Communications Convergence


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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

As people use search engines to find the information that interests them on the web and browse from one site to another via links, I'm struck by how arbitrary the fences that many organizations build around their content are. The various parts of a typical corporate site or online news portal need to be broken down for the sake of visitors and potential customers.

For example, on Amazon if I'm in the book "store" and do a search for, say "Talking Heads," several books about the band are shown. But I would think that there also might be a link where you can find the band's CDs, videos, and T-shirts (all available in different Amazon "stores"). Sure if you click "Amazon.com" in the search drop down up at the top you will be able to search the entire site, not just books. But it is a little difficult to find that dropdown. I think narrowing a search by running it in just one part of a site (such as books) is useful (when I want a book I don't want useless results), but I think that surfacing related content is also very valuable.

While Amazon illustrates the point, I doubt that their business suffers as a result of the "store" strategy, particularly with their many reference options (customers who bought this also bought…). Publishers, however, absolutely lose out on visitors by arbitrary segmentation of online sites along print boundaries. A typical magazine or newspaper site tends to box information into the same categories as the print editions, making it difficult to break out of to browse. Worse, a publisher with multiple properties (say a B2B publishing company with several dozen online businesses all delivering similar content to like minded readers) should not maintain multiple sites. To maximize search engine traffic, visitors, and revenue, publishers should build one portal with one domain URL and deliver content to a wide audience. Mirroring the print strategy of multiple properties online makes no sense--it is inefficient (costs are multiplied) and it means that visitors miss out on the content that might be over on a sister site. Assuming people don't want to go from one publication website to a similar one from the same publisher in a seamless manner is like publishing one chapter of a book at a time with a separate cover for each and no easy way to flip back and forth to the others.

I see the same thing as an issue that companies of all kinds need to consider because marketing, Public Relations, and Investor Relations have converged on the web. In an offline world, marketing, PR, and IR are separate departments with different professionals working in companies who have different skill sets. But when a buyer is researching your product category by using a search engine, clicks through to learn more, does it really matter if the first exposure is a hit on your website, or a news release your organization sent, or a magazine article about you, or a post on your blog? I’d argue that it doesn’t matter as long as there are simple links to follow to get to additional content.

I admire companies with seamless links from the content on, say, the online media room to the Investor Relations site and also to other content like product pages, but very few do this. Most box the various parts of the corporate site in the naive thinking that people only go to one part of the corporate site.

The truth is, people visit many parts of a site. Potential investors check out the media page, they look at the company's products and other content when evaluating an investment in a company. Buyers snoop around companies by visiting the media and investor pages. And the media looks at the customer and partner pages. Don't box them in to one narrow silo. Make it easy to find other information.

Don't let arbitrary silos cause you to lose visitors because site visitors cannot find the best content. Build pathways that link content from any perspective--reader, investor, researcher, media--to any other. You can't predict the route your visitors will take, but you know you want them to get to the right content for their needs.