Payroll processing companies grow by acquiring new clients. Potential clients may base part of their decision on which company to use by evaluating the usability and functionality of its website. It is therefore important for these companies to design the marketing portion of their websites to attract new customers and give the potential customers the confidence that the site will provide a sufficient level of functionality and will have good attributes of usability. Once the customer engages the services of the company it is likely that the relationship will be based on the marketing portion of the site and likely will continue. In retail-centric websites such as Amazon.com, there is a more equal balance between the importance of the marketing and the transaction portions of the websites in attracting new customers. This is true because there are very low switching costs for retail websites and if either portion is burdensome, customers will be lost to the competition. As Jakob Nielsen describes it, "If you don't find what you want, the competition is only a mouse-click away." (Nielsen, 2000). The same is not as true for payroll processing. Once clients establish a relationship with a vendor, it can be costly and disruptive to switch providers. New systems must be learned, new software installed and the entire payroll must stop at one company and resume at the next immediately. Each employee's personal information will have to be input into the new system. Additionally, the interface portion of the website will be used by those employees that frequently need to communicate data to the payroll company. If the interface has elements that are functional, if somewhat non-user friendly, the users will generally learn the system through a longer learning curve. Once a comfort level with the system is reached, the burden of the learning curve may have the unintended advantage of creating the impression that switching could entail another learning curve. For these reasons a high percentage of business tends to remain with payroll service providers once the relationship is established. This thesis examines the various websites of the online payroll companies that are operating in the U.S. and seeks to define objective criteria for determining the quality and usability of their marketing interfaces from the perspective of a potential customer. I have found that there are specific identifiable elements and heuristics (recognized usability principles) that should be incorporated into the websites of companies in this market segment. Examples of websites that adhere to or fail in the application of the heuristics will be illustrated. I evaluated online payroll processors based on their product offerings (defined as customer goals) and the usability of their websites, applying the Ten Usability Heuristics developed by Jakob Nielsen. The methods I used to accomplish this are as follows. An analysis was made of each website to determine whether the essential functions of a payroll service provider were available. The offering of essential services is the basic level of competence that a payroll processing company must have to be able to serve the needs of customers. Next, a summary of the non-essential services was reviewed. Businesses that properly make available both groups of services should be better able to obtain new customers. After a need fulfillment analysis of the websites was completed, the study then employed a heuristic evaluation of the marketing interfaces of the companies. The marketing interface generally begins with the company's homepage and provides information regarding services offered, news releases and resources relating to payroll. The client interface is distinguished from the marketing portion of the site in that it is only accessible by clients, usually with a password restricted login. This thesis has evaluated the usability attributes of the marketing portion of the website only. Next, an email response study was conducted to test the responsiveness of the payroll companies to an email sent by a potential customer. Finally, a questionnaire was sent to a sample of the companies to better understand the perceived importance of their websites and the efforts expended on the sites. The result of the procedures undertaken was to define criteria that can be used by a website designer who seeks to improve the marketing interface of a payroll company's website. The conclusions may also help guide a manager who has been made responsible for choosing a payroll provider.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Web sites--Design; Internet marketing

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Information Sciences and Technologies (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Information Sciences and Technologies (GCCIS)


Sean Boyle

Advisor/Committee Member

Rayno Niemi

Advisor/Committee Member

James Wesley


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TK5015.888 .P59 2004


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