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Content, usability and aesthetics are core constructs in users' perception and evaluation of websites, but little is known about their interplay in different use phases. In a first study, web users (n=330) stated content as most relevant, followed by usability and aesthetics. In Study 2, tests with four websites were performed (n=300), and resulting data were modeled in path analyses. In this model, aesthetics had the largest influence on first impressions, while all three constructs had an impact on first and overall impressions. However, only content contributed significantly to the intention to revisit or recommend a website. Using data from a third study (n=512,42 websites), we were able to replicate this model. As before, perceived aesthetics and usability affected first and overall impressions, while content perception was important for all analyzed website use phases. In addition, aesthetics also had a small but significant impact on the participants' intentions to revisit or recommend a website.
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User evaluation of websites:
From first impression to recommendation
Meinald T. Thielsch & Iris Blotenberg
University of Muenster, Germany
Rafael Jaron
Nordlight Research GmbH, Germany
Abstract
Content, usability, and aesthetics are core constructs in users’ perception and evaluation of
websites, but little is known about their interplay in different use phases. In a first study web
users (N=330) stated content as most relevant, followed by usability and aesthetics. In study 2
tests with four websites were performed (N=300), resulting data were modeled in path
analyses. In this model aesthetics had the largest influence on first impressions, while all three
constructs had an impact on first and overall impressions. However, only content contributed
significantly to the intention to revisit or recommend a website. Using data from a third study
(N=512, 42 websites), we were able to replicate this model. As before, perceived usability
affected first and overall impressions, while content perception was important for all analyzed
website use phases. In addition, aesthetics also had a small but significant impact on the
participants’ intentions to revisit or recommend.
Keywords: World Wide Web, Usability testing, User studies, Empirical studies in HCI
This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in
Interacting with Computers following peer review. The version of record
Thielsch, M. T., Blotenberg, I. & Jaron, R. (2014). User evaluation of websites: From first
impression to recommendation. Interacting with Computers, 26 (1), 89-102.
is available online at:
http://iwc.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/1/89.full.pdf?keytype=ref&ijkey=bJhg1iL2905qqzG
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1. Introduction
The World Wide Web plays a major role in the modern society of the 21st century. Its use has
grown enormously over the last decade. People spend much of their business and private time
online, and the web itself is a complex structure of nearly 50 billion pages (based on a
combined analysis of popular web search engines on http://www.worldwidewebsize.com).
Furthermore, the web is evolving. Several states of design, closely associated with
technological developments, have been identified over the years (Engholm, 2002; Ivory &
Megraw, 2005). Because the web and website design are prone to technological innovations,
constant facets and effects of website perception and evaluation need to be identified, which
has led to the investigation of three core constructs in current research on human perceptions
of websites: content, usability, and aesthetics (e.g., Cober et al., 2003; Schenkman & Jönsson,
2000; Tarasewich, Daniel & Griffin, 2001). These general aspects of human perception of
websites are broadly defined, and each construct comprises several sub-facets. For example,
usability contains interaction-related facets, such as effectiveness of use and fulfillment of the
task in question, but also contains facets related to design, such as an easily operable
navigation structure and readable typography. There are correlations between the constructs,
especially because website designers usually strive to optimize a website with respect to
content, usability, and aesthetics. Thus, a successful website is the product of a combination
of interesting content, high usability and aesthetic design. Still, these three constructs can be
treated separately, and each of them represents a distinct aspect of a user’s perception of a
website.
The prime importance of the World Wide Web for everyday life of many people leads to
questions of how people perceive, evaluate and appraise websites. The aim of this study is to
provide a better understanding of key factors that influence user’s evaluation of websites, and
of the interplay of these factors. Of such key factors content, usability, and aesthetics are
named as three of the most influential in several studies (e.g., Hartmann, Sutcliffe, & De
Angeli, 2008; Schenkman & Jönsson, 2000; Tarasewich et al., 2001). Unfortunately, website
content, usability, and aesthetics are not always interpreted or labeled in the same manner.
The following section is therefore devoted to a short overview and a definition of each term.
The question arises whether the selection of these three constructs is exhaustive. We argue
that the three constructs previously identified are the essence of website perception and,
therefore, of a user’s evaluation of a website. Content, usability, and aesthetics are directly
expressed by objects on a website and thus are very closely attached to users’ visual
perception and cognitive processing of a website.
1.1. Content, usability, and aesthetics – definitions and overview
The content of a website is certainly the main reason why most websites are visited and is
therefore of prime importance. Accordingly, researchers emphasize the general importance of
website content, such as Palmer (2002), who named content as one main factor for website
success, or Agarwal and Venkatesh (2002), who identified content as the most important
dimension of websites for specific types of businesses. In empirical models, content factors
are stressed and distinguished from design factors (Huizingh, 2000; Robbins & Stylianou,
2003), and cultural differences are found when objective content features are analyzed
(Robbins & Stylianou, 2003; Zhao et al., 2003). ISO 9241-151 defines content as “a set of
content objects” on a web user interface, describing a content object as “interactive or non-
interactive object containing information represented by text, image, video, sound or other
types of media” (ISO, 2006, p. 3). Such objective features of website content are focused for
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example when examining the World Wide Web as a semantic web (Berners-Lee, 2001;
Hendler, 2003), when optimizing content indexing for search engines or for information
searches in general (e.g., Fauzi & Belkhatir, 2010; Hendler et al., 2008; Jansen & Spink,
2006), or in research of content quality in terms of accuracy (Sutherland et al., 2005).
Furthermore, there are not only objective characteristics of website content (like word count
or amount of technical terms) but also subjective content experiences of website users
(Huizingh, 2000; Palmer, 2002). Thus, several studies measured content perceptions via
subjective user evaluations (e.g. Eysenbach & Köhler, 2002; Hartmann et al., 2008; Kang &
Kim, 2006). In the current paper, we focus on the subjective perception of website content in
general. This includes how interesting, comprehensible, and useful content is experienced by
web users. Recipients’ content perception so far has been primarily studied in a specific
context, for example such as users’ reactions to recruiting websites (e.g., Allen, Mahto &
Otondo, 2007; Braddy et al., 2009; Pfieffelmann, Wagner & Libkuman, 2010), or in relation
to a specific viewpoint, such as the linking of aspects of credibility to website content (e.g.,
Dutta-Bergman, 2004; Rains & Karmikel, 2009). But, several studies reveal the impact of
website content and information quality on general user reactions like satisfaction, trust,
commitment, task performance, website success or website preference (e.g., Aladwani &
Palvia, 2002; D’Ambra & Rice, 2001; Kang & Kim, 2006; Kim & Lim, 2001; Liu & Arnett,
2000). Thus, content is treated as a key construct of websites, especially from an
organizational perspective (Huizingh, 2000; Ranganathan & Ganapathy, 2002).
The content of a website is of high importance, but usability of a website is essential for a
quick and successful finding of the contents of interest. ISO 9241-11 defines the usability of a
human-system interaction as the “extent to which a product can be used by specified users to
achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of
use” (ISO, 1998, p. 2). Research in human-computer interactions as well as practical work has
often focused on usability; Shneiderman and Plaisant (2009) provide a good overview. When
examining usability, it is very important to distinguish between objective and subjective
measures of usability (Hornbæk, 2006). While a website might appear to be very usable from
objective criteria (e.g., a flat link depth, fast loading speed and good search function), it still
can be experienced as unusable from a subjective user’s point of view. Kurosu and Kashimura
(1995) established the terms “inherent” (= objective) and “apparent” (= subjective) usability
to describe this difference; these terms have been subsequently used by several authors and
will be used in the current paper as well. The term “apparent usability” reveals that user
evaluation and perception is central to website usability. To some extent, users might be able
to judge the apparent usability of a website without actually using it – but regarding this
matter further research is needed. In the current paper, we take a look at the subjective
experience of usability by web users. Thus, we ask for and use measures of apparent usability.
In recent years, it has been increasingly recognized that the design of websites and users’
needs go beyond pure usability, leading to a shift in focus to a more experiential perspective
(e.g., Bargas-Avila & Hornbæk, 2011; Hassenzahl & Tractinsky, 2006; ISO, 2009). This
perspective takes the whole user experience into account, including user perception of visual
aesthetics. Thus, aesthetics has become a core construct as well in website evaluation.
However, the term “aesthetics” is not consistently used, there are some other designations for
the same construct like for example “beauty” and “pleasure”. A current definition is given by
Moshagen and Thielsch (2010, p. 690), which describes website aesthetics “as an immediate
pleasurable subjective experience that is directed toward an object and not mediated by
intervening reasoning”. Various studies have demonstrated the importance of website
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aesthetics in human-computer interactions and its impact on constructs such as perceived
usability, satisfaction or trustworthiness and on users’ reactions like preference, urge to buy
impulsively or intention to revisit (for an overview see Moshagen & Thielsch, 2010, p. 691).
Current research suggests that aesthetic responses occur immediately at first sight (Leder et
al., 2004; Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2012), and thus the importance of first impressions is
stressed in the evaluation of website aesthetics (e.g.; Lindgaard et al., 2006 & 2011;
Tractinsky et al., 2006; Tuch et al., 2012). In the current paper we follow the definition of
Moshagen and Thielsch (2010) and therefore operationalize aesthetics as subjective
experience of a user, and measure aesthetics with a questionnaire approach.
1.2. The interplay of content, usability, and aesthetics perception
Beginning with the work of Kurosu and Kashimura (1995) and its replication by Tractinsky
(1997), many studies have examined the relationship between usability and aesthetics (for
overviews see Hassenzahl & Monk, 2010, and Lee & Koubek, 2012). Lee and Koubek (2010
& 2012) distinguished between pre- and post-use relationships between both constructs and
the specific influences on preferences. They found a stronger connection between usability
and aesthetics before than after use. Additionally, before use aesthetics influenced preference
stronger than usability, after use the preference of web users was equally affected by both
constructs. Different explanations have been given for the often reported high correlation
between both constructs: halo-effects (e.g., Hartmann et al., 2008), mediation by other
constructs (e.g., Hassenzahl & Monk, 2010), mediation by mood (Ilmberger, Schrepp & Held,
2008; Moshagen, Musch & Göritz, 2009), common design features (e.g., Lavie & Tractinsky,
2004; Tarasewich et al., 2001) or, because both constructs can be treated experimentally
without affecting each other, common method bias (Thielsch, 2008; for common method bias
effects in general see Podsakoff et al., 2003). The connection between usability and aesthetics
and the underlying mechanisms are still not completely understood and need to be explored
further.
There has been much less research on users’ perceived connection between content and
usability, content and aesthetics, and the interplay of all three constructs in general.
Nevertheless, several studies revealed connections in specific domains. For example, in terms
of more objective characteristics of web content there is a clear connection between the
accessibility of information and their usability (e.g., Soobrah & Clark, 2011; Watanabe,
2009). Furthermore, there is a great body of research about users’ information search and
knowledge acquisition online, and how they are affected by users’ expertise, content actuality
or content comprehensibility (e.g., Eysenbach & Köhler, 2002; Metzger, 2007; Scharrer et al.,
2012). Correlations between content and aesthetics have occasionally been reported (e.g.,
Aladwani & Palvia, 2002; Thielsch, 2008). For example, de Wulf et al. (2006) proposed a
model in which, among other factors, website content leads to website success mediated by
pleasure. Hartmann et al. (2008) found a positive influence of usability on the perception of
content quality. Using screenshots of recruiting websites, Cober et al. (2003) showed that
content, usability, and aesthetics are important factors for organizational attraction and
recommendation intentions, but in their study, only content and navigational usability
contributed independently to the organizational attraction. De Angeli, Sutcliffe and Hartmann
(2006) showed that the perception of content, usability, and aesthetics was influenced by
different interaction styles: overall preference could be predicted by differences in usability
and aesthetics. In a study by Schenkman and Jönnson (2000), aesthetics was the best predictor
of overall judgment. In contrast, while analyzing three websites, Tarasewich et al. (2001)
found that usability and content were more important, although aesthetics was relevant to the
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overall web experience. Sillence et al. (2007) found that sometimes web user rejected even
high-quality content due to bad design.
To sum up, there is a great body of research dealing with the connection of usability and
aesthetics or effects of web content in specific domains. But research that simultaneously
considers users’ perceptions of all three constructs while analyzing their general reactions to
websites is rare and the resulting evidence is limited. The few existing studies used only small
sets of websites, partially non-validated measures, and some evaluated only screenshots – thus
it is not very surprising that the results were inconsistent.
1.3. Phases of website use
There are several models describing the different phases of website use (e.g., Lindgaard et al.,
2011; Metzger, 2007; Ou & Sia, 2010) as well as general models of technology use, that have
been used in website research (e.g., Thüring & Mahlke, 2007: Tractinsky, 2004; van der
Heijden, 2003). Most of such models have in common, that there is an exposure and
impression formation phase, an evaluation and use phase, as well as intentional outcomes.
When visiting a website, information processing and impression building starts immediately
within milliseconds (see Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2012 as well as Tuch et al., 2012). Thus, it is
important to distinguish between immediate and deliberate first impressions. While immediate
first impressions are highly based on bottom-up processes of our visual perception during
website exposure, deliberate first impressions are more top-down driven and based on
reflective cognitive processes and reasoning during a website evaluation phase. Thus, the
current research proposed two different stages of first impression; both mostly build within
the first seconds of use (Lindgaard et al., 2006: Robins & Holmes, 2008; Tuch et al., 2012). In
the current paper we will investigate the impact of deliberate first impressions.
While exploring and using a website overall impressions are build. Such impressions could be
influenced by task characteristics (van Schaik & Ling, 2009). Overall impressions of websites
in our paper are operationalized as post-use measurements of participants’ impressions.
Moreover, even when looking at a single website visit, there are several possible outcomes of
website use, like for example buying intentions, costumer loyalty or intentions to revisit and
recommend a website. In the current paper we take a look at the two latter ones, as these can
easily be assessed for any type of website.
To sum up, we distinguish between three phases of website use: A pre-use first impression
phase, a post-use overall impression phase, and a phase where intentions towards a website
are build. The latter one will result in future usage behavior of a web user, which can only be
assessed in longitudinal research approaches. A web user might experience these phases
sequently, but it is also possible that he or she builds for example intentions only based on
first impressions. Leaving a website just after a few seconds (and skipping a deep evaluation
or use phase) is very common among web users (Robins & Holmes, 2008).
1.4. Aim of our research
The aim of our research is to further explore and analyze the interplay of content, usability,
and aesthetics in evaluations of websites given by website users. Previous studies have
seldom considered these three constructs together to predict users’ reactions to websites, and
the results with respect to the impact of each construct have been mixed. Therefore, we
observe all three constructs at the same time and analyze different phases of the users’
reactions. The definition of the constructs as well as prior research suggests that the three
constructs should have different impacts depending of the time of the evaluation (first versus
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overall impression) and the aim of the evaluation (focus on the website itself versus focus on
revisiting or recommending the website). For example, the importance of aesthetics in first
impressions has been stressed in prior research, while the general importance of content could
suggest that content is relevant to all phases of website use.
In a first step, our aim is to explore the general perspective of web users, and to analyze their
beliefs about the constructs in question. Thus, in study 1 we directly ask web users which
aspect of website perception is important at which phase of use and if there are any other
relevant aspects besides content, usability, and aesthetics. Furthermore, we test if such general
beliefs are influenced by actual visiting a website or by familiarity with a website.
Asking users about their beliefs and evaluations of a website is a common, but limited
approach. Therefore, our aim in the second study is to build a path model describing the
connections between content, usability, and aesthetics perceptions, and the different use
phases based on website tests.
Subsequently, the goal of study 3 is to replicate this path model using different stimuli,
different measures, and a different sample. In doing so, a validation of the found model is
provided.
In total, we analyzed data from three different studies. We combined a direct evaluation of
user beliefs with more indirect predictions based on large website evaluations working
towards a model of website evaluation based on users’ reactions in different use phases.
2. Study 1: General website evaluation – user beliefs
The aim of the first study was to explore the general perspective of web users regarding the
different aspects of website evaluation. We asked web users to rate the given constructs
without evaluating a specific website in detail. We examined if other aspects besides content,
usability, and aesthetics were rated as important. Furthermore, we determined if these general
importance ratings were influenced by actually visiting a website (known or unknown).
Therefore, participants were divided into three groups: One group was asked to directly
answer the given questions; two groups were asked to freely choose a known or unknown
website before answering the questions.
2.1. Methods
2.1.1. Participants
A total of 330 participants (61.5 % female) anonymously took part in this web-based study on
a voluntary basis. Ages ranged from 14 to 68 years, with a mean age of 31.64 years (SD =
10.05). The education level of 83.3 % of the participants was high school diploma or higher.
All subjects had used the Internet before. On average, they had been using the Internet for
12.50 years (Min = 4, Max = 25, SD = 3.34) and 17.02 hours a week (Min = 1, Max = 75, SD
= 13.36).
2.1.2. Materials
Participants in two of three conditions were allowed to freely choose a website. In the
condition “known website”, only a few websites were visited by more than one respondent; in
sum 88 different websites were retrieved. In the condition “unknown website,” each site was
chosen only once (in sum 104 different websites).
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2.1.3. Measures
Participants were asked to rate the importance of certain aspects of website perception. Each
participant was given four questions in a completely random order to reflect four web users’
reactions during website use:
(1) Regarding the first impression of a website: How important are the following
aspects from your point of view?
(2) Regarding the overall impression of a website: How important are the following
aspects from your point of view?
(3) For revisiting a website repeatedly: How important are the following aspects from
your point of view?
(4) For recommending a website to friends and acquaintances: How important are the
following aspects from your point of view?
The participants rated each item with respect to content, usability (labeled with the common
German term “Benutzerfreundlichkeit”), aesthetics (labeled as “design/aesthetics”), and a
fourth category for other aspects (labeled “other”). Participants valued the importance of the
four given aspects by assigning each a portion of 100 percent. As with the questions, the
anchors were presented in random order to avoid position effects. If “other” was rated with
more than zero percent, an open text field was shown in which participants could indicate the
meaning of “other”.
2.1.4. Procedures
After a welcome screen, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In
the first condition (n = 119), participants were only asked to answer the four given questions.
In the second condition (n = 107), participants were asked to visit a known website of their
choice and answer the four questions with respect to that website. The third condition (n =
104) was similar to the second condition, except that participants were asked to select an
unknown website. Participants could choose the unknown website, for example, via a
spontaneous search word typed into a search engine. There were no significant demographic
differences between the three groups.
If participants were instructed to retrieve a website we asked them to indicate which website
they visited, followed by a control question asking if the website was known before this
study. Then, each of the four questions described above was shown on a single page; those
were presented to the participants in a random order. At the end of the study, the participants
were asked to provide some demographic background information and to indicate their
agreement with the use of their data for scientific purposes. Participation in this study took
approximately five to six minutes.
2.2. Results
For each of the four given questions, we determined if the condition (not visiting a website or
visiting a known or unknown website) had an effect. We calculated MANOVAs with the
condition as independent and the four aspects of each question as dependent variables. There
were no significant differences in the participants’ ratings whether a website was visited or
not or if a website was known or unknown. Thus, we combined the answers given for the
three conditions for analysis (see table 1).
From the participants’ perspective, content was the most relevant aspect for all four use
aspects, with a rising tendency from first impression (34.87 %) to recommendation (54.97 %).
Usability was rated as second in importance, except for first impressions, for which aesthetics
was rated as second in importance (32.57 %). While usability was constantly rated around 25
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to 30 percent, the perceived importance of aesthetics decreased from first impression (32.57
%) to overall impression (21.75 %) to revisit and recommendation (14.99 % and 16.25 %,
respectively). Other aspects were of minor importance ( 3.24 %), and the aspects named in
this category could mostly be assigned to content or usability (e.g., aspects like structure,
overview, functionality, loading speed, safety, actuality, readability, seriousness, and
comprehensibility).
Table 1. Importance ratings of core website aspects given by web users in percent
Aspect
Content
Usability
Aesthetics
Other
M
SD
M
SD
M
SD
M
SD
First impression
34.87
18.63
29.40
13.04
32.57
19.16
3.16
5.78
Overall impression
45.85
16.89
29.16
11.80
21.75
12.22
3.24
5.19
Intention to revisit
53.70
17.71
28.33
13.10
14.99
10.21
2.98
5.67
Recommendation
54.97
18.80
25.87
13.24
16.25
11.26
2.91
5.66
Note. Participants (N = 330) were asked to give percentage ratings.
2.3. Discussion
This short study shows that web users assign high importance to website content for all
analyzed phases of website use. While this result may seem trivial, it is interesting that
usability and aesthetic aspects garnered as well high importance ratings. Furthermore, the
assumptions made by the participants are in line with empirical research stressing the
importance of aesthetics in first impressions (e.g., Lindgaard et al., 2006 & 2011; Tractinsky
et al., 2006; Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2012). While the participants assumed little difference in
the importance of usability, the relevance of content increased and was most meaningful for
the recommendation of a website.
This short study had some limitations. First, the single item measurements used are prone to
measurement errors. If a construct is multidimensional (as has been shown for example for
aesthetics by Lavie & Tractinsky, 2004, and by Moshagen & Thielsch, 2010), single item
measurement could lead to an imperfect measure of a construct. As we gave no specific
definition of the constructs in forehand, the understanding of the labels might differ between
participants. Thus, it is important to analyze the given constructs with standardized scales
consisting of more than a single item to validate the results found.
Second, in this study, participants could (in two of the conditions) decide with complete
freedom which website to visit, and there was no direct and detailed evaluation of the chosen
website. This very general style of assessment was used intentionally in our study but may
have led to superficial answers. Thus, it is important to analyze the actual use and
differentiated evaluation of a given website with respect to all of the constructs in question.
To perform such an evaluation was the aim of our second study.
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3. Study 2: The influence of content, usability, and aesthetics on different user
evaluation phases
The aim of the second study was to explore users’ evaluations of websites by analyzing their
rating behavior. Participants were asked to use one of four different websites and to rate the
site with respect to not only content, usability, and aesthetics but also first and overall
impressions, intention to revisit and intention to recommend the website. We used the ratings
of these three constructs to predict users’ reactions during website use.
3.1. Methods
3.1.1. Participants
The websites given were evaluated online by 300 participants aged between 18 and 80 years
(M = 42.10, SD = 14.17). Of the participants, 168 were male (56 %), 131 were female, and
one participant gave no information with respect to gender. Of the participants, 58.7 % hold a
high school diploma or higher degree. They had been using the Internet on average for 9.25
years (Min = 2, Max = 20, SD = 3.53). Participants were selected via a German online panel
and received credit points within the panel for completing the study (value was about 2.50 ).
3.1.2. Materials
The websites of four large electricity suppliers in Germany served as the stimulus materials
(see appendix). The reasons for choosing websites of electricity suppliers were based on the
idea to find a commercial surf scenario which most households can easily relate to and which
makes it possible for us to ask for information search as well as for more complicated
interaction surf tasks. To measure first impression, only a screenshot of the initial web page
was presented at the beginning of the online study. Afterwards, participants were linked to the
full functional website to explore it in a realistic scenario. The websites themselves were quite
comparable (see appendix for means and standard deviations), as determined by examining
the differences between the best- and worst-evaluated website in this study with respect to
each construct and by calculating Cohen’s d. According to the guidelines provided by Cohen
(1988), standardized mean differences of 0.2, 0.5 and 0.8 are considered small, medium, and
large effects, respectively. The four tested websites were relatively similar, as the differences
between the best- and worst-rated websites with respect to content (d = 0.40), usability (d =
0.42), and aesthetics (d = 0.37) were rather moderate.
3.1.3. Measures
Participants evaluated the website in question with respect to content, usability, and
aesthetics. As measure a standardized market research questionnaire called “NLR web scan”
(Nordlight Research, 2008; see appendix) was used. The aim of the NLR web scan is to
provide key performance indicators for the quality of Internet and e-media applications. It
measures users perceptions of content (nine items), usability (seven items), and aesthetics
(seven items) as well as additional items not pertinent for the present study. Participants
answered the questions on a four-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“disagree”) to 4
(“agree”). An even numbered answer scale was used to grasp even small tendencies in
participants’ evaluations. If a participant was not able to answer an item, he or she could
indicate this via a “don’t know” option (which was coded as missing). The scale construction
of the NLR web scan was based on factor analysis; Cronbach’s α of the three scales ranged
between .68 and .93 (Nordlight Research, 2008; see appendix).
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First impression was measured on a seven-point scale (Cronbach’s α was .91) with respect to
six different aspects such as “To what extent did the starting page look: ‘professional’,
‘interesting’ and ‘appropriate for an energy supplier’?”
Overall impression of the website in question was rated on a five-point scale ranging from
“bad” to “excellent”.
Intentions to revisit or to recommend a website to friends and acquaintances were asked on a
four-point Likert scale (ranging from “disagree” to “agree”).
3.1.4. Procedures
After a welcome screen and some demographic questions, participants were presented with
the website of the local electricity supplier (at the time of the study, each of the four energy
suppliers was active in a different region). In addition to simply viewing the website, the aim
was to simulate the natural perception of the website during the survey. During the first stage,
a screenshot of the website in question was presented, followed by the first impression items.
During the second stage, participants performed three tasks on the given website: First, they
were asked to freely explore the website. Then, they were instructed to search for information
about electricity rates, and at last to calculate an individual tariff for their household. This
allowed the participants to examine the website more closely and become more familiar with
it. The tasks were followed by the item regarding the overall impression of the website.
In step three, participants were asked whether they would visit the website again and whether
they would recommend the website to friends and acquaintances. After answering these
questions the three NRL web scan scales measuring content, usability, and aesthetics
perception were presented in randomized order.
3.2. Results
To identify the impact of the users’ evaluations of content, usability, and aesthetics on their
opinions and behaviors toward the website, a path analysis was performed with the statistics
software MPlus (Muthén & Muthén, 2010) using the scale sum scores. In this analysis we
allowed the predictors to correlate with each other, all three predictors were highly correlated
(see table 2) as well as dependent variables (see table 3). The model (see figure 1) showed
good fit indices: χ2 = 6.39; df = 4; p = .17; CFI = 1.00; TLI = .99; RMSEA = .05; SRMR =
.01. For the CFI (Comparative Fit Index) and TLI (Tucker Lewis Index), values > .95
constitute good fit (Hu & Bentler, 1999); RMSEA (Root Mean Square Error of
Approximation) and SRMR (Standardized Root Mean Square Residual) should be close to
zero, whereas an RMSEA .05 and an SRMR .08 indicate close fit (Hu & Bentler, 1999).
Table 2. Intercorrelations of content, usability, and aesthetics in study 2 (values on the left of
the slash), and study 3 (values on the right of the slash).
Aesthetics
Content
.64** / .62**
Usability
.56**/ .64**
Note. * p < 0.05, **p < 0.001
11
Table 3. Intercorrelations of dependent variables in study 2 (values on the left of the slash),
and study 3 (values on the right of the slash).
Overall
impression
Intention to
revisit
Intention to
recommend
First impression
.71** / .59**
.50* / .18**
.58** / .12**
Overall impression
.-
.57** / .21**
.69** / .17**
Intention to revisit
-
.68** / .64**
Note. * p < 0.05, **p < 0.001
The results confirm the importance of each of the three constructs, but the particular
importance of each construct was dependent on the time and the focus of the evaluation.
Figure 1 shows the impact of the three constructs on the first and overall impressions and the
intention to revisit or recommend a website, arrows indicate regression coefficients. The path
analysis showed that the decisive factor for the first impression of a website was aesthetics
(.48, p < 0.01), with a considerably weaker influence of usability (.17, p < 0.01) and content
(.15, p < 0.05). For the overall impression of a website, content (.40, p < 0.01) and aesthetics
(.30, p < 0.01) were the most important factors, but usability (.16, p < 0.01) also had an
impact.
Furthermore, Content played the decisive role in the intention to revisit a website (.65, p <
0.01) and the willingness to recommend a website (.69, p < 0.01), while neither usability nor
aesthetics had a significant impact.
Figure 1. Path model of study 2
Note. Intercorrelations of independent variables are shown in table 2, of dependent variables in table 3.
3.3. Discussion
The results of our second study confirm the importance of the key website constructs content,
usability, and aesthetics in users’ website evaluation. Furthermore, we again found that the
impact of each construct depended on the time and the focus of the evaluation. While all three
constructs contribute to first and overall impressions of a website, aesthetics is especially
12
crucial for the first impression (as previously stressed empirically by Lindgaard et al., 2006 &
2011; Tractinsky et al., 2006; Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2012; Tuch et al., 2012). However, users
decide whether they are willing to visit a website again and recommend it based on content.
This generally corresponds with the user estimates in study 1, but there are some differences
(especially with respect to usability) that will be examined in the general discussion.
Because the builder of a website normally wants visitors to inspect the website more closely
and remain on it, a convincing first impression and thus an aesthetic website are desirable.
Furthermore, the activating impact of the website is of special importance because it causes
visitors to visit the website again and, ideally, to recommend the website. To achieve the
latter, the results of study 2 suggest that only content perception is critical. However, a high
overall impression of a website depends on all three constructs, although the impact of
usability perception is lower than the one of content and aesthetics.
While the path model met nearly all criteria for good fit (Chi-square test non-significant, CFI
and TLI > .95, SRMR < .08) as well as these results are of high practical value, there are
some drawbacks:
First, it is noteworthy that perceived usability had no influence on users’ intentions to revisit
or recommend a website. It seems obvious that poor usability should result in no
recommendations and that few users would be willing to visit a totally unusable website
again. Does this assumption reflect reality? In the given study, the tested websites were
relatively similar; the difference between the best and worst rated websites with respect to
usability was relatively small (d = 0.42), and the websites were quite usable. But, comparable
absolute values and differences were also found for content (d = 0.40) and aesthetics (d =
0.37) – and content has a large influence on the intention to revisit or recommend. Thus, as
the effect sizes for the differences between the tested websites were very comparable, the
results found are highly valid for typical well-designed company websites like the ones used
in our study. How users react when poorly designed websites are also tested is analyzed
below in the next study.
Second, because this survey is a field study and not an experimental one, it has all the
advantages and disadvantages associated with a field study. Potential problems with this study
include the non-randomized assignment of the stimuli to the participants and the use of only a
small set of different websites from one line of business. However, our aim was to get a
realistic impression about the extent to which each construct influences website evaluation.
The advantage of field studies is their closeness to reality. The procedure in this study is very
close to natural usage and therefore very close to reality. This survey is also satisfactorily
representative with regard to the age range of the participants. The results found need to be
validated, however.
Third, there are significant correlations between the dependent as well as the independent
variables in this study. Even as we controlled for such intercorrelations within the path
analysis, one should not forget that neither analyzed constructs nor dependent variables are
completely independent from each other. This reflects the fact, that web designers strive to
optimize all three aspects in the same manner and that a prior use phase has influence on
following ones.
Fourth, path analyses are like regressions analyses capable of identifying causal relationships
between variables. But one has to keep in mind, that these relations are based on correlations
and the theoretical approach of the build model. The fact that the found model is well fitting is
a good hint for its validity, but there is still a need of a further validation. This could be done
by a replication of this model or further causal analysis via experimental research designs.
13
In summary, this study provides a realistic impression of the decisive factors in a user’s
evaluation of a typical company website. The evaluation of each construct was dependent on
the time and the focus of website use. But, a greater number of more diverse stimuli should be
tested (ideally in randomized order), and the results should be replicated in a second sample
with established measures from academic research. We fulfill these demands in study 3.
4. Study 3: Replication and validation
In our third study, we replicated the findings of study 2 in another sample with a large set of
stimuli and validated research questionnaires. Therefore, we reanalyzed a data set of
Moshagen and Thielsch (2010), which was partly used for scale validation. Those data had
not been analyzed with respect to this research question before.
4.1. Methods
4.1.1. Participants
A total of 512 participants took part in this study; 347 were female (67.8 %). Ages ranged
from 15 to 82 years (M = 30.50, SD = 10.61). The education level of 83.2 % of the
participants was high school diploma or higher. On average, the subjects had been using the
Internet for 10.25 years (Min = 2, Max = 25, SD = 3.29) and 15.72 hours a week (Min = 1,
Max = 90, SD = 13.29). Participants took part voluntarily on an anonymous basis and
received no compensation for completing the study.
4.1.2. Materials
A set of 42 websites from nine different content domains was used (see appendix). The
websites were selected to represent a broad range of corporate and institutional websites in
Germany, including, for example, corporate websites, e-commerce, e-recruiting,
entertainment, and information sites. Readers are referred to Thielsch and Hirschfeld (2010)
for a more detailed description of this categorization scheme. Due to technical difficulties,
only three search engines could be included in this set; all of the other website categories each
consisted of four to five websites. In contrast to the stimulus set used in study 2, this set
contains a broad range of websites in terms of content, usability, and aesthetic appraisal (see
appendix for means and standard deviations). The standardized mean differences between the
best and worst evaluated websites were very large for each construct (dcontent = 3.67, dusability =
2.58, daesthetics = 1.85).
4.1.3. Measures
We used several established measures for the evaluation of the website in question:
Perceived quality of content (PQC): This questionnaire (Thielsch, 2008; see appendix)
consists of nine items on three subscales (“liking”, “intelligibility”, and “quality and use”)
representing a general factor, “quality of content”. Cronbach’s α of the three scales ranged
between .71 and .90, and is .88 in the present study for the general factor. Factor and content
validity of the PQC is demonstrated by Thielsch (2008).
Perceived website usability (PWU): The one-dimensional scale measuring perceived website
usability (adapted based on Flavián, Guinalíu & Gurrea, 2006; see appendix) is a seven-item
measure assessing perceived ease of use, ease of understanding and speed of information
retrieval. Flavián and colleagues (2006) reported a Cronbach’s α of .90 for this scale as well
14
as evidence for construct validity. Thielsch (2008) found a Cronbach’s α of .95 for the
adapted German version and demonstrated factor and convergent validity.
Visual aesthetics of websites inventory (VisAWI): This questionnaire (Moshagen & Thielsch,
2010; see appendix) uses 18 items to measure a general aesthetic factor consisting of four
facets (“simplicity”, “diversity”, “color”, and “craftsmanship”). Moshagen and Thielsch
(2010) report Cronbach’s α between .85 and .94, and provided evidence for convergent,
divergent, discriminative, concurrent and experimental validity. Additional analyses as well as
the items in German and English language can be found at Moshagen and Thielsch (in press).
First and overall impression: Participants were asked to rate their first impression of the
website (“My first impression: I would mark the website with…”) as well as their overall
impression (“Altogether: I would mark the website with…”) on a six-point grading scale
ranging from “insufficient” to “very good”, such a scale is very common in Germany.
Intention to revisit and to recommend: Three items were used to assess participants’ intention
to revisit the website being evaluated: (1) “I will visit the website again”; (2) “I will visit the
website on a regular basis”; (3) “If I had interest in the content of the website in the future, I
would consider visiting the website”. The responses to these three items were averaged to
form an index of the participants’ intentions to revisit the website. Cronbach’s α of this scale
was .89 in the current study. Additionally, website recommendation was measured with one
question: “I would recommend the website to my friends”.
If not indicated differently above, participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement
to each item of these questionnaires on seven-point Likert scales ranging from 1 (“strongly
disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”).
4.1.4. Procedures
The study was announced as a survey for evaluating websites. After providing some
demographic information, participants were randomly assigned to one website from the
stimulus set and presented with a split screen. The questions regarding the website were
presented in the smaller upper panel. At the beginning, participants were asked to rate their
first impression of the website. Next, they answered the PQC, PWU, and VisAWI (and one
other measure not pertinent to this study); these questionnaires used in the middle part of the
study were given in random order, and the items within the questionnaires were randomized
as well. Afterwards, the overall impression was rated on the same scale used at the beginning.
At the end, the intention to revisit and to recommend was measured. On average, participants
needed approximately 15 minutes to complete the study.
4.2. Results
As in study 2, a path analysis using the sum scores of the scales was performed with MPlus
(Muthén & Muthén, 2010). Again predictors were allowed to correlate with each other, and
all three predictors were highly correlated (see table 2). As in study 2, independent variables
were correlated, but showed mostly small intercorrelations (see table 3). The path analysis
widely confirmed the results of study 2 (see figure 2). The model showed very good fit
indices: χ2 = 3.08; df = 2; p = .21; CFI = 1.00; TLI = .99; RMSEA = .03; SRMR = < .01.
As before, the crucial factor for the evaluation of first impression was aesthetics (.47, p < .01),
significantly ahead of content (.26, p < .01), and usability (.17, p < .01). The importance of
aesthetics is in agreement with the results of study 2. While usability had the same influence
as before, content had a slightly higher influence on first impressions than in study 2.
15
For overall impression, the results were nearly the same, with a small decrease with respect to
content (.30, p < .01) from study 2. Aesthetics again had a large influence on overall
impression (.49, p < .01); indeed, the standardized path coefficient in this study is noticeable
higher than in study 2.
When predicting the index regarding the willingness to visit the website again, content was
clearly the most important construct (.64, p < .01). While usability and aesthetics had no
significant influence at this point in study 2, a small but significant influence of aesthetics on
the intention to revisit was found in study 3 (.11, p < .01).
The same pattern occurred when asking participants about their intention to recommend the
website in question. As in study 2, content was by far the most important aspect (.61, p < .01),
while usability had no influence and aesthetics had a small influence (.10, p < .01).
Thus, the results were mostly comparable to those found in study 2, especially with respect to
usability, the importance of aesthetics for first impressions, and the importance of content for
the intention to revisit or recommend a website. In study 3, aesthetics had a slightly higher
influence on the latter two aspects as well as on overall impression.
Figure 2. Path model of study 3
Note. Intercorrelations of independent variables are shown in table 2, of dependent variables in table 3.
4.3. Discussion
In this study, we largely replicated the results from study 2 with a large set of websites, a
different sample, and different measures. The path model met all criteria for good fit (Chi-
square test non-significant, CFI and TLI > .95; RMSEA < .05, SRMR < .08). Again, all three
constructs contributed to the first and overall impressions of a website. The main results were
replicated: aesthetics had a high influence on deliberate first impression, and content had a
very high impact on the intention to revisit or recommend a website. Furthermore, in this
study, content had a slightly higher impact on first impressions, while aesthetics had a small
but significant impact on intention to revisit and intention to recommend. As before, usability
had a small to mediocre influence on first and overall impressions but was not relevant for
intention to revisit or recommend.
16
The latter result is very interesting with respect to the question that arose in study 2: Should a
really unusable website lead to a decreased intention to revisit or recommend the website?
While this may be true if a very unusable website is tested directly, there is no such effect in
our data. The tested websites showed a wide range of apparent usability, and the correlation
between the evaluation of usability and the intention to revisit or recommend was even lower
when we solely analyzed the evaluated websites that were rated as unusable. In the future, it
may be interesting to examine websites classified in terms of inherent usability. Based on the
given data, we can assume that perceived usability has a significant impact on first and overall
impressions, but the influence of content and aesthetic perception is persistently higher at later
phases of website use.
Furthermore, there are some small but interesting differences in the results when compared to
study 2. Using a broad set of stimuli, content had slightly more influence on first impressions,
while aesthetics had the same effect on the intention to revisit or recommend. The latter result
is in agreement with prior research investigating the impact of aesthetics on the intention to
revisit a website (Mahlke, 2002; Yoo & Donthu, 2001). Because results in the literature differ
when using small sets of stimuli and static screenshots (e.g., Cober et al., 2003), it seems
important to stress that this effect may not occur with every single website and may be
masked by the unique content of a specific website. This would also explain why no impact of
aesthetics on intention to revisit or recommend was evident in our second study, in which we
used a small and thematically narrow set of websites. But, an alternative explanation could be
given on the difference between users’ tasks between study 2 and 3. Van Schaik and Ling
(2009) found influences of different task modes (action versus goal mode) on aesthetics
perceptions. Thus, further research is needed on such influences on the found model.
Therefore, a possibly substantial limitation of study 3 is that participants did not fulfill any
specific tasks like those given in study 2. Participants in study 3 were instructed to explore the
website in question, saw a fully functional version of the website itself, and showed typical
usage duration times for such a website test. But, future research should control for different
use scenarios, for example like done by van Schaik and Ling (2009).
Furthermore, as in study 2, there are significant correlations between the dependent as well as
the independent variables in this study one should keep in mind while interpreting the results
(even as they are statistically controlled in the path analysis). And again it is to mention, that
path analyses are only capable of identifying causal relationships based on theoretical
reasoning. The supposed theoretical model was replicated and showed excellent fit to the
empirical data in study 3, but further experimental validation will be useful.
In summary, we confirmed the results of the second study and extended them. We used a
large set of websites and established measures and questioned a large sample. Although the
weaknesses of study 2 were addressed, we obtained a mostly similar pattern of results. Thus,
we expect the effects found will be stable in general when business and institutional websites
are tested.
5. General Discussion
While content is the most important aspect of a website from a user’s perspective (as stated in
study 1), we showed in a series of two studies that this depends on the time and the focus of
the website evaluation. In doing so, we may shed some light on the previously partially mixed
17
results regarding the impact of content, usability, and aesthetics by showing how the impact
of each construct is dependent on users’ evaluations.
In study 1, all three constructs – content, usability, and aesthetics – were stated as important.
Furthermore, when asked directly users named content as most important. Usability was rated
a distant second, while aesthetics was third, except for first impressions, for which aesthetics
was rated second in importance. In addition, it is noteworthy that only few additional aspects
were named in this study, and most of those were assignable to content and usability.
In study 2, we used a survey design that was very similar to a user’s natural use of a website
and asked for several ratings on a set of four websites. With path analysis, we showed that
aesthetics had the highest impact on deliberate first impressions, while all three constructs
contributed to first and overall impressions. Furthermore, only content was crucial for the
activating impact of a website, such as the intention to revisit or recommend the site.
We replicated those results in study 3 with a different sample, different measures and a large
set of 42 websites. Our proposed model showed excellent fit to the empirical data in study 3.
In general, studies 2 and 3 showed that aesthetics has a greater impact on the evaluation of a
website than one might expect from directly asking users (as we did in study 1). Thus,
participants may underestimate the importance of aesthetic factors on first and overall
impressions. Nevertheless, aesthetics likely play an important role in users’ perceptions and
evaluations, as well as in online product presentations and branding. The users’ assumptions
in study 1 regarding the impact of content and aesthetics on intentions to revisit or
recommend were confirmed in study 3, where content was obviously the absolutely most
important stimulus for returning to or recommending a website. The importance of aesthetics
for all analyzed phases of website use was still underestimated in a direct evaluation. From
current research on website aesthetics we know, that this construct is processed very early in
visual perception (Leder et al., 2004; Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2010 & 2012; Tuch et al., 2012).
Moreover, one may suggest that the processing of content and especially usability occurs
slightly later in perception (see also Lee & Koubek, 2012); this may explain the high impact
of aesthetics on immediate and deliberate first impressions. Several authors have discussed
what determines first impressions, especially with respect to aesthetics. From a general design
perspective, visual complexity in particular appears to have an impact on users’ reactions
towards a website (e.g., Geissler, Zinkhan & Watson, 2006; Nadkarni & Gupta, 2007; Tuch et
al., 2009). In addition to visual complexity, aspects of order and prototypicality seem to be
very important for users’ first impressions (Deng & Poole, 2010; Tuch et al., 2012). From a
more cognitive perspective, such design elements are reflected in the different spatial
frequencies perceived by a user, and recent research has shown the importance of low spatial
frequencies for immediate first impressions (Thielsch & Hirschfeld, 2010 & 2012).
Thus, while we showed that content is the most important aspect of a website in general and
that content has an impact from deliberate first impressions to the point of recommendation,
one should not forget that a website is more than a collection of content pieces. Usability is
relevant for first and overall impressions, and aesthetic factors influence the whole perception
of a website from first impression until recommendation. However, in contrast to content
perception, aesthetics is most important at first sight and less important for more complex
decisions like the willingness to revisit or recommend the website. As this activating
consequence of aesthetics does not occur in our second study or in some of the literature (e.g.,
Cober et al., 2003) when small sets of stimuli are used, it is important to stress that this effect
may not occur on every single website, may be masked by content aspects of a specific
website or be influenced by specific tasks users have to fulfill (see van Schaik & Ling, 2009).
18
Perceived usability is of less importance than estimated by web users in study 1. Users
usability perception has some impact on first and overall impressions but not on the intentions
to revisit and to recommend in studies 2 and 3, respectively. We showed that this was not due
to restricted variance in the usability evaluations (see discussion of study 3). Thus, perceived
usability may not have an impact in this context, and more inherent measures may be needed
to evaluate usability. We will discuss this in the next section.
5.1. Limitations and further research
Some limitations should be considered when interpreting the results of our present research.
First, we only examined business and institutional websites and excluded private websites
from our analyses in studies 2 and 3. Given the myriad of existing websites, we tested only a
limited sample of stimuli. However, we successfully replicated the results with different
stimuli, different measures and a different sample in study 3, and thus we expect our results to
be applicable to other types and kinds of websites. Additional replication with different
stimuli would be ideal to validate our results.
Second, all of the tested participants and the stimuli used shared the same cultural
background. There is some evidence for the existence of cultural aspects of website content
(Robbins & Stylianou, 2003), and several authors also stress the importance of cultural factors
in website usability and design perception (e.g., Marcus & Gould, 2000; Simon, 2001; Sun,
2001; Tractinsky, 1997), especially for web design aspects like color and images (Cyr et al.,
2009; Cyr, Head & Larios, 2010). The extent to which our findings are prone to cultural
differences should be analyzed by a cross-cultural approach.
Third, due to the large amount of websites tested, we decided to analyze only the
perceived/apparent usability. Although there are correlations between apparent and inherent
variables of usability (Tractinsky, 1997), inherent usability seems to reflect some other
aspects of graphical user interfaces (Fu & Salvendy, 2002; Kurosu & Kashimura, 1995;
Tractinsky, 1997). Thus, future replication of these results should include an evaluation of
websites in terms of inherent usability, which may yield interesting insights beyond the rather
visual impression of apparent usability. Additionally, as mentioned in the discussion of study
3, usability perception might be influenced by task characteristics. This could be by tested by
giving participants different use scenarios (like done by van Schaik and Ling, 2009).
Fourth, it will be interesting to test the causal relationships and extend our results using
experimental designs and – as far as applicable for the constructs in question – more objective
measures like reaction times, task duration times or objective attributes of stimuli like word
count, link depth and so on. Our studies examined direct website evaluations and users’
beliefs and used website evaluations to predict website use. The next step should be an
experimental validation and extension of our results. Such a validation should take different
use scenarios and use tasks into account to clear their influence on the found model. The
analyzed use phases could be extended by longitudinal approaches, taking repeated use of a
website into account. In doing so, it is possible to take further use phases into account, like
revisiting a website or specific behavior like buying, downloads etc..
5.2. Conclusion
When building a successful website, designers and content creators have to work hand in
hand. Aesthetics is most important for the first impression, while content is decisive for the
entire duration of use. Content perception is of special significance when the users are asked
to get active themselves – like for example in recommending a website or revisiting it. Our
19
results for website usage and evaluation bring to mind the elaboration likelihood model (Petty
& Cacioppo, 1986): Aesthetics, which may be processed primarily on a peripheral route, is
especially important for spontaneous reactions and overall impressions, while the user is
reading and navigating the website. Content becomes more and more important during use
and is probably centrally processed. When higher cognitive processes are necessary, such as
contemplating the applicability of a website for recommending to friends, the influence of
aesthetics weakens but is not eliminated. This is in agreement with the current definition of
aesthetics, which is assumed to not be mediated by intervening reasoning (Moshagen &
Thielsch, 2010, p. 690).
Let us think of a website user as a customer: he or she will be attracted by good aesthetics and
bound by interesting and appealing content presented in a usable manner. When
contemplating revisiting the website or recommending it, content is crucial, but the user will
still be influenced by aesthetic factors. Aesthetics serves as a door opener as well as a
reinforcement to the users. Content builds the vital base of a website, usability is essential,
and aesthetics is much more than “just” decoration.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank Angela Buchholz for her help in analyzing data, Morten Moshagen for his
permission to reanalyze the data used in study 3 and Gerrit Hirschfeld for very helpful comments on prior
versions of the manuscript.
20
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Appendix 1. Content, usability, and aesthetics measures used in study 2 and 3.
Study 2
Study 3
Content
Information on the website are useful to answer my
questions.
I can easily find out the costs and prices for the
company's products.
Product descriptions are meaningful an informative.
Information appear too much like advertisements. (r)
Apart from product information the website offers a lot
of useful tips and services.
Reading the headlines I know immediately which
content is offered on that page.
Overall texts are too long. (r)
Texts contain to many special terms or abbreviations
that are hard to understand. (r)
Contact information on the website makes it easy to get
in touch with the company.
The website piques my interest.
I find the content of the website pleasant.
I enjoy reading the website.
The particular sentences are easy to read.
The texts provide me information in a clear and concise
manner.
I find the language used in the texts to be current and
easy to understand.
The information is of great value.
I find the information on the website to be useful.
Contents of the website seem so important to me, that I
would print or save them.
Cronbachs alpha
original / current
study; Source
α = .72 / .84
Nordlight Research (2008)
α = .85 / .88
Thielsch (2008)
Usability
Most important topics and services can be selected
directly at welcome page.
Navigation elements are distinct from other website-
elements (e.g. text areas).
The functional elements (links, buttons, ) are placed
where I expect them to be.
By means of the link names in navigation I know
exactly to which content I will get.
The search-engine gives constructive results.
While surfing the website gives clear information on
which site I currently am.
Important information can be found using only a few
clicks.
In this website everything is easy to understand.
This website is simple to use, even when using it for
the first time.
It is easy to find the information I need from this
website.
The structure of this website is easy to understand.
It is easy to orient oneself within this website.
The organization of the contents of this site makes it
easy for me to know where I am.
One can quickly reach the searched information.
Cronbachs alpha
original / current
study; Source
α = .93 / .93
Nordlight Research (2008)
α = .95 / .96
Adapted from Flavian et al. (2006), German version at
Thielsch (2008)
Aesthetics
The website seems clearly arranged and not cluttered.
To me there is too much flickering and flashing on the
website. (r)
The websites design appears professional.
The fonts color provides an ideal figure ground
contrast.
Pictures and corresponding contents fit well.
Website colors are comfortable to look at.
The font is too small. (r)
The layout appears too dense. (r)
The layout is easy to grasp.
Everything goes together on this site.
The site appears patchy. (r)
The layout appears well structured.
The layout is pleasantly varied.
The layout is inventive.
The design appears uninspired. (r)
The layout appears dynamic.
The design is uninteresting. (r)
The color composition is attractive.
The colors do not match. (r)
The choice of colors is botched. (r)
The colors are appealing.
The layout appears professionally designed.
The layout is not up-to-date. (r)
The site is designed with care.
The design of the site lacks a concept. (r)
Cronbachs alpha
original / current
study; Source
α = .68 / .82
Nordlight Research (2008)
α = .94 / .94
Moshagen & Thielsch (2010), German version in
Moshagen & Thielsch (in press)
Note. Negatively-keyed items are indicated by (r) and are reverse-scored.
26
Appendix 2. Means and standard deviations of content, usability, and aesthetics ratings for
each website in study 2.
Content
Usability
Aesthetics
Website URL
M
SD
M
SD
M
SD
http://www.enbw.com/content/de
2.94
0.51
3.17
0.72
3.23
0.54
http://www.eon.de
2.72
0.60
2.89
0.75
2.68
0.62
http://www.rheinenergie.com/de
2.97
0.61
3.20
0.69
3.01
0.67
http://www.rwe.de
2.82
0.66
2.90
0.76
3.15
0.65
Total mean
2.88
0.61
3.07
0.73
3.01
0.66
Note. Participants (N = 300) answered on a four-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“disagree”) to 4 (“agree”).
27
Appendix 3. Means and standard deviations of content, usability, and aesthetics ratings for
each website in study 3.
Content
Usability
Aesthetics
Website category and website URL
M
SD
M
SD
M
SD
Download & software websites
http://de.selfhtml.org
2.88
1.30
3.56
1.57
2.87
0.72
http://www.freeware.de
3.69
1.03
3.73
1.23
3.98
1.01
http://www.heise.de/software
3.88
1.50
3.78
1.50
3.70
1.02
http://www.java.de
3.53
1.06
4.21
1.76
3.79
1.44
E-commerce websites
http://www.amazon.de
4.56
1.40
4.76
1.67
4.09
1.58
http://www.ebay.de
3.95
0.91
4.52
1.85
4.33
1.30
http://www.golop.de
3.34
0.99
4.33
1.31
3.44
0.88
http://www.kelkoo.de
3.31
1.06
3.93
1.18
3.51
1.15
http://www.mobile.de
3.53
0.78
4.50
1.30
3.98
0.93
Entertainment websites
http://de.youtube.com
3.92
1.40
4.51
1.67
4.49
1.21
http://www.myspass.de
3.42
1.20
4.04
1.48
4.25
1.16
http://www.promi-star.de
3.50
1.04
5.31
1.34
3.79
1.16
http://www.spiele-zone.de
3.98
1.18
5.70
1.13
4.90
1.33
http://www.wow-europe.com/de/index.xml
2.72
0.83
4.17
1.56
4.10
1.19
E-learning websites
http://ihk.elearningspace.de
3.83
0.97
4.24
1.96
3.70
1.02
http://www.bildung.at
3.58
1.02
4.20
1.87
4.19
1.30
http://www.elearningeuropa.info
3.61
1.47
4.53
1.37
4.78
1.42
http://www.moodle.de
4.41
0.71
5.24
0.85
4.40
1.06
http://www.sgd.de
4.14
1.15
4.80
1.63
3.85
1.46
E-recruiting websites
http://www.jobpilot.de
4.18
1.00
5.01
1.36
4.14
1.20
http://www.jobscout24.de
4.16
1.26
4.89
1.43
4.13
1.29
http://www.jobware.de
4.03
0.81
5.00
0.84
4.51
0.31
http://www.monster.de
3.45
1.06
3.45
1.27
3.42
1.41
http://www.stepstone.de
3.15
1.32
2.61
1.26
2.72
1.00
Information and news websites
http://de.wikipedia.org
5.60
0.90
4.91
1.41
4.63
1.20
http://www.faz.net
4.67
0.95
5.11
1.26
4.74
1.44
http://www.n-tv.de
4.07
0.85
3.79
1.07
3.88
0.74
http://www.sueddeutsche.de
4.50
0.89
4.83
1.83
4.39
1.66
http://www.stern.de
3.95
1.12
4.09
1.55
3.96
0.99
Web portals
http://www.aol.de
2.78
0.65
3.71
1.50
3.28
1.00
http://www.freenet.de
2.45
0.82
2.81
1.15
3.05
1.01
http://www.gmx.de
3.45
1.03
4.08
1.42
4.08
0.98
http://www.t-online.de
2.85
0.66
2.95
1.30
2.96
0.71
http://www.web.de
3.51
0.72
4.07
1.50
3.86
0.95
Corporate websites
http://www.bayer.de
3.44
1.07
3.26
1.58
4.20
1.26
http://www.bertelsmann.de
3.66
0.94
4.49
1.45
4.25
0.98
http://www.daimler.com/dccom/home/de
3.76
0.94
5.14
0.81
4.86
1.02
http://www.dseurope.ag
3.04
1.39
4.32
1.41
4.22
0.95
http://www.hochtief.de
3.58
0.98
4.21
1.48
4.49
1.20
Search engines
http://www.de.altavista.com
3.62
1.06
5.49
1.00
4.09
1.29
http://www.fireball.de
3.84
0.82
5.43
1.53
3.57
1.12
http://www.google.de
4.64
1.13
6.04
1.16
4.55
1.12
Total mean
3.69
1.17
4.35
1.58
3.99
1.21
Note. Participants (N = 512) answered on a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7
(“strongly agree”).
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