Findability Factors Found: Leading Customers to Content

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Who's In Charge?
Style guidelines for your web pages are an overlooked aspect of findability. Defining the information architecture requires an explicit definition of the structure that will maximize relevant retrieval in the search engines. For ThomasNet, the editorial guidelines for the 50 CHARACTER title tag and other metadata is key to the company's success in the search engines, according to Paul Gerbino, vice president of Thomas Publishing. The company's online presence, ThomasNet, incorporates these editorial guidelines into the workflow, so the controls occur automatically behind the scenes as the individual web pages are created.

Let's look at a ThomasNet result in Google for "sludge pump." The information architecture of this result reflects the importance of location and product for the industrial suppliers who pay for inclusion into the Thomas Register:

Plastic Pumps on in Eastern Pennsylvania Pump parts, centrifugal pumps, coolant pumps, slurry & sludge pumps, seals, ... Aluminum; Fractional To 5 HP; Electric Close Coupled & Engine Drive;... - 78k - Cached - Similar pages  

Notice that the location, "Eastern Pennsylvania," is clearly visible in both the HTML title and the URL. "Plastic pumps" is repeated in both the title and the URL, as well as the information snippet. Searchers and search engines understand words, not cryptic codes. This result is clearly relevant to the search.

Now, let's look at some of the glaring problems and the lack of guidelines on search results pages. Below is one of the top results for the Google search: "Advanstar Press Releases." So where are the current press releases? The information architecture of the URL doesn't relate to the title or the search, and "v42" is as meaningless to the search engine as the searcher.

Press Releases Advanstar Releases Third Quarter 2005 Results ... Advanstar Releases Second Quarter 2005 Results ... Advanstar Releases First Quarter 2005 - 31k - Cached - Similar pages

Below you'll find yet another result in the top 10 postings from a search on Advanstar, with a meaningless "Home Page" in the title tag. The web page is itself irrelevant to information about Advanstar.

Surveys/Forms - Home Page Surveys/Forms. - 17k - Cached - Similar pages

So what types of editorial guidelines would improve these results? A press release should have a date and headline in its HTML title tag. A conference should include the word "conference," the date, and the city in the title tag. The metadata for a product landing page should have a succinct description, with the marketing hype reserved for on-page display. Events should have a date in the URL. Some pages, like the survey form, should either not be indexed at all or should include meaningful metadata. These steps will improve visibility of web pages, regardless of the search engine, whether on a public site or inside the enterprise.

Developing and implementing meaningful editorial guidelines and information architecture may be challenging to an organization, particularly those without a traditional publishing structure like Thomas Register's. Just who is responsible for writing the metadata that needs to be coded into the web pages? Who has responsibility for enabling search and optimizing findability? Who monitors how customers can find your products using the Google, Yahoo!, MSN and search engines? These responsibilities typically slip between the proverbial cracks, with the end result being that web pages are not findable.

Findability is Cost Effective!
Reaching new customers by tapping into web-search traffic starts with the basics. Creating search-engine friendly text on web pages is no more costly than creating invisible images and unfriendly code, and with much higher payback. Specifying customer words for the web pages should be Copy Writing 101 for the web: It involves the same headlines and calls to action found in other media. Only the technology platform has changed, not the message.

One fundamental is that customers are not searching for marketing fluff—they are looking for answers, which should be communicated in their own language, not internal jargon or trendy terminology. Usually, a customer query involves noun phrases, not overblown adjectives. What problem is your organization solving? And what are the answers you are providing?

Implementing editorial guidelines and an information architecture for web search is the key to using Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and the other search engines as a marketing channel. If your web pages can't be found, your organization is missing more than just hits to the homepage—it is missing business.

Companies Featured

Advanstar Communications, Inc.

comScore Network 

ECNext, Inc.

Enquiro Search Solutions

School Construction News

Thomas Register

McGraw-Hill Engineering News Record

Vanderbilt University TV News Archive

Sidebar: Success Story
Vanderbilt University has a priceless treasure in its Television News Archive, which has more than 30,000 individual newscasts dating back to August 5, 1968. This news programming is utilized by educational and news organizations throughout the world, including the originators at ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN. However, it was not self-sustaining, and deficits threatened shutdown of the service. Marshall Breeding, director for innovative technologies and research, and his team analyzed analytics from their website. They found that all of their 805,000 abstracts were hidden in a database invisible to the search engines, and were not included in their searchable indexes. Static web pages that were friendly to search robots and searcher friendly metadata were added. 

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