For all kinds of organizations, websites provide a valuable opportunity to to interact with existing and potential customers, employees, and other interested parties. An organization's website is often the first point of contact for visitors (Schmidt and Ralph 2013). Despite the increased importance of organizational websites, limited research has been conducted to develop an internally consistent, robust measure for website design. Our research is based on over 600 surveys of Inc. Magazine's Top 500 fastest growing companies in the United States. These surveys were used to develop a "best practices" approach for the measurement of effective organizational websites through the use of the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). This provides an internally consistent, robust measure against which an organization's website can be compared.
Organizations recognize the importance of providing a well-designed web presence. Effective website design begins with a framework that is consistent with an organization's overall goals (Simeon 2010). However, many organizations continue to struggle with a strategic analysis of their websites and online presence. Studies exist offering best practices for website standardized technologies and practices (Aladwani and Palvia 2002; Ranganathan and Ganapathy 2002). These studies address structural issues, but not the expectations of the community of stakeholders who access an organization's online presence.
Traditional website design has been focused on in both online B2B (Business-to- Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) organizations. Luo and Duan's (2013) research emphasizes the importance of the organization's online presence and explains that both positive and negative social media has the potential to impact overall firm value. Zavyalova et al. (2012) explains the value of handling social media via an organization's website during times of crisis. In Basdeo's et al's (2006) research, they found that effective organizational websites could mitigate the impact of market actions on firm reputations. A company's website may even impact the perceived difference between actual organizational legitimacy and reputation (Deephouse and Carter, 2005).
Social media has been shown to have a significant impact on investors (Rindova and Maggitti 2008). This influence occurs across business suppliers, retailers, and consumers (Rapp et al 2013). Morgan et al (2012) that the influence of social media is different from traditional media in in quality, reach, frequency, usability, immediacy, and permanence. Despite the fact that many organizations considered Social Media as the province of the young, Curran and Lennon (2013) found that Social Media has significant value for all generations.
The quality of their website design impacts both public and private organizations. Sorum, Andersen, and Clemmensen's (2013) found that the real perception of quality comes from the actual users of the site despite the importance of professional website designers. They found the initial site-congruity and flow to have major influences on how consumers make an initial evaluation of a website. This initial evaluation is important as it is forms the basis of one's behavioral intention to stay on a site or abandon it. The design of a website is key to its success (Cho and Youn-Kyung 2013). Wakefield, Stocks, and Wilder (2004) further explained that overall success was determined by the user's initial positive experience on how they are able to achieve their goals for coming to the website.
Traditional bricks and mortar sites continually fine tune their locations to influence visitors to either linger and browse or not tarry (Clark et al. 2009). They suggest that the organization website is repidly becoming the primary interface with both existing customers and prospective customers. Others such as Li, Guang, and Thatcher (2009) found that the rapid development of user trust would successfully encourage customers and visitors to spend additional time on a website. While they explained that appearance and functionality were important, they also acknowledged their study was limited to the development of what they term "swift trust," and that it failed to consider many other potentially important variables. Brown, Rahman, and Hacker (2006) compared the website designs of the largest companies in the United States to the website designs of the fastest growing companies in the United States. They benchmarked the designs of these companies against "best practices" as defined by a leading consultant. Using this consultant's best practices, they found most of the high growth organizations were not using any type of systematic process to evaluate their homepages.
In this paper the results of using the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to develop a measure that would allow for a systematic process to evaluate web presence is presented. Any number of methods could have been chosen to determine a group of exemplary companies from which to develop a best practices measure. Inc. Magazine's Top 500 list of fastest growing companies from 2012 was chosen because these companies have demonstrated the ability to excel in a challenging economic environment. Their continued growth has shown that they have achieved higher than average performance.
ANALYTIC HIERARCHY PROCESS IN USE
One of the thorniest problems of any business...