Are you Losing Traffic from Poor Findability?

January 1st, 2009
Published on
January 1st, 2009

find·a·bil·i·ty n
a. The quality of being locatable or navigable.
b. The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate.
c. The degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.

From Peter Moreville’s book, Ambient Findability.

When Peter Moreville first coined the word “Findability”, he focused on the importance of making things within a website easy to find, quickly accessible, and easily identifiable.

But there’s another level of findability, and that’s how well users can find a website. Making a website findable is its own challenge, particularly given the current conditions of our web ecosystem.

If your site isn’t easily findable, you’re missing a huge slice of potential visitors. Any content you’re creating is being sent out to the void, instead of to an audience. This might sound like a problem for marketing, but it’s not. It’s a problem content strategists and other UX practitioners need to be aware of, because in many situations they can fix it.

Smack Dab in the Clutter of the World Wide Web

Because of the continuous shape-shifting nature of the Web, it can be difficult to approach issues like the “Findability” of a specific website in a timeless way. At the same time, it is becoming more important to make your site findable as the more and more sites clutter the web, all fighting to appear on that first page of search results. It doesn’t matter how great your solutions and offering are; if people can’t find the site, they cannot connect with the value you might provide. How can we make our sites quickly and easily findable through Search Engines and other websites?

1. Evaluate Your Purpose and Value

The first step for making a website more findable is to evaluate its purpose and identify what value it brings to end users.

Pretend you’re the publisher of a new Coffee Magazine for a moment. What makes your magazine worth reading, and who is going to benefit from reading it? You’re probably the pretend-owner of a fake magazine that shows readers how they can save tons of money by not spending cash for Internet at Starbucks (Honestly, who in their right mind would pay $5 to get online at Starbucks?).

Whatever the case, you find that you bring value to a crowd of coffee enthusiasts with your make-believe-magazine. Because of this, you’ll probably market your product in local coffee shops or perhaps even the Internet-Nazi Starbucks Regime.

Why is this important? Publishing a Magazine has it’s similarities to publishing a website, especially blogs and sites that periodically update in post form. It’s important to evaluate the value and purpose of your site, and consider where it should be marketed.

Ask yourself questions like: Who would benefit from using my website? What websites do that target audience frequent/search for answers? How does this group search? Why should they be searching for me?

Find places where people will be looking for a site like yours based on your answers, and be sure that your website is seen in those places. Sometimes this happens on its own (Popular Search Engines tend to automatically index websites), while other times you’ll have to get more involved. Submit your site to websites in your niche, contact webmasters and tell them why your site could benefit their readers, and integrate yourself into social networks that relate to your topic.

2. Becoming What People Expect You Are

This probably goes against everything you ever heard about peer pressure as a child, but your website needs to conform to what people expect it to be.

We’ve talked about the importance of keeping conventions in the past, but websites should also be predictable. Totally predictable.

One of the biggest mistakes I see on websites are poorly titled headers and links. You don’t see Newspapers title their World News Section, “Overseas“. You don’t see Starbucks label their Internet-Access plan “Let Us Rip You Off!”. Likewise, it’s important to avoid trendy and clever titles that may mislead viewers of your own site.

By using appropriate titles, not only will your site let users retrieve the content they need more easily, but search engines and other websites will have an easier time listing you appropriately, resulting in more visitors and readers over time.

3. Optimize Your Site

We’re not talking SEO here (a useless term if I might add). I like to think of myself as a UO guy. A User Optimizer.

User Optimization if you will.

Many of the things you do to optimize your site will be transparent to the user, while others are crucial to your websites findability. One of the most important things you can do is give every page on your website an appropriate Title Tag and Meta Description.

Why? The Title and Description of your site are usually the first (and often the only) things users will see while searching the web. Search Engines use them in their results. Social Networking sites tend to use them by default. They even help users keep track of sites they’ve bookmarked in the past.

User Optimization helps draw in new visitors, and brings back repeat-viewers.

4. Befriend Your Peers

One of the interesting phenomenons of the web over the past few years has been the rise of “Social Networking” and Micro-blogging. Sometimes, findability comes down to knowing the right people.

Get to know other webmasters, bloggers, and people in your niche. Offer a helping hand when you can, and the favor will often times be returned. People are more comfortable linking to people they know and trust than people they’ve never spoken with.

If you offer a service, make sure that you’re making it known to others what you do. Maybe the people you get to know won’t be interested in hiring you, but perhaps one of their contacts will be.

5. Find More Ways to Make Your Site Findable

What other things can you do to make your site findable?

Do you have any success stories about what has made a site of yours more findable? What are you doing now to make your site findable by your target users?

We all benefit from findability – Users and Developers alike. With the upward trend of users viewing website content indirectly (ie: feedreaders, search engines, etc), Findability is sometimes one of the only parts of the User Experience you have any control over. Developers benefit from Findability as well through increased viewership, leads, conversions, sales, etc.

Heck, even Starbucks understands the importance of Findability by forcing you to land on their Pay-For-Internet page when you first plug in at one of their hot spots! HA! Good luck with that one Starbucks!

This post was written at a Starbucks, where it cost $3.99 for Internet access.