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March 21, 2011

Time After Time - Zero Search Results for AD CAMPAIGNS and Model Numbers

Print Ads -> Website -> Zero Results

I see a print advertisement for something and go to the company's web site.  No sign of their advertised product.  Do a search, zero results.  Oh, and no suggestion about who I might email, both for pruduct info, nor for reporting site problems.

So, how much did that color print ad cost to run?  And how response rates you say?  I wonder how the next staff meeting goes.  "Clearly the problem is with the print ad's font", or hey "maybe we just need to rename the product!?"

I've also seen this when a product gets a short writeup in the "what's new" section of an industry magazine.  Granted, a new product might take a little while to thread into the website, but print publications have a lead time as well.

Product -> Model Number -> Website -> Zero Results

Same thing for products. I'm holding a physical product in my hand, with a model number silk-screened onto the plastic.  Go to that company's site, type it in, verbatim, zero results.  In this case I feel sorry for them, maybe an issue with punctuation, so I'll try without dashes, maybe no spaces, try leaving off the end of the model number and put an asterisk.  No results.

Causes and Solutions?

I've changed my mind on this over the years.

In both of these problems, when I used to dig deeper, or manage to engage a human, there'd be some "logical" explanation, "oh, that's the worldwide site, this was on the US site", or "consumer vs. corporate", or "oh yeah, we're having trouble with search".

Now I just get depressed and either give up or try Google's public search

Site after site has multiple problems, and search is just one of them.

I'm sure the IT departments and webmasters get yelled once in a while, or the search vendor, but there are bigger issues here....

Quality Starts at the Top

I've decided it's the CEO's fault at least to some extent, or in a larger company maybe the EVP of that division, for not noticing the patterns of annoying problems like this.

I no longer believe my experiences are isolated cases.  I'm possibly an atypical user, and more likely to actually mention the problem to the company, but trust me, there are usually many other problems on these sites.

Does the CEO or VP use the web site?  Do they talk to clients or prospects?

When a large print ad is proposed, does the VP go to their own website to see if they can find the damn thing, before signing off on a large campaign.

And maybe these are "details" in larger companies, but then, there will be failure after failure like this.  A pattern of mistakes should be noticed.  And if not, then the manager one level up should notice their direct report's failure to spot patterns of problems and address them.

You ever eat at a restaurant and get poor service, again and again, no matter the server or the day?  That's a MANAGEMENT problem, not a problem with the harried wait-staff.  Vs. a restaurant where you routinely see the owner or manager going around.

Some megastores have poor service at all of their branches, coast to coast, thousands of miles apart, this is a management problem.

Years ago an email was leaked from Bill Gates, blasting issues in Windows, and the reply from the VP was also leaked.  The issue was not "we don't seem to be spotting problems", no, the response was to obsess about individual issues, but no SYSTEMIC analysis.

Ultimately these system problems ought to be noticed by management.  If the CEO or EVP doesn't have a need to visit the website on a regular basis, maybe the site sells industrial parts, and the CEO doesn't buy those himself, then he/she should become super sensitive to any feedback they get.  Maybe make frends with a few individuals for some big accounts.  Maybe talk to the young interns who are not used to things sucking and talk to them frequently, maybe have some pizza brought in on a regular basis, and make sure to attend, and listen carefully.

So.... CEO's and VPs, if you spot problems and report them to your subordinates, do they just fix ONLY those specific items?  Do they notice the bigger patterns?  Try holding back 50% of your specific observations, see if they get cleared up too.  Actually, your VPs shoulld already be noticing these PATTERNS.

I propose that companies that have poor web sites year after year probably also have poor customer service, bad documentation, annoying sales people, and a host of other systemic problems.

The "Times 10" Factor in Complaints

If somebody actually manages to report a website or search problem to the right person, there's a tendency to think this is an isolated incident.  A very dangerous attitude!

I don't remember the exact number, or where I saw the statisitic, but my rule of thumb is that at least 10 times as many people have noticed a problem, or that at least 10 other similar incidents have occurred.  And it's difficult to report site problems, then it's likely higher.  And as customers or employees notice multiple problems and start to "give up", I actually think that ratio is much higher, possibly 100 or 1,000x.  That ratio skyrockets because most users simply abandon the system and go elsehwere.  Potential customers take their business to other sites, and employees abandon the "company portal" and just ask each other for info, or look it up on Google.

The nice thing about an abdoned website or portal?  Those complaints eventually go back down to zero, mission accomplished!  Seriously, this happens.  There are many rationales for only fixing things that peopple notice, or fixing only the top N problems, etc.  When complaints go back down, people who subscribe to these theories seldom ask themselves whether there's another possible explaination.  A very dangerous game.

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