At least that's what "Max" says about it.

Max is a computer application built to simulate the Web-browsing habits of the average Joe. His reading speed, his typing speed and even his attention-span mirror those of the average computer user. And as property of Web-site evaluation firm WebCriteria, Max's job is to rate the usability of every site he comes across.

Out of the nine major banks studied last April, FleetBoston's site came in first, scoring an impressive access time of 2.2 minutes. Chase came in last, racking up 3.6 minutes in "average access time"-meaning that it would probably take the average Web visitor that long to find what he was looking for. Wells Fargo, Bank One, PNC Bank and BofA weren't far ahead, each with scores in the three-minute range.

That's too long, according to Dina Nishioka, spokeswoman for Portland, OR-based WebCriteria. The usual e-commerce experience should take about two minutes, she says, although she does give some leeway to bank sites, which are typically more content-heavy than, say, Amazon.com.

Nishioka says the primary problem with most low-ranking Web sites is that they are too text-laden, too graphic-heavy or just downright obscure. While they may look flashy, these factors only serve to trip up the reader or slow the page-loading process, she says. "It's great to have a logo, but a lot of companies put ads on the page," says Nishioka. "When customers go to a Web site like Chase Manhattan's, they normally don't care about the corporate partners.

"A lot of companies put up random graphics that don't have a lot of use to the customer."

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