Home » Home Page Usability and Credibility Survey – Fortune 30 versus Inc. fastest growing companies

Home Page Usability and Credibility Survey – Fortune 30 versus Inc. fastest growing companies


A usability survey revealed that high growth companies are not evaluating and improving their home page designs in a systematic way. By comparing the home pages of the Fortune 30 against Inc Magazine’s fastest growing companies, researchers from Minnesota State University found the Fortune 30 had a usability score over 36% higher than the fast growing companies.

The key to fast growth online is rapid customer responsiveness (Weill and Ross 2004). How a company executes its own web site is one indicator of how a company executes IT projects and values customer responsiveness. In order to determine the usability and credibility of top websites, researches from Minnesota State University compared the home pages of the fastest growing companies against the Fortune 30 (Brown, Rahman, & Hacker 2006). The researchers found that the largest companies in the US used designs that were more consistent than the fastest growing companies, as defined by Nielsen and Tahir’s best practices (2001). The fastest growing company home pages fared significantly worse in performance metrics.

Home Page Usability Guidelines

Usability guidelines are generally derived from empirical studies, HCI research, and long years of experience. Schneiderman’s “golden rules” of consistency are access to shortcuts and easy navigation, informative feedback, closure seeking dialog, error prevention and handling, easy reversal of actions, internal locus of control, and reduction of short-term memory load (Scheiderman 2004). Scheiderman and Nielsen (2001) promote measurable goals, adding ease of learning, retention of learning, speed of task completion, minimal error rates, and user satisfaction. Unfortunately surveys of usability guidelines have found little consistency among these rules.

Credibility meets Usability Guidelines

However, Brown and company found that the guidelines proposed by B. J. Fogg’s credibility lab (2002) were mainly consistent with the home page guidelines of Niesen and Tahir (2001). The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab issued the following ten web site design guidelines:

  1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site
  2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site
  3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you
  4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site
  5. Make it easy to contact you
  6. Design your site so it looks professional
  7. Make your site easy to use and useful
  8. Update the site’s content often
  9. Use restraint with ads and offers
  10. Avoid errors of all types

The researchers adopted the guidelines of Nielsen and Tahir (2001) to test the Fortune 30 against the fastest growing company home pages for design consistency and usability. A total of 60 home pages were tested using quantifiable metrics. The Fortune 30 home pages tested were as follows:

  1. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
  2. Exxon Mobil Corp.
  3. General Motors Corp.
  4. Ford Motor Co.
  5. General Electric Co.
  6. ChevronTexaco Corp.
  7. ConocoPhillips
  8. Citigroup Inc.
  9. International Business Machines Corp.
  10. American International Group, Inc.
  11. Hewlett-Packard Co.
  12. Verizon Communications Inc.
  13. The Home Depot Inc.
  14. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
  15. Altria Group Inc.
  1. McKesson Corp.
  2. Cardinal Health Inc.
  3. State Farm Insurance Co.
  4. The Kroger Co.
  5. Fannie Mae
  6. The Boeing Co.
  7. AmerisourceBergen Corp.
  8. Target Corp.
  9. Bank of America Corp.
  10. Pfizer Inc.
  11. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
  12. Time Warner Inc.
  13. The Procter & Gamble Co.
  14. Costco Wholesale Corp.
  15. Johnson & Johnson

The top 30 fastest growing companies were from Inc. Magazine’s 2004 edition, listed as follows:

  1. InPhonic – Washington, DC
  2. uSight – Orem, UT
  3. VCustomer – Seattle, WA
  4. SeamlessWeb – New York City, NY
  5. Liquidnet – New York City, NY
  6. METI – El Paso, TX
  7. Sullivan International Group – San Diego, CA
  8. Go Daddy Group – Scottsdale, AZ
  9. Stentor – Brisbane, CA
  10. Coventry First – Fort Washington, PA
  11. Enterprise Information Management – Lanoka Harbor, NJ
  12. NetSuite – San Mateo, CA
  13. DSL Extreme – Canoga Park, CA
  14. SecureInfo – San Antonio, TX
  15. Zappos.com – Las Vegas, CA
  1. Commodity Sourcing Group – Detroit, MI
  2. C&S Marketing – Sacramento, CA
  3. CodeCorrect – Yakima, WA
  4. Telesis – Rockville, MD
  5. Atrilogy Solutions Group – Irvine, CA
  6. Red F – Charlotte, NC
  7. ScripNet – Las Vegas, NV
  8. Lydian Trust – Palm Beach, FL
  9. Khimetrics – Scottsdale, AZ
  10. PaySource – Dayton, OH
  11. 2Wire – San Jose, CA
  12. Atlantic Credit & Finance – Roanoke, VA
  13. New Edge Networks – Vancouver, WA
  14. Preferred Systems Solutions – Fairfax, VA

High Visibility means High Maintenance?

Since the home page of a top website is the most visible aspect of a company, you would assume that management would periodically review the design and usability of their home page and it would represent a consensus view among said management. The researchers assumed that observations about home page design would provide some insights into IT governance. Fortune 30 companies undoubtedly have more resources to devote to usability testing and improvements than smaller fast growing companies. About 40 guidelines from Nielsen and Tahir (2001) were used to assess the usability of these top company home pages. Nielsen and Tahir found that only 28% of the top 50 home pages tested complied with the download time criteria (see Table 1).

Table 1: Usability Trends in 50 High Profile Sites

Guidelines Recommended Design Weight* Trends in 50 High Profile Sites
Download Time At most 10 seconds at the prevalent connection speed 3 28 percent
Liquid Layout Liquid = the page will expand to conform to any monitor size. Not fixed width 2 18 percent
Page Length One or two full screens is best. No more than three full screens 3 Median = 2 screens
No frames No 3 96%
No routing page No 2 100%
No splash page No 3 94 percent
No auto playing music No 3 96 percent
No animation No 2 70%
*Notes: 3 is the most important, 1 is the least important
Source: Nielsen and Tahir (2001)

Fortune 30 versus Inc’s Fastest Growing Company Home Pages

Table 2 shows the usability ratings with significant differences between the Fortune 30 and Inc’s fastest growting companies for Nielsen and Tahir’s usability guidelines. Scores for “logo size” and “liquid layout” were significantly higher for the top 30 of Inc’s list of high growth companies compared to the Fortune 30.

Table 2: Summary of usability guidelines for 60 High Profile Home Pages

Categories Fortune 30 Top 30 Inc. Sites
Mean SD Mean SD
Download time 2.80 0.76 2.00 1.44
Liquid layout 0.73 0.98 1.47 0.90
No-frames 2.90 0.55 2.40 1.22
Logo size 0.73 0.98 1.27 0.98
Search 2.70 0.92 0.50 1.14
Search placement 1.90 1.47 0.30 0.92
Search box color 2.70 0.92 0.50 1.14
Search button 0.93 1.01 0.07 0.37
Width of search box 0.40 0.81 0.00 0.00
Type of search 1.67 0.76 0.33 0.76
Footer navigation links 0.73 0.45 0.33 0.48
Sitemap link 1.73 0.69 0.40 0.81
About the company 2.70 0.92 2.30 1.29
Privacy policy 2.90 0.55 1.20 1.49
Name of privacy link 0.60 0.93 0.67 0.96
Job openings 1.80 0.61 1.07 1.01
Advertising 1.80 0.61 0.93 1.01
Background color 1.87 0.51 1.33 0.96
Link underlining 1.93 0.37 1.53 0.86
Total 63.17 8.20 46.37 2.21
This table shows summary of mean and standard deviations for usability guidelines with significant differences

Overall, the Fortune 30 fared better than the fastest growing companies, with usability scores significantly higher for the following measures:

  • Download time
  • No-frames
  • Search
  • Search placement
  • Search box color
  • Search button
  • Width of search box
  • Type of search
  • Footer navigation links
  • Sitemap link
  • Privacy policy
  • Job openings
  • Advertising
  • Background color
  • Link underlining

In fact, five of the 40 categories account for almost all the differences:

  1. Liquid layout
  2. Download time
  3. Search features
  4. Common features
  5. Advertising

Inc’s top 30 did not use the search function as frequently as the Fortune 30 and required users to use other navigation. Common navigational elements like “Sitemap” and “About the Company” were significantly lower for the high growth list. Download time scores for the Fortune 30 were significantly higher than the Inc 30 (2.8 versus 2.0 out of 3). Among the top five usability categories only liquid layout was higher in the fastest growing companies, with a score of 1.47 versus 0.73 for the Fortune 30.


This usability survey shows that high growth companies are not evaluating and improving their home page designs in a systematic way. The Fortune 30 companies overall usability score of 63.17 was over 36% higher than the 46.37 total score for the fastest growing companies. The download time scores were significantly lower for the fastest growing companies versus the Fortune 30. Perhaps fast growth redirects resources towards maintaining high growth rates and sales, with less focus on maintaining high website usability. Web-based companies would do well to follow the Fortune 30 example of devoting resources towards measuring and improving the usability of their home pages, and thus their entire websites.


  1. Brown, W., Rahman, M. & T. Hacker (2006), “Home page usability and
    credibility: A comparison of the fastest growing companies to the Fortune 30 and the implications to IT governance,” Compared web site designs used by the fastest growing companies in the USA to the largest companies in the USA and benchmarked those designs against best practices as defined by Nielsen and Tahir.
  2. Fogg, B.J. (2002), “Stanford guidelines for web credibility,” A summary of credibility guidelines from the
    Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
  3. Fogg, B.J. (2003), Persuasive Technology, Using Computers to Change What we Think and Do,
    Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco, CA.
  4. Nielsen, J. and Tahir (2001), Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, New Riders Press,
    Indianapolis, IN.
  5. Shneiderman, B. (2004), Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer
    Interaction, 4th ed.
    , Addison-Wesley Longman, Reading, MA.
  6. Weill, P. and Ross, J. (2004), IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for
    Superior Results
    , Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

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