackard.com" but Hewlett-Packard has not reserved that domain name.
Neither company has done all the simple things to make it easy for consumers to find them.
Hewlett-Packard.com has been reserved but does not bring you to its home page. IBM has reserved "ThinkPad.com" but is not using it to direct you to information about ThinkPads.
It is more important than ever for companies to reserve intuitive domain names for company names and brands, and link those domain names to appropriate Web pages.
While both sites were considered to be very good, IBM's was strongly preferred over Hewlett-Packard's for three major reasons:
Almost nobody had a problem finding ThinkPad information from IBM's home page.
But because we directed consumers to look for specific product information, the Hewlett-Packard site was confusing to some. The organization of product information seems geared toward HP's view of the market rather than a consumer's view of HP.
"The way that the groups were worded [for example: Large Industry/Small Business/Home] made it confusing for me to find what I wanted," said one consumer.
"I had to search under Medium/Large Business to get to the series of products I wanted. That description didn't really make sense to me. How do they know that only a medium/large business would be interested in those products?"
The graphics on the IBM site load more quickly than Hewlett-Packard's, allowing consumers to get the information they are after more quickly.
Our respondents appreciated IBM's efforts in this area: "It's fast, uses minimal but attractive graphics, and you are not forced to look at a lot of gratuitous frivolities," said one.
When people go to a site for business reasons, they expect to be able to get as much information as possible, as fast as possible. The amount of information on a Web site should be closer to a manual than a brochure.
If someone has gone to the trouble of looking up a Web site, their expectations are high.
At IBM's site, said one reviewer, "The information was laid out clearly and presented the product in an attractive way. There were links to additional information about the features. The Hewlett-Packard site seemed to offer less information, which led me to believe that the computer had fewer features."
One summarized the bottom line for the two Web marketers this way:
"The overall point that sold me [on IBM] was the amount of information that was available and the support available once you buy the computer.
"Very little of this info was on the HP site, so even though their computer was nice, they really did not sell me by giving me all of the documentation that IBM did."