Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Press Area Usability

Jakob Nielsen on press area usability ...

"As 3 studies of journalists show, they use the Web as a major research tool, exhibit high search dominance, and are impatient with bloated sites that don't serve their needs or list a PR contact.

Journalists often work under tight deadlines.

While certainly not a novel insight, this statement leads directly to many of the guidelines for how to design corporate websites that are usable for journalists and deliver the desired PR impact. Most of the PR sections of sites we've studied fail to support journalists in their quest for the facts, information, and contacts they can use to write stories about companies and their products.

Websites must be painfully clear about a company's purpose, products, and services. Websites for high-tech start-ups are particularly notorious for presenting generic, buzzword-filled mission statements that could apply equally well to both their worst competitors and companies producing completely different products.

If journalists can't find what they're looking for on a website, they might not include that company in their story. Journalists repeatedly said that poor website usability could reduce or completely eliminate their press coverage of a company. For example, after having a difficult time using a site, one journalist said:

"… I would be reluctant to go back to the site. If I had a choice to write about something else, then I would write about something else."

Another journalist described what he'd do if he couldn't find a press contact or the facts he needed for his story:

"Better not to write it than to get it wrong. I might avoid the subject altogether."

Many journalists work from home. Many also have old computer equipment and aren't exactly obsessed with downloading the latest software. Thus, non-standard data formats or cutting-edge technologies tend to clog their Internet connections and sometimes even crash their computers. It's therefore wise to ensure that all your press materials work on low-end home computers running software that's 2 versions behind the latest release. We recommend that sites present all press information as simple, standard HTML. Journalists dislike PDF just as much as other users do.
User Research: 3 Rounds
To find out how journalists use websites, we conducted 3 rounds of user research over a period of several years. We conducted most of the sessions in the United States, but also ran sessions in Denmark, Hong Kong, and the U.K. to ensure the international applicability of our findings.

A total of 40 journalists participated in the studies. They worked for a wide range of publications — from large national newspapers and magazines with millions of readers, to mid-sized local newspapers and specialized magazines with 100,000–500,000 readers, to smaller and highly targeted publications. In addition to print media, participants also wrote for radio shows and websites. Some of the participants were staff reporters, while others were freelancers.

We used several research methods:

* Traditional user testing in a usability lab.
* Site visits to the user's location, which was often a home office (particularly for freelance journalists).
* Eyetracking studies, in which we recorded where users looked on the screen.

We tested 42 different websites and their press areas across the 3 research rounds. Sites ranged from huge companies — such as American Airlines, Bayer, and China Mobile — to smaller companies, B2B vendors, startups, non-profits, and government agencies."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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