Become a Web favorite

It’s a question being asked in newsrooms around the world: How do we make our Web site “sticky?”  How to we get users to stay on it longer and return often?  Northwestern University’s Media Management Center tried to answer those questions in a recent joint study with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “What it takes to be a Web favorite.”

The research found that ease of use appears to be the key.  What matters most to users is their ability to manage the overwhelming amounts of information online.  Their favorite sites make it “easy to find what I’m looking for.”

The ability to browse and process information in a quick, manageable way was often deemed more valuable than the quantity or distinctiveness of the content…Making the information easier to sort and sift was significantly more important than having unique content.

The study also found that familiar brands still carry a lot of weight online.  Users often looked for sources they were familiar with in another context.  TV viewers tended to choose TV Web sites for the same reasons they like watching television news–personality and immediacy.

Television Web sites were seen as being more up-to-date than newspaper counterparts because “television broadcasts several times a day while the newspaper publishes only once.”

Participants in the study had strong Web habits that rarely change, with three to five “favorite” news sites they have used for at least several years.  How do they find new “favorites?”  This might surprise you–it’s not by surfing the Web, it’s old-fashioned word of mouth.