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SHOOTOUT: ZDNet chosen over TechWeb as the site to tell friends about

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Although computer users today can do everything from find a job to buy a book on the World Wide Web, it is not surprising some of the most popular Web sites are those offering facts and advice about computer hardware and software.

For this month's Marketing Shoot-out, we asked 91 WebScore panelists to visit two popular sources of computer news and information: Ziff-Davis' ZDNet and CMP Media's TechWeb. We asked our panelists which site they prefer, which has better news and information, and which they would recommend to others.

ZDNet won handily. Sixty-four percent, or 58 respondents, say they prefer this site overall. Sixty-three percent, or one respondent fewer, say it is also the site they would recommend to a friend, relative or colleague.

Despite ZDNet defeating TechWeb overall, opinions about the news and information available at the two sites are mixed. Our respondents were divided almost evenly when asked which site's news and information was better quality, which offered more variety and which was the most up-to-date. Fifty-seven percent agree ZDNet has a larger volume of news and information.

Since ZDNet and TechWeb content has been found to be equal in the quality, variety and timeliness, why did nearly two-thirds of our respondents prefer the former site overall? Largely because it targets itself toward Web surfers without a great deal of technical knowledge. Eight respondents feel ZDNet is easier to understand, less technical, and less "boring" than TechWeb. By contrast, the small number of respondents who say they work in the high-tech industry all prefer TechWeb because it is more informative, more "professional" and had more industry news. To illustrate the distinction, the lone respondent who prefers TechWeb but would recommend ZDNet to others, says ZDNet is better for friends who are not interested in computer industry news, as he is.

Colors and graphics are tools often used by Web designers to make a site more appealing to novice Web surfers. Thirty-eight percent of those who preferred the less-technical ZDNet enjoyed its bright colors and heavy use of graphics. Repeat comments term the site's layout "eye-catching," "flashy" and "fun" to look at. By contrast, TechWeb's layout matches its professional and no-nonsense content. Thirty-nine percent of those who prefer TechWeb appreciate that it was "less crowded," less flashy and contained fewer graphics per screen. Five performance-oriented surfers went further, taking note that TechWeb's lower graphical content helps it load more quickly on the screen.

While user friendliness is the most common reason our respondents prefer ZDNet, a significant number cited brand loyalty. ZDNet has been a popular site for years and eight respondents say they prefer it for this reason. One of these admits she found ZDNet and TechWeb "very similar," but she would continue to use and recommend the former due to "force of habit." Only two respondents who prefer TechWeb said that they had used the site extensively in the past.

Still other respondents chose ZDNet because it offers features that TechWeb does not match. Six people, including one who prefer TechWeb, offered the opinion that ZDNet's library of software downloads, especially games, is superior. Five people were impressed by ZDNet's Online University, which offers classes for a fee that the general public can attend while sitting at their computers. Four respondents enjoyed publisher Ziff-Davis' online magazines, all of which are directly accessible from the ZDNet Web site.

In cases where two sites offer similar features, levels of approval are comparable. Equal numbers of those who prefer ZDNet and TechWeb appreciate their favorite site's search engine and overall content organization. Approval also is equal for the "fun" features each site offers. ZDNet runs contests, while TechWeb has a humor page and "computer horoscopes."

Since ZDNet and TechWeb content has been found to be equal in the quality, variety and timeliness, why did nearly two-thirds of our respondents prefer the former site overall? Largely because it targets itself toward Web surfers without a great deal of technical knowledge.

Eight respondents feel ZDNet is easier to understand, less technical and less "boring" than TechWeb. By contrast, the small number of respondents who say they work in the high-tech industry all prefer TechWeb because it is more informative, more "professional" and had more industry news.

Bright colors help

Colors and graphics are tools often used by Web designers to make a site more appealing to novice Web surfers. Thirty-eight percent of those who preferred the less-technical ZDNet enjoyed its bright colors and heavy use of graphics. Repeat comments term the site's layout "eye-catching," "flashy" and "fun" to look at.

By contrast, TechWeb's layout matches its professional and no-nonsense content. Thirty-nine percent of those who prefer TechWeb appreciate that it was "less crowded," less flashy and contained fewer graphics per screen.

Brand loyalty matters

While user friendliness is the most common reason our respondents prefer ZDNet, a significant number cited brand loyalty. ZDNet has been a popular site for years and eight respondents say they prefer it for this reason.

Lowell Allen is director of online services for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. He can be reached at lowell@cltresearch.com.

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