siteIQ - The Business of the Web

The 2013 Usability Top 10: IBM leads, SAP soars, and Apple screws up the rankings

siteIQ Index Top 10

One of the things I like best about our annual Website rankings is that they always show me what’s really going on in the neighborhood. The real impact of new designs and strategies. Where teams have put their time and treasure – and whether it is paying off.

This year is no exception.


Well it’s that time of year again when we announce the results from our evaluations of 23 Websites on the siteIQ eBusiness Index.This year we changed up the roster of Websites (including adding everybody’s darling, Apple.com), added social media metrics to the benchmark, and changed how we calculated usability rankings so that small but mighty sites have a fighting chance.

This year I had three burning questions:

  1. Is the new generation of “less is more” designs just a new type of pretty face – or do they really improve a site’s effectiveness and usability?
  2. What is the fate of sites that have ignored these new designs in favor of pushing peas around the plate? Is business as usual having an impact on their competitive rankings and usability scores?
  3. How does Apple.com really compete when it is directly compared to other IT sites? Where are its sweet spots – and what can other Web teams learn?

The simple answers to these questions are – yes — yes – and really well.

Which brings me to the next question. How did these and other trends affect the Top 10 Usability rankings? Let’s just say the sites that were the busiest last year—plus the addition of usability darling Apple.com—really shook up the status quo. Here’s why.


New designs are paying off

If you look at this year’s Top 10, you’ll see that sites pursuing a variety of new “less is more” designs gained ground this year.

  • EMC.com’s wholesale revamp and keen attention to social media practices kicked it up 2 spots to 8th place.
  • Oracle.com’s current work in progress and stellar showing in the social media rankings bumped it up a notch to land in 7th place.
  • IBM.com, who jumped on the new design bandwagon in late 2011 hit a triple. Software Group (#3) and Global Services (#11) gained ranking ground, and the IBM.com mother ship retained its slot at the top of the rankings.
  • The real story this year is SAP.com, who executed nothing less than a ranking trifecta. It jumped from #14 to #9 on the overall Index and its content & features portfolio also ranks in the Top 10. More importantly, as you’ll see below, SAP.com’s usability ranking skyrocketed from #17 to #12. If it tackles a couple of challenges, it could easily end up in the Top 10 next year.

OK, so it’s technically the siteIQ Top 10 – but this year’s story wouldn’t be complete without a nod to SAP.com’s astonishing rise in the rankings to #12. Meanwhile, the IBM.com Centennial redesign is keeping the mother ship at the head of the pack – and boosting the Software Group and Global Services sites’ rankings for good measure.


Apple.com is both more – and less – than you might think

Apple.com had an impressive debut on the Index this year. Overall, it ranks 11th —  slightly ahead of Microsoft.com. Usability is, not surprisingly, Apple’s forte.

Among the 23 sites in our study, Apple.com’s usability debuted at #4 and it is only one of four sites that achieves a good practice rating.

If you’ve spent any quality time on Apple.com its usability claims to fame won’t surprise you. They lie in three key areas:

        1. Content that is easy to understand (ranks #1);
        2. The site’s innovation and consistency (ranks #6); and
        3. Powerful calls to action and purchasing behaviors (also ranks #6).

2013 | What's the point of having content if your visitors can't understand what you are saying? That's not the problem at Apple.com which debuted at #1 -- and made everyone else's rankings drop like balls down a pachinko machine.

That’s not to say that Apple.com is perfect. Despite its reputation as a design and usability star, Apple.com does have some interesting shortcomings. For example, the site’s silo architecture is less than logical, information is not particularly easy to find (both rank #16) — and content is hardly complete or thorough (ranks #14).

If you made an apples to apples comparison (sorry, couldn’t resist) to competitive sites, these flaws would signal real trouble ahead. But Apple’s unique business and Website strategy make these deficits little more than a flesh wound.


Standing pat is a (really) bad decision

If there’s one thing this year’s rankings prove, it’s that this is a tough crowd to compete with.

Take HP.com, for example. In 2010, HP.com’s usability ranked 9th — and it had placed in the Top 10 for almost a decade. Today, this site’s disjointed slow motion roll out handed it 14th place – down from 11th last year. As important, its Software, Networking and Home/Home Office zones all debuted at the bottom of the list.

Which brings us to the sites that spent 2012 working around the edges or pushing the proverbial peas around the plate.

Within this group, Dell.com, Symantec.com, Adobe.com, Intel.com, and Accenture.com all saw their usability rankings drop dramatically – although Symantec.com and Accenture.com did squeak onto the Top 10 list. Dell.com didn’t fare as well; it dropped from #9 to #13.

Finally, we come to Cisco.com, who lost its top tier ranking due to an interesting set of dynamics; its remarkably thin social media footprint (an IBM and CA forte) — and the fact that Apple.com debuted in 4th place.


Lessons Learned

So what can we learn from this year’s usability rankings? Three things.

  1. Sites that haven’t embraced the “less is more” design revolution need to get religion – and fast. Old designs can’t compete with the improved usability these new designs are delivering.
  2. Apple.com is a perfect muse if you want to create a delightful user experience, but you follow its architecture and content strategies at your own risk.
  3. Learn from HP.com. You can’t execute a revolution unless all of your stakeholders are singing from the same hymn book — and sitting in the same church.

Next Steps:

Reports related to this research:

Buy the Report 2012 Website Usability & Effectiveness Report

Become a Website Best Practices Expert

Get instant access to 20 of our most popular case studies and reports.

Register for your Guest Membership today …

its-free-gray

Learn More about Your Membership

I focus on strategy and trends – and how the Web turns business rules on their heads. My job is to identify the Web-related trends and best practices that will change your world over the next 18 months. Where you need to cut through the clutter of conventional wisdom. How to change the competitive rules of the game. More gory details in my profile -- and unvarnished opinions about the sites we evaluate on Google+

Tell Us What You Think