Study gets under the hood of NZ’s most popular websites and finds many flouting the rules of engagement

We New Zealanders like to think of ourselves as fairly tech-savvy bunch of early adopters, and while there is no doubt the digital realm is rapidly expanding here—both in terms of overall internet use and as an advertising medium—a study of 50 of the country’s most popular websites to see how they took advantage of interactive tools such as blogs, social media and online communities has found many of them are still stuck in the Web 1.0 era and are not doing enough to engage and interact with their customers online. 

Intergen’s The Engaged Web in New Zealand Report, which is based on previous studies completed by its partner web content management provider EPiServer in the United Kingdom and Australia, used 19 criteria to benchmark the five most visited websites in New Zealand in ten different industries according to data from Experian Hitwise’s online tracker for the week commencing 12 February.

In general, the websites made strong use of multimedia (100 percent), personalisation (86 percent) and sticky content (98 percent), but lacked other forms of engagement.

Email, phone and web forms were still the most commonly advertised contact channels and 60 percent of the sites promoted their Facebook page on their homepage. 

73 percent of the benchmarked websites featured an online community, with the majority of these using Facebook or Twitter. But 46 percent of these major sites did not have a blog, just 42 percent allowed visitors to share website content and only 12 percent allowed visitors to ‘rate & tag’ content, showing that many of them did not actively encourage visitor interaction or opinion, or allow visitors to ‘share’ their content to a broader audience.

“These were some of New Zealand’s most popular websites [for example, TradeMe, Stuff, nzherald.co.nz, AA, ASB, BNZ, ANZ, TVNZ, TV3, MetService, NZDating and GrabOne]. They attract huge audiences, but in some cases they aren’t allowing users to interact through the tools many people would expect such as blogs, communities or social media,” Intergen’s web strategist Giles Brown says. “The best websites are those that stay restless and continually improve themselves. There is no such thing as a finished website, and these interactive tools allow businesses to constantly update their content and engage with their audience. In many ways, launching or relaunching your site is easy, it’s what’s you do in the weeks and months that follow that counts.”

Entertainment, Shopping and Classifieds, and News and Media websites were most likely to have engaging features, while Government and Food and Beverage sector websites were found to be less engaging.

Of the websites assessed, not one Government website featured a blog, or allowed visitors to ‘share’ or ‘rate & tag’ content and only one Government site offered some sort of online community. There are plenty of government websites that adopt these engagement tools but the most highly trafficked for 2011 did not make use of them. Of course, when accurate information needs to be disseminated, this is probably a smart move, because the study showed that of the websites that did have some form of online community, the community answered questions more often than the organisation.

While Brown says there are plenty of excellent websites [the study aimed to show overall trends, but the full report does point to some best practices, with WeightWatchers.co.nz seen as a great example of the use of online communities, ASB’s www.creatingfutures.co.nz praised for making great use of rich media content, TradeMe.co.nz excelling at personalisation and GrabOne.co.nz using social media effectively], many organisations are still stuck in a ‘project delivery’ mindset, where their website is seen as something they ‘do’ rather than something they should ‘nurture and grow’. Of course, a company that builds websites and offers IT services would say that, but he believes this is a dangerous position to be in.

“The online environment is an incredibly fickle and transitory place, so if your website isn’t moving with your audience, they can and will go elsewhere.”

Christian Sykes, Experian Hitwise New Zealand, says online has gained tremendous growth in the past 6-12 months here and as it continues to outpace the growth of other sales channels, “the commercial significance of providing customers with an effective and engaging digital experience can’t be overstated”.

You can download report and factsheet from www.intergen.co.nz/engagedweb.

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