It is hard to imagine (indeed, impossible to imagine) how a large company could not have a web presence as a central part of its marketing campaign. However, this does not that the company's website is as effective as it might be, or even very effective at all.
One of the consequences of the fact that websites have become both ubiquitous and necessary is that there is actually less pressure on companies to make their websites as elegant and effective as they used to be. In the early days of web marketing, websites were in large measure still peripheral. This meant that most consumers relied on older methods of advertising (such as newspaper ads) and were lured onto the web by websites that were especially clever or alluring.
Now the default method of marketing and advertising is web-based, which means that the web is likely to be the first place that an individual looks when trying to find out basic information about a company. Because of this, the websites do not have to sparkle to catch the attention of the consumer. Since many of the other forms of advertising no longer exist or no longer have the strength that they once had, people are often more or less stuck with what they find on the company's website. Our standards for website design have been distinctly lowered.
This does not mean that there are not still standards for what makes a good website. There is even fairly wide agreement as to what makes the best websites. This does not, of course, mean that companies follow these principles, as is clear from the Disney site being analyzed here. A key reason why Disney marketers may not be as user-friendly as one might have thought they would be: They know that users are willing to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience on a site if they are (already) convinced that they are interested in the products that this company is putting forward.
Most marketing strategies and tools put your business "in their face." Not so with the web. This is a forum where people seek your product out and when they find you they are finding hundreds, if not thousands, of your competitors at the same time. One bad experience and they'll simply go next door. Why should they be loyal when there is so much to choose from? The one exception to this is with e-commerce, where users will put up with a degree of discomfort in order to use a tried, tested and safe supplier, but for the rest of us who are merely using the web as an advertising portal, there is no such tolerance.
The Disney Corporation can indeed be thought of as a "tried, tested and safe supplier." Moreover, it is effectively a monopoly: While there are a number of companies that produce movies and related merchandise, none has the economic heft and cultural reach as the Disney corporation. This no doubt has played into the company's carelessness -- for really, this does seem to be the most accurate possible term -- in creating a website that is busy, fussy, overly complicated, and -- if one does not have fast wireless service -- far too slow to load.
In the next sections I will discuss a brief experiment that I conducted about the effectiveness of the Disney website. The website will be assessed for a set of key attributes: Accuracy, authority, objectivity, coverage, and contents. These attributes are not equally important, either in terms of websites in general or in terms of how different users assess a website. (In other words, no website can be all things to all people.) However, these attributes are generally seen as being key in terms of assessing the effectiveness of a website for most users.
The website was assessed by 26 individuals who were asked five questions about the site. They were asked to consider the following criteria:
1. Did the website seem to be accurate? This includes whether the purpose of the site is clear, including why it was put up? Does the text make sense? Is it clear why the site was put up?
2. The information should be up-to-date and all the links should work.
3. The website should be accessible without special software (unless it is available for free and quick to download) or technical requirements.
Each of the people surveyed was asked ten questions that covered the above topics. After the results were collected (in written form), the results were analyzed.
The questions that were asked of each one of the subjects are the following. The subjects had to choose between only two answers: "yes" or "no." such a format does have limitations, of course, in that sometimes subjects may believe that a more accurate answer might be "sometimes" or "maybe." However, a simple yes/no answer format was used because this format made it easier to analyze the information received.
1. Is the site easy to navigate through and can you find what you want easily?
2. Is the site free from too many distracting images, animations, colors, wild backgrounds, and sounds?
3. Is the content meaningful and useful?
4. Is the Web site designed to teach you something?
5. Is there a well-known organization or institution associated with or sponsoring the site?
6. Is the organization or institution associated with the site from an educational institution (.edu), from an organization (.org) or from the government (.gov)?
7. Do the pages load quickly?
8. Is there a bibliography of the authors resources included?
9. Is the Web site designed to teach you something?
10. Are the author's credentials are given?
Results and analysis
The results of the survey were surprising in some ways and predictable in other ways. The following summarizes the results while at the same time offering possible explanations for the way in which the subjects responded the way in which they did.
For the first question (Is the site easy to navigate through and can you find what you want easily?), 40% said yes. I was surprised by this response because it seemed clear to me that the site is definitely not easy to navigate. I believe that the fact that so many of my respondents answered yes to this question arises for one (or both) of two different reasons. The first is that people have different ways of determining whether or not a site is well-designed. I also believe that it is possible that because Disneyland is such a well-known part of our culture that people looking at the website felt that they already know everything about it and so are not really looking at the site to get more information.
The responses to the second question (Is the site free from too many distracting images, animations, colors, wild backgrounds, and sounds?) seemed to contradict the answers to the first question. Only five of the 26 people answered that the site was free from too many distractions. I personally agree with this assessment after having explored the site. However, what puzzles me is that the first two answers seem to contradict each other.
I do not understand how so many people could find the site easy to navigate and then also criticize the site for being distracting. I think that the most important thing that I learned from these two questions is not so much about the design of the site but more about how people can differ in the way in which they interpret questions. There is not necessarily a correct way to answer a question. This is obvious when I look back on the question. But before I asked the questions I now realize that I just assumed that people would agree with me. I think that this is probably something that happens a lot: We just assume that people will agree with us.
For question number three (Is the content meaningful and useful?) 75% of the people answered "yes." I think that the fact that this is the site for a well-known company influenced this answer. As noted above, for companies that are not as well-known or do not have significant loyalty from a customer basis have to have a better website to attract customers. However, a well-known company or a company whose products people already know that they want the website can be less well designed.
Clearly the Disney company is a very well-known company and its products (tickets to its parks) are something that people know about. Many people have wanted to go to Disneyland or Disneyworld for a long time (or have already gone there and would like to back again) and so they are willing to spend as much time as it takes to navigate the site.