A study of automotive website usability has named the Audi website as the best by a manufacturer, with Volvo and Mini the runners up.

The eDigitalResearch study was commissioned by Auto Trader, and looks at various features of car websites, including selector tools and customer service options.

I’ve been looking at some of the winners’ websites…

Homepages

Audi was voted best manufacturer website overall, and also came top in the new car configurator category. It’s homepage didn’t win any prizes though, and it does seem confusing at first glance:

Audi homepage

Perhaps its just me, though I did try the page in several browsers, but there is a large blank area on the page, which doesn’t give a great impression to visitors.

The navigational options are also confusing, and don’t stand out from the background of the page. Also, putting the navigational bar on the right hand side of the page, rather than the where web users would normally expect to find it, doesn’t seem to serve any purpose, and just makes it slightly harder to spot.

The car configurator search box is made more difficult to find, since it is placed further down the page, and blends into the background. Better placement and use of colour and contrast would make it much easier for users to find what they want from the homepage.

By contrast, the Kia homepage uses colour to make navigational options stand out better, though the Flash display can take an extra few seconds to load:

The navigation is an improvement on the Audi website, no side bar is used here, and the top menu options are clear.

I also like the mega drop down menus which show images of cars to aid navigation, as well as showing all the options without the need for any scrolling:

Car configurator tools

Having looked at car comparison tools a few months ago, finding some good examples from Ford and Vauxhall in the UK, and even better ones from US manufacturers’ websites, the examples from Audi and Kia are slightly disappointing.

Audi’s configurator doesn’t use filtering options such as fuel economy and emissions to help users narrow their selection, and instead sticks to model and body style, which doesn’t do much to aid customers in their decision making:

There are some nice touches though, such as the interactive images which allow the user to see how different colours and accessories look in both the exterior and interior of the cars:

Once users have gone through the five step process and configured their car though, the call to action at the end is weak, just offering the option of sending the design to a friend or printing it out:

Since a reasonable amount of time and effort has been invested by users to this point, something which indicates a reasonable degree of interest in the car, then the option of finding a local dealer or booking a test drive should be provided to make the most of the tool to generate leads.

Kia’s selector tool does better in providing options such as comparing models for fuel economy and CO2 emissions:

The Audi selector is more appealing visually, but the Kia tool does do much better with its call to actions at the end, providing customers with the choice of sending the design to a dealer:

I think both these manufacturers could learn from some US websites, such as those from Toyota and Jeep, which provide more comprehensive selector tools for users, even to the extend of comparing models with those from competitors.

A lot manufacturers could do a better job of aiding customer research, by making sure that their sites have all the necessary resources that customers need,
including the views of other car-buyers, something none of the UK manufacturers’ websites currently do.