This is a post dedicated to unsuccessful online searches. It is dedicated to all the time I have wasted searching a website for something that I know is there but can’t get to. Search engines such as Google and Bing trawl the internet gathering information and indexing it, in order to respond to search queries from users. This post isn’t about them, this is about the performance of search facilities on individual websites.
Every time I use a search box to bring up details of something that I know is on that particular website and it doesn’t appear I have a little rant. I could be dramatic and say that I die a little bit inside but in reality rather than slowly dying I just get frustrated and sometimes downright angry and the more time I waste, the angrier I get. There is no way to know how many websites I have abandoned over the years because their search facility didn’t display whatever I was looking for and I therefore, assumed that they didn’t have the item or information I wanted.
If you sell wellington boots online, when somebody types the word “wellingtons” into the search box on your website, it should return details of all the wellingtons on your website. Right? Not necessarily.
Does your website “know” that you sell wellingtons? What if you call them wellingtons but your potential customers call them “wellies” or “wellys” or “galoshes” or “rainboots”? Computers are incredibly clever, but they can only do so much. As a website owner, it’s your job to help them and some of that help comes in the form of metadata.
Wikipedia describes Metadata as “data that provides information about other data”
I’m a regular visitor to Scandinavian furniture store Ikea. I can happily spend a couple of hours in there looking at furniture, pondering how the various item names should be pronounced and queuing for hotdogs. I’m from Manchester in the North-West of England and in my childhood home we had a settee and two arm chairs. Five years ago if you visited the Ikea website and searched for settee it would produce zero matches and tell you that there were no search results found. The Ikea website was certain that there were no settees, but we all know better. I’ve actually been to their shop dozens of times and the place is full of them! They’re on the second floor and if you want to take one home there are loads more of them on the ground floor in boxes waiting for you to somehow squeeze into the back of your car, but because Ikea chose to call them sofas instead of settees, they didn’t show up in their searches. Somebody has clearly had a word with them because if you type settee into their website now, it brings up over 1800 products. Ikea still calls them sofas but their search facilities know that if any fellow Mancunians choose to look for settees instead of sofas, we’ll still find what we’re looking for.
After doing all the hard work of enticing potential customers to your website don’t lose them on a technicality. If you are given the opportunity to give your website additional information about your content, don’t waste it. This blog is powered by WordPress and the theme I’m using gives me the opportunity to add a document title, a meta description and keywords for this particular post. I can also add tags to this post which help people identify what the post is about or related to. These are your chances to give your website additional information. For those of you that sell online, if you have the chance to add additional information to your product pages, take it. Don’t waste that chance to give a little extra info. If we sell wellingtons include the keyword wellies. Give your search facility that additional information. It may take slightly longer to add your products but it will be worth it and once you get into the habit it won’t seem like an extra job.
The problem of playing hide and seek with online content isn’t unique to online stores, it can happen on any website and is particularly bad amongst large companies because they have such big websites. Local authorities often interrupt their hold music by suggesting that you could achieve your goals far more easily by visiting their website. I’m going to resist the urge to call some of them “big fat liars” suffice to say that their websites don’t always make it easy to find the information. The downside to this is that it means that people like me continue to clog up their call centres because I don’t have the patience to find what I’m looking for on their badly organised website.
Large companies are often also guilty of the same things with their internal websites. If you want your employees to use the intranet (internal website) to find the latest and most up to date product information instead of their collection of handwritten notes and stash of potentially out of date product literature, then you’d better make it good and you’d better show them how to use it. If you are the Royal Mail and an employee searches your internal website for the current price of PO Boxes and the search results bring back details of Commemorative Stamps then you’ve got a problem. That particular example took place almost a decade ago, so I’m sure they’ve improved, but what about your website? Can your customers and employees find what they need?
Another way that company websites work against themselves is in the words that they use to describe their products. Are you using the same words as your potential customers? If your business produces signage or vehicle customisation, what you call “decals” people outside the signage industry call “stickers”. Does your website know where to send them if they use the layman’s term?
The big search engines may no longer use keywords to help rank your website but your internal search engine might be using all that extra information to make sure that your customers can find what they need. It is not unheard of for customers to devote lots of time trawling the internet looking for a specific business but it’s very rare, especially for a small company. Don’t play hard to get with your customers, because no matter how special your business is, there is almost always a competitor waiting in the wings that they can go to instead.