posted 3 Aug 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 10
Just say no!
When you’re searching for something elusive, sometimes it would be nice to be told it simply isn’t there.
By Lynda Rathbone
IT HAPPENS millions of times each day on the web. You start searching for something – it begins innocently enough – a keyword or two, casual browsing through a few results pages and finally! A result that looks like it’s the match for you.
You wait in anticipation for the page to load. Will it be the right information, the right content? Sadly, not. So what then? You’re already on the site and the results are missing the mark. You decide to browse around, look further. You know it’s there somewhere if you could just find it. Right?
Well, maybe. But maybe not. Your journey may continue, frustrating you with endless promising links to follow, but no satisfying result. Wouldn’t you prefer to be told, ‘Sorry, we don’t have this,’ rather than continue searching, changing keywords, using different search engines, viewing page after page of results? In a shop, when you can’t find something you ask and if they don’t have what you want, they tell you and can often point you to the shop that does have it. It would be great to get such service online.
I have been working with a children’s charity for more than a year now, helping it restructure its content and relaunch its website. As part of this work, we have been analysing keywords that users put into Google to find the charity’s site, as well as its content via ‘deep links’ (links to within the site rather than its home page).
We found something we didn’t expect. People were still trying to find it using terms that related to time-sensitive content that had been removed from the site. For example, this charity did a lot of work after the Asian tsunami of 2005. It did have a lot of content on its site about the tsunami until about two months ago, when it finally decided to take it down. But the users didn’t know that.
The content used to be there and the charity’s image and brand are related to this important work so, naturally, people were still putting this term into search engines expecting to get to the site and that content. I think they made the right decision not to keep it on site in an archive as they wanted to keep the site lean and mean, and not have page after page of old information. Users were still finding the website, but once they got there, they would be left at a dead end.
A second example comes from my work at a major telecoms company.
Years ago, it had a consumer business and sold related hardware, such as handsets. When the consumer side was offloaded, it still continued to sell handsets with its logo on them and many people would visit the company’s website to buy these products online, but they could never be found.
Well, these sites, like many others, should just say no! No, we don’t have this content. We know you are looking for it, but we just want to tell you won’t find it here. This, for me, would be a huge help. Otherwise, people will think that it’s their fault for not knowing how to search for it.
So what to do about it? The analysis of keywords on your site and in external search engines can help you understand what terms users are putting in the search box that may lead them to a dead end or an endless search. You can establish pages that are only linked from the search results pages to inform users that you don’t have ‘this’ or offer ‘that’ anymore – and here’s where you can find sites that do.
Another strategy is to offer replacement content. This works well when you restate the user’s original search goal and lead them down the new path, instead of simply changing a link to a page that will invoke a ‘What?’ response when they land on a page that is seemingly unrelated to their original query.
Finally, have a results strategy for your site. Understanding what the top searches are and ensuring they work will really improve the user’s journey and experience with your organisation. If they use one word to find you from Google, then get to your home page, and the content related to that keyword isn’t obvious, you might think about deep-linking instead of just a home page drop-off. Or, make sure your search engine is configured to support the continuation of that search so that users, when they re-enter it on your site’s search engine, are not left wondering just why they are there.
So, with all the time spent on getting users to the right content, I think it’s about time we focused on the other side of the coin – searching and finding.
Embrace your zero per cent relevancy ranking, create search results pages that say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t find it here’, and proudly tell your users, no!
As with all my columns, I’d love to hear about your experiences to this end. Just e-mail me at email@example.com.