The importance of download speed, for most Web users, has long been established (King 2008). Fast response times foster higher flow states (Skadberg & Kimmel 2004), higher conversion rates (Akamai 2007), higher perceived trustworthiness (Nielsen 1999), and lower user frustration (Ceaparu et al. 2004). But, previous research has also found that differences in gender, age and computer self-efficacy can moderate user priorities. This article explores the differences among men and women in their desire for speed.
In a survey of 301 undergraduates on the importance of different web usability criteria, researchers from Southern Illinois University found that after ease of use, men prefer fast download speed over easy navigation (Pearson & Pearson 2008). Women prefer ease of use, easy navigation, and accessibility. Figure 1 shows the differences among genders for the most important factors in assessing web usability.
Not surprisingly, both genders agree that ease of use is the most important factor in assessing website usability (beta of 1.56-1.75). It is in the second-most important factor that gender differences come into play. Men prefer fast download speeds second (1.33), while women prefer easy navigation (1.41). Customization was found to be the least important factor in web usability (0.66-0.69), consistent with a previous design factors research.
The researchers hypothesize that these gender differences are due to the fact that women use the Web to develop relationships while men use the Web for information gathering. Fast download speeds make searching for information online more efficient.
Among all respondents, ease of use was found to be the most important factor in evaluating website usability (1.54 relative importance). Intuitive navigation was second at 1.3, while accessibility came in third at 1.25. Download speed came in fourth at 1.06 and customization/personalization came in last (0.72 relative importance). Customization was less than half as important as ease of use in evaluating website usability.
We asked one of the authors of the study about betas and what surpised them the most about their results.
"Beta weights are used to determine the relative importance i.e. stronger betas (higher values) would indicate that the decision maker places more emphasis on that criteria (relative importance) - weaker betas (lower values) would indicate that the decision maker does not consider that criteria important in the decision making process.
The thing I found most surprising was the relative lack of importance the respondents placed on personalization / customization. With all the advertising out there about how easy it is to customize applications, I would have thought this construct would have been very important. The only explanation I can come up with for men is that we tend to be impatient, while women don't want the task to be difficult. Some related work that I am familiar with (my wife's doing the study) supports the findings of this paper; personalization features provided by companies were rated as less important that basic shopping functions like search, easy purchase, handling returns, and a function to get rid of product after usefulness is gone (if appropriate - think selling a book back or getting rid of an old washer or dryer)." - John Pearson
The findings of this study suggest that the most important factor in web design is ease of use. While intuitive navigation is certainly important, designers should consider the demographics of their user base. Females prefer easy navigation and accessibility, while males prefer faster download speeds and easy navigation. Customization and personalization were found to be the least important factors in evaluating website usability. The five criteria in this study explained 65 percent of the variation in the respondents assessment of website usability. Further research will need to be done to elucidate the remaining 35%.
By website optimization on 28 Apr 2009 AM