WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — J.D. Power and Associates’ semiannual 2011 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study (MWES) found that Website appearance drives many brand-level increases and decreases in shopper satisfaction with automotive manufacturer Websites.

The study indicated that many of the automotive brands that have experienced significant improvements in overall satisfaction from the prior wave have also made considerable gains in the appearance measure.

Some of the brands’ changes to the appearance of their Websites include reducing the amount of visual clutter on the home page, streamlining the main models menu, using larger font sizes for menus and more space for links, improving content organization and incorporating the effective use of accent colors.

“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 Website doesn’t necessarily have to entail an expensive, time-consuming site redesign.”

The MWES study measures the usefulness of automotive manufacturer Websites during the new-vehicle shopping process in four key areas: appearance, speed, navigation and information/content.

The study also indicated 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 Website appearance, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Some of these changes included incorporating darker colors into site design schemes and removing colorful 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,” Walker said.

Honda ranked highest among automotive manufacturer Websites for usefulness in new-vehicle shopping for a third consecutive time. The company also achieved an index score of 821 on a 1,000-point scale and performed particularly well in the information/content, navigation and speed categories. Following Honda in the rankings are Ford, Lincoln, Nissan and Porsche in a four-way tie (809 each).

The MWES study was fielded in May 2011 and is based on evaluations from more than 10,400 new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months.