Last Updated Apr 13, 2011 10:09 PM EDT
Some new research from Harvard Business School points the way to making Web site delays a bit more bearable, and shows how, ironically, they can even be used to improve users' perceptions of a site.
Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton recreated a popular online travel site, but changed all the branding so the test subjects didn't recognize it. They asked the subjects to search for certain plane tickets. Some people got their results immediately, and some had to wait up to a minute for them. While the computer was 'working,' some of the test subjects saw a continually changing list of which sites were being searched, as well as an animation of the fares being 'found.' Others saw just a nondescript progress bar. Participants were then asked a variety of questions about the travel site.
Sites That "Work"
Turns out it pays to answer the question "What is taking so long?" Here's what the researchers found:
- Speed matters. Without being given a progress report, faster is indeed better. People rated the site higher if they got instanteous service rather than having to wait.
- The progress report makes the service seem more valuable. Participants rated the service more valuable, regardless of wait time, if they got a progress report.
- A progress report makes the wait seem worthwhile. People who had to wait 30 to 60 seconds for their results, but who got a progress report, rated the service more highly than people who got their results right away.
- Web sites should show the work. People who saw a list of sites that the travel service would search did think the site was doing more 'work' than people who had no information about how their fares were being found.
- If the service is poor, a progress report doesn't help. The researchers conducted a similar experiment using a fake online dating site. If people didn't like their matches, no amount of progress reports would help. In fact, if people thought their 'best match' was unattractive, the site was rated more favorably if it didn't display a progress report.
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.