Westlake Village, California – Web site appearance – including design elements and color schemes – is driving many brand-level increases and decreases in shopper satisfaction with automotive manufacturer web sites, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study (MWES)—Wave 2 released on Tuesday.

The semi-annual study, now in its 12th year, measures the usefulness of U.S. automotive manufacturer web sites during the new-vehicle shopping process. New-vehicle shoppers evaluate web sites in four key areas: appearance, speed, navigation and information/content.

“Aside from attracting shoppers through aesthetic appeal, well-thought-out aspects of website appearance can also enhance website navigation and the speed with which shoppers locate the specific content they want,” said Arianne Walker, director of marketing and media research at J.D. Power and Associates. “Some of the most effective changes in this wave were relatively minor ones, so enhancing the appearance of a web site doesn’t necessarily have to entail an expensive, time-consuming site redesign.”

The study also found that many of the brands with the greatest declines in overall satisfaction from six months ago have introduced changes that have resulted in lower satisfaction with web site appearance. Some of these changes include incorporating darker colours into site design schemes and removing colourful accents from model pages.

“Website appearance will continue to be an important part of the overall design strategy as manufacturers execute their site designs across multiple platforms, including mobile devices and tablet computers,” said Walker.

In the U.S., Honda ranks highest among automotive manufacturer web sites for usefulness in new-vehicle shopping for a third consecutive time. Honda achieves an index score of 821 on a 1,000-point scale and performs particularly well in three of four measures: information/content, navigation and speed. Following Honda in the rankings are Ford, Lincoln, Nissan and Porsche, in a four-way tie (809 each).

The 2011 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study—Wave 2 is based on evaluations from more than 10,400 U.S. new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was fielded in May, 2011.

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