The consumer Web sites for auto brands should be like their products: easy to use and satisfying, from home page to specific pages for a company's different models. And like a well-designed vehicle, all of the parts should fit together well without big gaps between various panels. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study, Honda's Web site has the best "fit and finish."
The semiannual study, which J.D. Power introduced in 2000, is taking a new approach this year by examining differences in satisfaction between those who entered an automaker's Web site through the home page and those entered directly at a page devoted to a single model. What the firm found was that users who accessed a Web site through a model page are significantly more satisfied with their experience than those who entered the Web site through the home page. But Web sites that get the highest marks among consumers for delivering satisfaction and usability do well among both sets of shoppers because of consistent navigation tools.
"Certain brands that perform consistently well among users who enter at the home page and through model pages -- such as Mini and Porsche -- have navigation schemes that remain the same throughout the Web site," said Arianne Walker, director of marketing and media research at the firm, in a statement. "This makes it possible for website users to access relevant information from anywhere on the site. This certainly reinforces the fact that automotive brand websites need to be intuitive and should reduce the number of clicks it takes for the user to get to their desired destination."
The study, based on evaluations from more than 10,200 new-vehicle shoppers who indicate they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months, found similarities in low-performing sites: they had big gaps in satisfaction between users who entered the site through the home page and those who gained entry through a model page. Also, their home pages have little information about specific models and have clumsy navigation. "Closing the gap between users who enter via the home page and those who use the model page is essential to creating a useful and satisfying experience for the consumer," said Walker.
Honda ranks highest and does particularly well in information and content, navigation and speed measures, according to the study. Mazda is second place followed by Mini, Porsche and Acura. The most improved brands this year are Cadillac, up by 15 positions, and Porsche, whose rank improved by 14 rank positions.
Walker said Cadillac improved its navigation, which was added on top of image and branding updates that were initiated early in 2010. Porsche's improvement from 2010 is primarily due to changes in navigation and design that provide users with clearer, more readable page layouts.