Building Relationships with Portal Users:
The Interplay of Motivation and Relational Factors

Doyle Yoon, Fritz Cropp, Glenn Cameron

University of Missouri at Columbia


Motivation for Web portal use is an important factor in the continued growth of e-commerce. Particularly for Web portals, motivation may be intertwined with various dimensions of a relationship that is cultivated between the portal and users. Specifically, the four motivation factors (feature, personalization, familiarity, and searching) are highly correlated to trust and satisfaction. Greater loyalty was found for AOL than for other portals, with no significant differences in relationship with Web users among the free Web portals such as Yahoo. Heavy web users and early adopters were more likely to use personalized Web portals and enjoy communicating with others through the Internet. Because a long relationship with Web portals is one motivation to use them, the highly correlated motivation factors found in this study are important to building strong relationships with Web users. These findings have implications for marketers and public relations practitioners.


Faster than television penetration in the 1960s, the Internet has taken its place as a major medium in current society. Since 1994, the Internet has grown to be an important medium for commercial use, due to the development of computer technology. According to Strategies Group, a total of 106 million adults currently use the Internet, 52% of American adults, compared to 83.6 million at the end of 1998 (Sefton 2000). Among the home Internet users, 61% go online every day, more than once a day. Another major Internet development is online shopping. According to Strategies Group, almost 52 million Americans have purchased a product online, which doubled in the past year from 27 million in 1998

Such growth has led to a variety of studies about the Internet (Berthon, Pitt, and Watson 1996; Briggs and Hollis 1997; Bush, Bush, and Harris 1998; Ducoffe 1996; Hoffman and Novak 1995; Maddox and Mehta 1997). However, only a few studies have concentrated on the motivation for using the Web (Katz and Aspden 1997; Rodgers and Sheldon 1999; Stafford and Stafford 1998); moreover, no study on motivation for using Web portals has been published.

Web portals originally started as search engines to help Web users find information, but they developed into the gate to the World Wide Web, which provides useful information, links and other functions. The utility of such portals has attracted corporations. Today, besides basic search engine portals such as Yahoo, Excite, and Go, Disney and Microsoft have their own portals, and niche portals such as for gardeners and for investors have been developed. The driving force for competition among Web portals is money. The main financial resources of portals are advertising on their sites – banner or sponsorship advertising. Therefore, large numbers of visits/clicks is the key for higher profit to Web portals.

The heated competition produced new Web portal services such as free e-mail, customization of Web portals, lots of information and content for easy searching, and so forth. Some Web portals produced TV commercials to entice more users and create good relationships with current Web users. Relationship management, which has emerged over recent years in marketing and public relations, is an important concept in achieving a company’s goal. It is related to consumer loyalty (Morris, Barnes, and Lynch 1999). Among various relationships, this study deals with the relationship between a corporation [Web portals] and consumers [Web users]. Some attitudes such as trust, commitment, mutual goals, and performance are used to measure dimensions of the portal-user relationships from both the marketing and public relations perspectives

This study, attempts to examine the Web users’ motivations in using Web portals and their relationships with each Web portal. To date, no other studies on Web portals have been conducted, except non-scientific studies by Webzines (e.g. PC Magazine “”) and Web research firms (e.g. Traffick “”) regarding Web portals’ features (e.g. personalization, free-email, chat, etc.). This research, as with other early studies of Web portals, may provide important insights for Web practitioners who manage global and local Web portals to increase the number of visitors, and advertisers who create advertising messages on Web portals. The major focus of the current study is the commercial perspective of Web portals as a platform for Web advertising (Jupiter Communications 1999; O’Leary 1999).

Literature Review

Web Users’ Motivation

The success of the Internet is based on the World Wide Web’s usefulness, which is due to its technological simplicity and to the rapid maturation of portal sites (“Great Portal Race” 1999). Although many scholars have studied the Internet, most studies are limited to the characteristics and effectiveness of the Internet itself.

However, some research firms have reported the results of Web user surveys (,, and, and a few scholars have tried to find out why Web users use the Internet (Katz and Aspden 1997; Rodgers and Sheldon 1999; Stafford and Stafford 1998). Katz and Aspden (1997) conducted a national telephone survey for Web motivation. They found that “getting information on special interests” is the main motive to use the Internet, followed by “communicating with people” and “keeping up-to-date.” On the other hand, among the reasons for not using the Internet, “cost of Internet use” was the main reason, followed by “lack of knowledge,” “too complicated,” “difficult to access,” and “uncomfortable using computers.” This suggests implies that the major motivation to use the Web is for social activity and information searching. However, lack of knowledge and skill still prevents some users from using the Internet.

Stafford and Stafford’s (1998) study presents the motivation of Web users from the uses and gratifications perspective. They collected data from the Web via HotWired and found 45 motivations for Web use. The most common motivational items for using the Web were “information,” “e-mail,” and “research,” followed by “chatting,” “entertainment,” “communication,” and “fun.” This result shows that Web users recognize the Web as a searching and communicating tool. However, Stafford and Stafford categorized these 45 items as “content” or “process” gratification. Content gratification is purposeful use of the message, and process gratification is to search for something or just to surf to pass time. In other words, these classifications are related to the basic characteristics of the Web – information and surfing for fun. The content gratification explains well the motivation of Web use, because this study shows that information, e-mail, and research are dominant reasons to use the Internet.

Similarly, Rodgers and Sheldon (1999) found four main motives for using the Internet, from which they developed a Web Motivation Inventory (WMI). The first priority of Web motivation was researching, followed by socializing, surfing, and shopping. They also found that women use the Web for socializing more than men, and men use the Web for shopping more than women. Further, Web users who are motivated to use the Web for surfing and shopping show higher purchase behavior. Moreover, those groups show relatively high attention to advertising.

These studies suggest that the main motivation of Internet use is information seeking and socialization, which result from informative and interactive characteristics of the Internet. In addition, two other factors – online shopping and surfing – are also other significant motivations to use the Web. However, some users have difficulty in using the Internet due to a lack of techniques and skills. Because portal sites are the entrances to the Web, the content and structural features of Web portals are very important in using the Internet, especially for novices to surf successfully.

Web portals

The definitions of Web portals differ. McCrory (1999) defined portal as entrance. Then, she categorized the portals as Web portal, corporate portal and knowledge portal. Using these categories, the research presented here deals only with Web portals. O’Leary (1999) defined a portal as “nothing more than a supermarket service on the Web, a set of commonly-used sites and services, linked from a single page” (p. 77). Even though the definitions are slightly different, Web portals can be understood as the starting places for Web users in Web surfing (Carlson 1999).

Web portals are in fierce competition with each other – between old and new portals, among old portals, and among new portals. Old portals have been developed from search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, and Lycos; and new portals are primarily commercial. Examples include Netscape and Microsoft, which provide default start-up sites when Web users log on to the Internet. Web portals are getting bigger and more powerful because of a merger and multi-brand strategy. In 1999, Disney bought 43 percent of Infoseek’s stock, and Lycos purchased WhoWhere?, a major e-mail site, to boost its communication function (O’Leary 1999).

Why, then, have the issues surrounding Web portals become hot in the current Internet industry? This may be explained by money. According to recent research by Jupiter Communications (1999), approximately 66% of online users access data through portals (Featherly 1999). Therefore, portals are becoming important sites for portal managers and advertisers. For advertisers, portals provide target-oriented opportunities to advertise their brand or product, whereas for portal managers, this high figure means high income from advertisers (O’Leary 1999). According to Jupiter Communications (1999), Web advertising revenue will increase from $940 million in 1997 to approximately $8 billion in 2002 – a nine-fold increase. This benefit increases the portal market and encourages new portals such as Netscape, Microsoft, Disney and others, to participate. Online newspapers have modified their sites to include a portal function (Carlson 1999). The Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times, and Dallas Morning News all have changed their online version to portals. Working with their competitors, online newspapers become partners to develop new portals (Sullivan 1999). Carlson (1999) presents two reasons for such moves by newspapers. One is the advertising issue, and the other is the popularity of Web sites. According to Nielsen NetRatings and Media Matrix, “all of the 10 most popular Web sites are portals” (Carlson 1999, p. 88). This suggests that Web portals are the most popular sites due to their characteristics of entrance. Therefore, characteristics and features of Web portals are very attractive to online newspapers seeking an audience for its content.


The concept of relationships has been important over the last two decades in both marketing and public relations. The basic concept is to maintain and enhance the relationship between a company and existing and future customers (Duncan and Moriarty 1998; Vavra 1992; Lindenmann 1998). Relationships may be defined broadly and narrowly. From the broader perspective, relationships include every possible relationship in marketing and public relations, such as government and agencies, internal relationships within organizations, and so forth (Buttle 1996). As for the narrow concept, it deals with the relationship between companies and consumers (in marketing), and organizations and publics (in public relations). From either perspective, compared to traditional strategies, relationship management focuses more on an individual level, not a mass or overall group.

From the marketing point of view, Bulgar (1999) described relationship as the successor to segmentation. The role of relationship marketing is to “ensure stimulation and motivate the consumer to action” (Bulgar 1999, p. 54). Therefore, marketers provide the benefit or promise to an individual, not a mass audience for creating specialty and loyalty. When a positive relationship is created, consumer loyalty may be an avenue to higher consumer satisfaction (Berry 1984; Morris, Barnes, and Lynch 1999). Evans and Laskin (1994) described relationships as a process to build a long-term alliance between companies and current or potential clients to achieve common goals. To reach the goals, companies should understand consumers’ changing needs and wants, and consider consumers as partners at the individual level, and also should provide new or increased value to the consumer (Morris, Barnes, and Lynch 1999).

Scholars tend to use different variables to measure relationships between companies and customers. Gronroos (1994) offered three variables – intimacy, trust, and commitment – to measure the relationship between a company and its consumers. Whereas Wissma (1989) emphasized intimacy in creating the strong relationship, McKenna (1991) presented three different variables – interaction, connectivity, and creativity. Morgan and Hunt (1994) concentrated on trust and commitment for the success of relationship marketing. Trust is defined as “a willingness to rely on an exchange partner in whom one has confidence and commitment” and commitment as “an enduring desire to maintain a valued partnership” (Morgan and Hunt 1994, p. 21; Morris, Barnes, and Lynch 1999, p. s659). Other marketing literature added variables such as cooperation, mutual goals, interdependence, performance satisfaction, adaptation, and shared technology (Ledingham and Bruning 1998).

The concept of relationships in public relations is basically developed from Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model, in which public relations is “a process of continual and reciprocal exchange between the organization and its key publics” (Grunig 1993). This point of view is based on the mutual benefit for both an organization and its key publics. Therefore, the relationship is not short-term, but long-term. Kathleen Ladd Ward (1998), former chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s Research Committee, mentioned the objective of public relations as building and maintaining beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. This implies that the positive relationship is to provide mutual benefit to both sides. Accordingly, today’s public relations practice emphasizes relationship management, which represents a shift from tactical function as a persuasive art to strategic functions and toward a management orientation (Cropp and Pincus 2000). The traditional concept of public relations is also about one-way, non-interactive communication activity; however, the new concept of public relations emphasizes the management of relationships between organizations and its key publics.

As this concept grows in the public relations field, efforts to measure relationships have been discussed by several scholars (Broom and Dozier 1990; Morgan and Hunt 1994; Grunig and Huang 1998; Ward 1998). Broom and Dozier (1990) suggested the coorientational method to assess the relationship between organizations and key publics. Morgan and Hunt (1994) emphasized two variables – relationship commitment and trust, and Grunig and Huang (1998) presented other variables such as trust, understanding, credibility, behavior, mutuality of control, or conflict avoidance. Ward (1998) regarded trust as the most important attribute of a positive relationship.

In 1998, the Institute for Public Relations published guidelines that contain six attributes – control mutuality, trust, commitment, satisfaction, exchange relationships, and communal relationships – for measuring relationships in public relations. Although these guidelines are slightly different from those in relationship marketing, they share some attributes such as trust, commitment, and satisfaction.

Research Questions

Based on the review of literature, the following research questions are drawn. The first three research questions are about Web users’ motivation in using Web portals. Some Web motivation studies found that Web users use the Web for research, communicating, shopping, and entertainment (Katz and Aspden 1997; Rodgers and Sheldon 1999). The first question addresses these possibilities through direct inquiry.

RQ1: Why do Web users use Web portals?

As Rodgers and Sheldon’s (1999) study found that there are some differences between males and females in using the Web, there may be a gender difference in motivation for using Web portals. Gender has long been one of the important variables in advertising. For Web portal managers and advertisers, gender differences in using Web portals may be critical for creating advertising messages on Web portals.

RQ2: Are there gender differences in the use of Web portals?

The use of the Internet is an important socio-psychological variable. As Katz and Aspden (1997) pointed out, some users have difficulty in using the Internet due to a lack of techniques and skills. Therefore, Web users’ computer and Internet techniques and skills may affect motivation to use Web portals. According to Jupiter Communication, 66% of Web users use Web portals. However, due to the difference of time that is consumed for Web surfing, the motivation to use a Web portal might be different by Web users’ computer and Internet usage. For example, heavy users, who use the Web more than one hour a day, probably know a lot about the Web and have strong surfing skills. Their motivation to use a Web portal may be different from that of light users, who use the Web less than one hour a day.

RQ3: Are there any motivational differences in using Web portals as a function of Web users’ usage of the Internet?

As corporations, Web portals pursue profit; therefore, they should create a positive relationship with Web users through different types of communication tools such as TV commercials, print advertisements, and various services on the sites. Portals such as Yahoo ( appear to have already built a strong relationship and a powerful brand name, but some of them such as Snap ( are just starting to build a relationship with lower awareness. Thus, it is important to know what relationships they currently have, and to find out the reason for their relationships. Web users’ motivation in using Web portals may be one reason for those relationships.

RQ4: Are there any differences in relationships perceived by Web users as a function of characteristics of preferred Web portal?

RQ5: Does Web portal motivation correlate with the relationship Web users have with a portal?


This study was conducted in a large mid-western university from February to March 2000. Three different stages of the survey were developed – pilot study (N=35), reliability test (N=48), and main study (N=151). A total of 234 undergraduate students participated. The sample in main study included 106 women and 45 men, ranging in grade from sophomore to senior. On average, they spent an average of one hour in using the Internet per day, and they had used the Internet for about four years.

Given the questions addressed by the current study, students are an ideal sample. To better understand Web users’ motivation to use Web portals is best done by studying well educated, skilled, and well-exposed subjects regarding the Web environment. Also, extensive use of e-mail on the Web as an economic consideration by students lends itself to portal research. By using students, the possibility of sample heterogeneity is reduced. Generalizations, however, are most appropriate to student and young adult populations, with qualified insights for others.

Pilot Study

Based on the four motivations for using the Web suggested in the preceding literature, a pilot test was conducted to collect possible alternatives. In this survey, open-ended questions were used to collect the data. According to Wimmer and Dominick (1997), open-ended questions are very useful when the “researcher may not know what types of responses to expect from subjects” (p. 139). A total of 35 students responded. Based on the response to items about four Web use motivations, 25 statements were drawn out for factor analysis to examine the dimensions of Web portal motivation.

Reliability Test

With the 25 statements drawn from the pilot study, a reliability test was conducted with 48 subjects. The 25 statements were provided with a 7-point Likert scale from ‘strongly disagree (1)’ to ‘strongly agree (7).’ The initial Cronbach alpha of the 25 statements was .68. Therefore, three statements with low correlations were dropped. By dropping three statements, the total Cronbach alpha of 22 statements increased to .71.

Web Portals Motivation and Relationship Study

For the third stage of the survey, a total of 151 responses were collected from journalism and economics majors in March 2000. This survey contains two different concepts – Web portal motivation and the Web portals’ relationship with Web users. For Web portal motivation, the pre-tested 22 statements with 7-point Likert scale were used, and for Web portals’ relationship six categories were drawn from the set of scales developed by the measurement project sponsored by the Institute for Public Relations called the Final Items for Relationship Scales (Hon and Grunig 1999). The six categories are trust, control mutuality, satisfaction, commitment, exchange relationship, and communal relationship (Appendix 1 and 2). Data were analyzed using SPSS for Windows 10.0.5. For Web portal motivation, principle component analysis with a varimax rotation presented 6 factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.00. Factor scores also were calculated for t-tests to examine the gender difference and correlation tests for examining correlation between Web portals motivation and their relationships with Web users. For comparing Web portals’ relationships, on the other hand, one-way analysis of variance and t-tests were used to compare overall mean scores of the six categories of relationships among Web portals.


Among various Web portals, Netscape ( is the most frequently used Web portal (34.4%), followed by Yahoo (25.8%), MSN (11.3%), Excite (9.3%), AOL (7.9%), Infoseek/Go (5.3%), and others (6.0%) such as Alta Vista. For many users, Netscape and MSN are defaulted Web portals, which are included in web browsers: Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer. Therefore, if Web users do not know how to change the default Web page on their browser, they use those Web portals. However, the results indicated that Web users were likely to agree to use default Web portals (M = 3.60), and they also agreed that they cannot change the default site of the Web browser (M = 3.83). Therefore, the high rank of Netscape and MSN may be due to this inertia. Besides this reason, then, what are the main motivations to use Web portals?

Motivation in using Web Portals

The 22 scale items were analyzed by principle component analysis with a varimax rotation. The initial solution suggested eight factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.00. But this solution doesn’t make a good fit because in some factors only one item was loaded. Therefore, after some repetition of analysis, a six-factor solution was derived to explain Web users’ motivation in using Web portals. From the initial six-factor solution, four items with factor loadings less than .40 were eliminated. Those are “Web portals provide me a lot of fun,” “Web portals are designed to navigate easily,” “I use Web portals that are easy to use,” and “The brand name of a Web portal is one of the reasons I use the Web portal.” Finally, the following six factors were drawn as shown in Table 1: Web portal features (alpha=.65), personalization (alpha=.69), familiarity (alpha=.84), searching (alpha=.64), communicating (alpha=.83) and purchasing (alpha=.44). Web portal features include basic characteristics of Web portals such as news, information, and games. Personalization includes the e-mail and customized/personalized Web portal that was first provided by MSN ( and Excite ( Familiarity represents well known Web portals, and researching is the basic function of Web portals. Communicating includes chatting and meeting friends. Online shopping is also one of the important functions of Web portals. These six factors explained 61% of the total item variance.

Table 1. Rotated Factor Matrix of Web Portals Motivation

Rotated Factor Matrix of Web Portals Motivation

This study shows that two factors (factor 3 and factor 5) contain only 2 items. However, these factors clearly are cogent because items in factor 3 are about familiarity and items in factor 5 are about communication. The alpha reflects a high correlation between the two items for each factor respectively: factor 3 (.84) and factor 5 (.83).

Six of the factors correlated significantly, including feature and personalization (r = .27, p = .01), feature and familiarity (r = .17, p < .05), feature and searching (r = .21, p < .05), personalization and communicating (r =.20, p < .05), familiarity and searching (r = .30, p < .001), and communicating and purchasing (r = .20, p < .05). This implies that Web users who use various features of Web portals may also enjoy using Web portals. It is also likely that Web users who use personalized Web portals are more social (communicating) in their Internet use. In addition, this suggests that familiarity with Web portals may relate to more extensive research using Web portals.

Gender and Web Portal Motivation

To examine gender differences among six factors, a t-test was used. Results indicate that women were more likely than men to use the Web portals as a research tool (t = -2.05 df = 149, p < .05). Women were also more likely than men to express familiarity with the Web portals (t = -1.98, df = 149, p < .05). In the other 4 factors, men were more likely than women to use the Web portals, but these differences were not statistically significant. In sum, women appear to be more likely to use familiar Web portals to do research than are men.

Computer/Internet Usage and Web Portal Motivation

To examine the differences of time consumed for Internet surfing as related to the six factors, one-way ANOVAs were used. Results showed that there are significant differences in personalization (F = 3.72, df = 4, p < .01) and socialization (F = 3.52, df = 4, p < .01). A post hoc analysis indicated that Web users who spent 1-2 hours (Mean Difference = -1.00, SD = .3306, p < .05) and who spent 2-3 hours (Mean Difference = -1.49, SD = .5138, p < .05) were more likely than Web users who spent less than 30 minutes to use personalized Web portals. A post hoc analysis also indicated that Web users who spent more than two hours were more likely than Web users who spent less than 30 minutes to use the Web portal as a socialization tool (Mean Difference = -.72, SD = .2627, p < .05).

To examine the difference of years using the Internet among the six factors, one-way ANOVAs were also used. Results showed that there are significant differences in personalization (F = 2.65, df = 4, p < .05). A post hoc analysis indicated that Web users who have used the Internet for more than five years were more likely than Web users who reported less than three years to use the personalized Web portals (Mean Difference = -.78, SD = .2821, p < .05).

Thus, Web users who spent more hours and who had been using the Internet for a longer time were likely to use personalized Web portals. This implies that although personalization in Web portals is not popular yet, personalization is somewhat correlated to communication motivation.

Relationship between Web portals and Web users

To measure the relationship among Web portals, six categories from the Institute of Public Relations were adapted: trust, control mutuality, satisfaction, commitment, exchange relationship, and communal relationship. Results indicated that Web portals create a positive relationship in trust (M = 4.85, SD = 1.0149), control mutuality (M = 4.14, SD = .9325), satisfaction (M = 4.64, SD = 1.1760), and commitment (M = 5.33, SD = 1.0576). Two other categories did not play roles in building a positive relationship.

Table 2. Means of Relationship categories by Web Portals

Means of Relationship categories by Web Portals

Results showed that among Web portals, AOL might enjoy the best relationship with Web users (M = 4.74, SD = .4699). AOL’s mean scores for four categories were the highest. AOL is the only paid Web portal, compared to other Web portals in this study.

Both MSN and Netscape, as default Web portals, presented different aspects. Among free Web portals, MSN enjoyed a positive relationship with Web users (M = 4.47, SD = .5496). However, the other default Web portal, Netscape, enjoyed a relatively less positive relationship (M = 4.18, SD = .6534). In detail, Netscape’s mean scores in all six categories are lower than those of MSN. Even though MSN built more positive relationships than Netscape, the total number of users was less than those of Netscape (11.3% vs. 34.4%). One explanation is that most Netscape users use Netscape because it is a default and they cannot change it. Therefore, even though large numbers of users were reported for Netscape, the mean scores regarding user relationship are relatively low. Otherwise, MSN users express positive attitudes and seem to be satisfied with MSN, even though it is not necessarily a self-selected site.

Other traditional Web portals such as Yahoo, Excite, and Infoseek/Go also seem to create positive relationships with Web users. However, those differences are not statistically significant. Only one correlation was found between the period of using the Internet and trust (r = .174, p < .05). This implied that Web users who have used the Internet more than four years might have developed greater trust in Web portals with which they are familiar.

Thus, most Web portals enjoy a positive relationship currently. With the exception of AOL, there seems to be no significant differences in relationships with Web users among free Web portals.

Web Portals Motivation and Web Portals Relationship

Four of the motivation factors correlated significantly with four of the relationship categories. Feature (factor 1) is correlated with the four relationship categories, including trust (r = .31, p < .001), control (r = .33, p < .001), commitment (r = .18, p < .05), and satisfaction (r = .34, p < .001. Personalization (factor 2) is correlated to control (r = .22, p < .01). Familiarity (factor 3) is also correlated to three relationship categories, including trust (r = .28, p < .001), control (r = .20, p < .05), and satisfaction (r = .29, p < .001). Searching (factor 4) is correlated to the same categories as familiarity, including trust (r = .30, p < .001), control (r = .19, p < .05), and satisfaction (r = .32, p < .001).

Table 3. Correlation between Web Users’ Motivation in Using Web Portals and Their Relationship with Web Portal

Correlation between Web Users' Motivation in Using Web Portals and Their Relationship with Web Portal

This indicates that Web portal motivation is important to build a relationship with Web users or that a sound relationship increases motivation to use the portal. Specifically, the four motivation factors (feature, personalization, familiarity, and searching) are highly correlated to trust and satisfaction. These two items are most important to build a strong relationship with Web users (Morgan and Hunt 1994).

Therefore, Web portals should consider these motivational factors, when they modify the sites’ content.

Conclusions and Implications

Attempts were made in this study to find motivation in using Web portals and to examine the relationship between Web portals and Web users. The first attempt was to find the Web users’ motivation in using Web portals. Principle component analysis with a varimax rotation presented six factors for motivation in using Web portals: features, personalization, familiarity, searching, communicating, and purchasing. Gender differences were found in searching and familiarity factors. Women were more likely than men to use familiar Web portals to search for information. Also, correlation between the time spent online daily and the experience in years for Internet usage and Web portal motivations suggests that Web users who spent more time and started to use the Internet earlier were likely to use personalized Web portals and enjoy communicating with others through the Internet.

Personalization is a newly developing and unique technology in new media such as Web portals. However, to date it is not widely used. This might be explained by Rogers’ (1995) Diffusion of Innovation Theory. He defines the diffusion process of innovation as the process of spreading a new idea and technology from its original source to ultimate users or adopters. Based on this theory, he grouped people into five stages – innovators, early adopter, early majority, late majority, and laggards – which are distributed as a bell-shaped frequency curve. With this model, innovators and early adopters, who adopt new ideas carefully, accept current features of Web portals, especially personalization. This may predict that personalization will be used more frequently than ever in the near future, both as a consequence of efforts by portals to promote it and by the increasing experience and daily use of Internet services.

Among the six motivation factors, the last three – searching, communicating, and purchasing – are the same to general Web motivation that was reported by other scholars (Katz and Aspden 1997; Rodgers and Sheldon 1999; Stafford and Stafford 1998). The first three factors, Web portal features, personalization, and familiarity, however, are new and unique factors in Web portal motivation. Web portal features are components that consist of Web portal content and layout such as news, color, style, news services, etc. According to Traffick’s portal feature comparison (, 22 Web portal features are currently used in Web portals, such as directory, stock quotes, maps/direction, free home page, classifieds, yellow pages, auctions, calendar, etc. In addition, Web portals continuously develop and add new features to provide various services to Web users. Personalization is a unique factor in Web portals. Personalization of Web portals keeps Web users from wasting information. By customizing the content of Web portals, Web users can select news and information they want to read. Other unnecessary information is deleted automatically. According to, all Web portals provide this service to Web users.

The last strong factor is familiarity, as expected. This is closely associated with the relational concept of intimacy or at least, some greater relational depth. Web users who are accustomed to using early- or first-to-market Web portals such as Yahoo, Excite and Infoseek may not change their frequently used Web portals for convenience. In a sense, those Web portals already have built a strong brand in their industry. A long relationship with Web portals is one motivation to use them.

A second attempt was made to examine the relationships between Web portals and Web users. The modified six categories employing 24 statements that were developed by the Institute for Public Relations were used to measure relationships. The mean scores of six categories are over the average, which indicates that Web users have positive attitude toward Web portals. Among Web portals, however, there is no difference in the six relationship categories. But, descriptively, AOL built a strong relationship with Web users.

The correlation between Web portal motivation and Web users showed that two relationship categories (trust and satisfaction) are correlated to Web portal motivations (features, personalization, familiarity, and searching). Those two concepts are critical in creating the repetition that is the first step to build long-term relationships (Hon and Grunig 1999). This is similar to Lavidge and Steiner’s (1961) Hierarchy of Effects Model, which presents the process of consumer behavior. According to this model, product purchasing occurs with conviction, which is the similar to trust. When a consumer exhibits trust or conviction toward a product, he/she may buy the product. Then if he/she is satisfied with his/her decision, repetitive behavior occurs. The same logic may apply to the relationships for web portal use. This study indicates that Web users have already expressed relationships with Web portals that are based on trust and satisfaction. It indicates that Web users, who have a positive relationship with a Web portal, have a certain degree of brand loyalty to a Web portal that creates repetitive visits. Therefore, highly correlated motivation factors are important to building strong relationships with Web users.

Limitations and future research

The unbalanced gender ratio may be one limitation in this study with only 45 male students and 106 female students. This unbalanced sample makes it difficult to generalize the results. Another point to be mentioned is the asymmetrical aspect of the relationship study. To accurately measure relationships between Web portals and Web users, relationships from the users’ perspective and the portals’ perspective should be measured. This study focused only on the Web users’ perspectives. However, this study can serve as the foundation for future studies of Web portals and relationship management on the Web.

Future research might be concentrated on symmetrical aspects of relationship study on the Web. Also, it will be important to extend this work to non-student populations and to new portal developments such as local portals and newspaper portals intended to challenge the large national portals for the attention of Internet users.


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Appendix 1

Operational Definition of Six Categories for Relationship Measurement
The Institute for Public Relations 1999

One party’s level of confidence in and willingness to open oneself to the other party.

Control Mutuality
The degree to which parties agree on who has the rightful power to influence one another. Although some imbalance is natural, stable relationships requires that organizations and publics each have some control over the other.

The extent to which each party believes and feels that the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote.

The extent to which each party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforced. A satisfying relationship is one in which the benefits outweigh the costs.

Communal Relationship
In a communal relationship, both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other – even when they get nothing in return. For most public relations activities, developing communal relationships with key constituencies is much more important to achieve than would be developing exchange relationships

Exchange Relationship
In an exchange relationship, both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the activities, developing communal relationships with key constituencies is much more important to achieve than would be developing exchange relationships.

Appendix 2

Modified Final Item for Relationship Scales

1. This Web portal treats people like me fairly and justly.
2. Whenever this Web portal makes an important decision, I know it will be concerned about people like me.
3. This Web portal can be relied on to keep its promises.
4. I believe that this Web portal takes the opinions of people like me into account when making a decision.
5. I feel very confident about the skills of this Web portal’s staffs.

Control Mutuality
1. This Web portal and people like me are attentive to what we have to say to each other.
2. This Web portal believes the opinions of people like me are legitimate.
3. In dealing with people like me, this Web portal has a tendency to throw its weight around.
4. This Web portal really listens to what people like me have to say.

1. I feel that this Web portal is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me.
2. I can see that the Web portal wants to maintain a relationship with people like me.
3. There is a long-lasting bond between this Web portal and people like me.
4. Compared to other Web portals, I value my relationship with this Web portal more.

1. I am happy with the Web portal.
2. Both the Web portal and people like me benefit from the relationship.
3. Most people like me are happy in their interactions with the Web portal.
4. Generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this Web portal has established with people like me.

Communal Relationship
1. This Web portal does not especially enjoy giving unusual assistance of any kind.
2. This Web portal is very concerned about the welfare of people like me.
3. I feel that this Web portal takes advantage of people who are vulnerable.
4. I think that this Web portal succeeds by stepping on other people.

Exchange Relationship
1. Whenever this Web portal gives or offers something to people like me, it generally expects something in return.
2. Even though people like me have had a relationship with this Web portal for a long time, it still expects something in return whenever it offers us a favor.
3. The Web portal takes care of people who are likely to reward the portal organization.

About the Authors

Doyle Yoon is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Advertising at The University of Missouri at Columbia.

Fritz Cropp (Ph.D., The University of Missouri at Columbia) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising at The University of Missouri at Columbia.

Glenn Cameron (Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin) is Maxine Gregory Chair and a Professor of Advertising at The University of Missouri at Columbia.