Reporters won't tolerate poor Web design

SAN FRANCISCO: Journalists visiting corporate Web sites are unable

to find basic information - even a PR contact and phone number - at

least 45% of the time, according to a new study by Web usability expert

Jakob Nielsen.

'In some cases, the site's design impeded journalists' efforts and

actually drove them away in frustration,' said Nielsen, who presented

his findings at last week's 'Buzz 2001' conference.

Twenty journalists, both freelance and staff at publications in New York

and Copenhagen, Denmark, were asked to perform specific tasks, such as

finding a press contact or financial data, on one of 10 corporate Web

sites while a trained observer recorded their actions and comments. Web

sites tested included those of major corporations, such as Merck,

Wal-Mart and BMW, as well as hi-tech start-ups, such as TellMe and


Companies routinely frustrated journalists with stock photos, Flash

images and PDF files that slowed or often crashed older computers and

dial-up connections. 'We had not really considered the importance of the

freelance and work-at-home aspect of reporters' work,' said Nielsen.

Reporters were also frustrated by generic e-mail addresses. 'They saw

that as a black hole, where they might not get answers for days. Many

said they would rather go elsewhere or cover another company than try

that,' he said.

A full report on the study's results, along with 32 guidelines for

designing a press-friendly Web site, are available to download for

dollars 250 at

Nielsen, a Ph.D. and former Sun Microsystems engineer, is the author of

Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity.

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