Why Journalists Leave Websites

by Hoa Loranger and Kara Pernice on January 19, 2009

Summary: 22 case studies of failed PR information on corporate websites, with examples of when journalists decided to leave a site during story research.

This article is excerpted from the report on PR on Websites. (The full report is available as a free download.)
See also: summary of this research on how journalists use PR sites.

Journalists stressed the importance of having good corporate websites. They were also quick to point out that they have many other sources and methods for researching their stories. And even when testing the sites in our study, at some point in every session, each journalist said they would call the company, specifically the PR department, either to get information they could not find on the website or to confirm information they did find.

  • “I would always call to get a live person. With e-mail, some people don’t read it immediately.”

At least once in every session, journalists either left sites, or said they wanted to leave them, when they couldn’t find information or they got frustrated with the interface.

At least once in every session, journalists left the company’s website and turned to another Web source (usually a search engine; sometimes another newspaper or magazine) to find information about a company. Journalists always plan to leave your site to do some research about your company. They need outside sources. The more you can direct them to those sources, such as news articles, the better.

  • “I’d have to look at different sources. For example, there are sources for students that tell what companies not to join or do business with because they are not socially responsible...”
  • “There is no substitute for talking to people. Talk to market analysts and fund people. Two reasons: one, fully up to date, and two, they have already done expert analysis. ... I think the idea that someone is going to go to a company’s website and write an article sounds kind of unlikely.”
  • “The only thing about doing research on the website is at some point I will want to look for the contrary point. I don’t expect to find that information on the website. As a journalist, I will want to go to another place to get that contrary position.”
  • “It’s often best to get the information from other places besides the company you are looking for.”
  • “I look for reviews of the products. Follow the links to magazines then start. I expect the magazine to have other reviews of this or similar products ... news about the company.”

The following table describes when journalists left individual sites in our various rounds of user testing or said that they wanted to leave a site.

Research Round 1: Reasons for Leaving or Wanting to Leave a Website
Website Reason Journalist Left the Site
Benetton Financials
“This wasn’t the easiest in the world but it wasn’t hard. Also, I’d go to financial sites now, too.”

To see what others say: “I would go to Google and click some other articles to find out about the company. What others are saying.”

Wanted other reviews, and was annoyed by: the Flash intro, superfluous information, page layout, strange scroll UI for press releases. Went to Google.

View Product (Fall Collection)
Got Shockwave message and said, “I still can’t see it. At this point I would call the PR person. Rather than try to download the Shockwave and keep clicking, I would print this page then look at the main pages for the collections. Get the PR person to Fed Ex me the catalogs. I don’t want to have to print a million pages in color.”

BMW Financials
“This kind of hunt and peck thing is what I don’t like and what keeps me off the Internet. I think it’s a quick thing and then it makes me waste half an hour. Half the time I will just pick up the phone and ask them to call me. I would ask them to mail it to me. I’d rather wait two weeks than spend half an hour here.” Laughed.

Movie file crashed user’s computer: “I am so out of there. I pick up the phone and I call them and ask for a 1999 annual report. I get too irritated.”

Could not find information: “I am already aggravated with this website because I cannot find what I want. I would leave this website.” Went to LexisNexis.

Finding What BMW Stands For
Could not find financial information on the site, so user wanted to look in LexisNexis. She thought she needed the company’s full name to do this, so she went back to bmw.com to find out what BMW stands for. “This is stupid. There is no mention of the name of their company. They are not willing to divulge that. I would just call the PR person now if I could find that.”

PR Contact
Could not find information. “I would look in the Yellow Pages. Actually the Yellow Pages. I might call a dealership if I got no help from the white pages. I would ask for a BMW number to call. I’m not shy about asking for stuff.”

Information about Management
Could not find information. The user went to Google and searched there.

Fidelity Financials
Could not find financials on the site, and said he would trust an outside source more. “I would go back to my Yahoo page and get the financial info there. ... I would also rather get figures from a third party rather than the company itself. A lot of the companies tend to write up these press releases that are uhm... the number will be there, but you’ll have to dig.”

Also could not find financials: “I’ve been browsing the site for 40 minutes now. I would call them and have them fax more or at least tell me where I can find the info on the website. I’m not very patient.”

Press Contact Telephone
Could not find a telephone number. “I’m stuck. I couldn’t find the phone number or the earnings.”

Wanted Links To Organizations They Donate To
“Unfortunately I cannot go in and see what these organizations are about. There are a lot of religious organizations, healthcare, environmental defense fund. I would definitely have clicked on it if there was a link here.”

Information about Management
Could not find the information, and said he would trust an outside source more. “I might try a LexisNexis, I remember reading about a succession question. I would expect it on the company website. I would also use that to counter balance the stuff the company says.”

Merck Other Stories about Managers
Went to Dow Jones Interactive to see if it had other information, find out whether a story had been done recently.

Press Contact
Wanted to call for information because he couldn’t find it on the site.

Got annual report and wanted to move on. “That’s a good start. I’d call up some analysts and get some research reports now, start making phone calls.”

Nokia Product Information
Found some information and was ready to call and follow-up. “I think I would be more inclined to call their PR person and flesh this out. It’s a decent place to start, but I need more.”

Got a little information on Nokia, and wanted more. Went to Google.

Wanted more financial info: “I’d check Standard & Poor’s, NY Stock Exchange, LexisNexis, and call their PR person.”

Discovered that financials are in euro dollars. Went to site to convert to U.S. dollars. “It would piss me off that I had to go convert it. I’d think most places would show in both euro and U.S. dollars.”

To See What Analysts Say about Them/Social-Awareness Information
Could not find information. “The information was completely useless to me. I’d have to call. Hopefully, the press person is knowledgeable. Better for her to refer me to someone I can interview and get some anecdotes.”

Philip Morris Financials
Was frustrated when he couldn’t download the PDF annual report. “That’s annoying. The whole PDF thing. I don’t have a reader. I don’t know where it’s downloading this. If we were doing this, I wouldn’t go on.”

Press Contact
Couldn’t find a phone number. “At this point, it seems they really want a letter, not phone calls. I would use white pages.”

SeeItFirst Financials
Wanted outside sources of information. “Now I would look for something by a business journal about them, like one of the business trades or something.”

Saw the news titles with no links to the articles. “If I were really doing this I would copy the title to a search engine and find it.”

Tellme Social Responsibility
Was going to call a PR contact initially. Went to Google when she couldn’t find the information on the site.

Find Competitors
Looked at a few search engines. “Journalists go by the rule of three. If there was Tellme and two more, you could show it was like a movement.”

Went to Google to find out about reviews and funding.

US Patent and Trademark Office Starting Out
“First reaction: useless. The amount of information on the page is overwhelming. I would call them.”

How to File a Patent and Costs
“I would not look on this site, given there is a complete dearth of common sense about it.”

Looked on the FAQ page, where there was a lot of text that was not bolded or easy to scan. “I see nothing here. I’m gone. The questions assume I already have an application submitted. I would try Google again.” He searched and ended up back on the site at “Who May Apply for a Patent.” Went to Yahoo and searched for an intellectual property law firm.

Budget Information
Could not find it on the site. Went to Google, which brought him to a page on the site with the information.

Lost any hope for finding anything on the site. “I really like using askjeeves.com for really specific questions.” Went to Ask Jeeves and typed “What is the budget of the U.S. patent office?”

Information About the Director
Could not find it on the site. Went to Google, but it did not really help.

Contact Information
Always goes to yellowpages.com. Didn’t really look for it on the site at all.

Wal-Mart Press Contact
Could not find press telephone number. “What I would do is take that 501 area code then call information then get a main number. Then get the press department.”

Management Information
Could not find information about management. “I would check The Wall Street Journal archives. It would be nice to find bios here.”


Research Round 2: Reasons for Leaving or Wanting to Leave a Website
Website Reason Journalist Left the Site
Deutsche Bank Management Information
Was going to call the PR contact when she couldn’t find the name of the chief executive.

Went to Google to find the name of the chief executive.

Expert Opinion
Wanted to call a financial analyst to find out why DB is supporting the Russian economy versus some other country.

GlaxoSmithKline Financials
PR person for income.
Hemscott Management Information
Could not find information about management. Went to Google and typed in the CEO’s name.

Wanted to call an international financial expert.

Pace Micro Technology Background Information
When initially looking for background information, would look at Google and Yahoo, or LexisNexis. Wanted to find newspaper articles about the company.

Called a PR person for background information about what they do.

Not getting enough specific information there, so tried the search engines.

Financial information
Google search.

Social Responsibility
Wanted to call a press person.

Qwest Communications Background Information
When initially looking for background information, would e-mail the PR contact to get some basic background.

Called the PR person to confirm the amount, because wasn’t sure he chose the right one on the site.

State of Maine Background Information
When initially looking for background information, would e-mail the PR contact to get some basic background.

Expert Opinion
Google for information about Maine lobster health.

Tyco (focus on Tyco Electronics) Financials
Couldn’t find the 2001 earnings and wanted to call the PR contact to get them.

Once financials were found, was still not sure about them, so wanted to confirm with a PR person.

Management Information
Was going to call the PR contact when she couldn’t find the bio for the VP of Tyco Electronics.

Went to Google to find the name of the former CEO.

Went to BBC to find the name of the former CEO.

Went to BBC to find information about the scandal.

Social Responsibility
Couldn’t find it on the site, so went to Google.

Couldn’t find it on the site, so went to The Guardian.

Vivendi Universal Information about selling assets
To find an unbiased view of the situation, went to Financial Times website.

Social Responsibility
Google and/or National Union of Students to get an outside opinion.


Research Round 3: Reasons for Leaving or Wanting to Leave a Website
Website Reason Journalist Left the Site
Investopedia First impression
Did not appear reputable. Too much advertising. Could not find an “About Us” section.
Latin American Travel Association Personal information
Required registration and payment to get information.
Continental Another website
Could not find the number of employees. Thinks finding it on Hoover’s website would be easier.
Hilton Stale content
Press releases not current enough.
Esprit Another website
Thinks it’s easier to find financial information on a financial website, such as Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited.
MTV Search
Didn’t see a way to search site.

About Us
Couldn’t find a way to get to corporate information.

An important lesson to keep in mind is that even when journalists used independent search engines, users still blamed the company when they had problems finding information. When users searched elsewhere and could not find the information, they sometimes returned the company site and complained passionately about it. All the frustration they encountered, even on other sites, was directed at the company site.

Users abandon sites when they do not find what they are looking for.  If they absolutely need or want the product or service, they call any phone number they find on the site. What’s different about journalists is that they always plan to call your company – they want to talk to a person and confirm facts or get a quote. Knowing this, sites should clearly present the press contact name and phone number.

This article was excerpted from the report on PR on Websites. (The full report is available as a free download.)
See also: summary of this research on how journalists use PR sites.

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