NewsBooking.com first, Ryanair last in UK website usability studyThis article was originally published onBy Dennis Schaal | March 22, 2011 When it comes to website usability, from search results to the booking process, Booking.com topped the list and Ryanair came in last among 51 UK websites analyzed by eDigitalResearch.Of Booking.com, the eTravel Benchmark March 2011 survey found that "the site performs strongly across all areas of the customer journey, but particularly for initial research and search. The site returned a large amount of relevant results through its search function, providing all the information required to inform a purchase decision."Ryanair's low scores landed it in the "poor" category. In general, sites rated poor "are not available or not useful and difficult to follow," the survey says. "Difficult to use. Slow and contains mistakes. Will be adversely affecting user experience."Part of the reason Ryanair scored so poorly is because its website doesn't offer email customer service, but that is only part of the story.An eDigitalResearch spokeswoman says Ryanair's scores were "consistently low" across all the other categories tested.Of the 51 websites reviewed, Ryanair's homepage was 51st, the website came in 44th for initial search, 30th in search, 44th in search results, 49th in its booking process and 45th in telephone customer service.This eTravel Benchmark survey was the sixth in a series, which began in June 2009. The methodology is that eDigital Research hires eMystery Shoppers to study each website's "usability, functionality, supporting logistics and customer service," the company says.The researchers gauge first impressions (clear layout, easy searching, consistent message), initial search, search, search results, email customer services, telephone customer services and the booking process.The 51 websites under the microscope included 11 airlines, 5 hotel agents, 6 hotel chains, 8 online travel agencies, 6 tour operators, 6 cruise lines and 9 holiday camps and self-catering websites.OK, here's the order of finish, based on percentage scores:1. Booking.com2. Keycamp3. Hoseasons Lodges4. Kuoni5. Butlins5. Canvas Holidays (tied with Butlins)7. Monarch8. Center Parcs8. Haven (tied with Center Parcs)10. LateRooms.com11. Eurocamp12. Hotels.com13. Cottages4you13. Expedia (as a hotel agent)13. British Airways (tied with Cottages4you and Expedia)16. Virgin Holidays17. Last Minute (as online travel agency)18. Premier Inn19. Thomson Flights20. Hayes & Jarvis21. Thomas Cook22. The Cooperative Travel23. Last Minute (as hotel agent)23. Princess Cruises (tied with Last Minute as hotel agent)25. Royal Caribbean Cruises26. Expedia (as an OTA)26. Virgin Atlantic (tied with Expedia as an OTA)28. P&O Cruises29. Lufthansa30. Opodo31. Celebrity Cruises32. Thomson Holidays33. Pontins34. BMI35. Hilton36. Flybe37. Voyages Jules Verne38. easyJet39. Cunard40. First Choice41. De Vere42. Fred Olsen43. Travel Republic44. eBookers45. ontheBeach.co.uk46. bmibaby47. Thistle48. Holiday Inn49. Travelodge50. Jet251 RyanairAmong other findings from the survey, hotels as a group was the poorest performing sector. Their websites often lacked such basics as FAQs and their email customer service performed subpar.The highest-performing sector was holiday camps & self-catering, and Keycamp (No. 2) was the top-performer in the sector. Holiday camps & self-catering took top marks in four of the six categories, namely, first impressions, initial research, booking process and customer services.Tour operator Kuoni climbed 23 places to No. 4 since the previous survey. Kuoni's booking process, "was broken into clear stages and provided options to personalize the booking," and took first place in the booking process category, the survey found.eDigital Research offered a number of best practices. Among them: First impressions: "Homepage needs to convey clear offer and encourage further search." The homepages of the low-scoring websites were "overwhelming and confusing."Initial search: Defined by ease of navigation, plenty of search options and ease of access to a FAQs section.Search: Consumers expect to be able modify their search according to their preferences. Low-scoring websites lacked keyword search and "intuitive search function."Search results: There should be customer reviews, relevant results and transparent pricing. Low-scoring websites lacked price breakdowns and didn't have user-written reviews.Email customer services: The contact method has to be easy and responses should be "prompt and professional." For low-scoring websites, contact information was difficult to find and there was a lack of response to emails.Telephone customer services: Consumers shouldn't have to wait forever on the phone, and agents should be able to answer specific questions. Long wait times and difficulty in finding phone numbers characterized low-scoring websites.Booking process: Websites should arm consumers with the ability to change their options before completing the booking and the process shouldn't require human intervention on the part of the company. Low-scoring websites had booking processes that weren't intuitive and often couldn't be completed online.Note: For a copy of the survey, you can fill out this form.