It's important to keep a Web site simple so users aren't overwhelmed by the wealth of information available about products and services. On the other hand, a site too sparse can give the impression that a company just doesn't have much to offer.
For this month's "Marketing Shoot-out," we asked 54 people to find information about plain paper laser faxes on the Canon and Ricoh sites.
We then asked them which site was easier to use and from which company they would buy a machine based on what they learned on the Web. They chose Ricoh by a wide margin.
What may seem ironic is that Ricoh's site was considered simpler and easier to use even though its home page is more crowded. There are 24 clickable items on Ricoh's home page, while Canon's has 18.
It's said that the simplest solution is the best solution, but before this can be true the complexity of the solution must match the complexity of the problem. As one respondent said:|
"In terms of first impressions I liked the Canon home page because it was not as cluttered as Ricoh's. However, when I wanted to find something it was much easier to get to what I wanted by using the Ricoh home page."
There was also a consensus that the search engine on the Ricoh site was more effective than Canon's. Said one respondent: "The Ricoh search engine allows you to search for the fax that suits your needs [and] helps to narrow down your choices quickly."
Another noted that on the Canon site, "the search results didn't have any descriptions, so you wouldn't know modem speed and other details."
We also asked respondents what kind of technical support they could expect from each company based on what they learned on the Web. Only a few people reported finding any service information on the Canon site, and many were confused.
"The Canon site had a registration form to fill out," said one. "I assume that their tech support staff would respond later, but the info was vague."
Nearly everyone found the 800-fast-fix number on Ricoh's site and "answers to questions about problems, technical feedback and easy links to find the nearest dealer/service center."
John Peebles is online services director for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.