or Beacon, Does your Company
The negatives of the Internet are also invasively apparent to anyone venturing there. An e-mail account seems to be an open invitation to a horde of scurrilous individuals, who will send a flood of messages, many of them offensive, for products that only a few might be interested in. Opening such mail may invoke pop-up advertisements or worse. Visiting a website may open a pop-up ad as you enter or as you leave. It may even trick you into unknowingly installing software, which will bring you even more ads from time to time.
How are people using the Internet
Given the abusive negatives listed above, it is not surprising that people are in a defensive mood about the Internet. They build a series of walls to protect themselves from unwanted intruders - firewalls, antivirus programmes, e-mail filters and blockers, etc. The list keeps expanding as the barbarians find new ways to attempt to breach the walls.
Nevertheless people do want to benefit from the rich knowledge that is available on the Internet.
What Computers do well
Computers are incredibly fast at handling vast quantities of information such as characters, words, symbols, or numbers. When dealing with such information, they can be truly mind-boggling. Finding all instances of a word in a multi-year newspaper archive is a matter of milliseconds. The computer can easily determine whether a DNA sequence for a smeared finger print on a discarded soft drink matches the DNA for anyone in a national database.
Even more complex tasks that are impossible for human beings can be done. Suppose a high magnification image seems very fuzzy. A computer can render the image sharp so that faces can be clearly recognized.
Where the computer is less adept is in analyzing images. Even the simplest example of deciphering typed words within an image is usually done in an imperfect way.
A computer also finds it very difficult to handle a concept. Even for a computer to analyze a newspaper article and determine whether the article supported or was against the official party line of the government would be beyond the power of present day software.
What human beings do well?
Human beings do certain things with ease that computers have a real problem with. Humans can rapidly understand the content of a visual image and pick up associated impressions from the colour or style.
We can also understand complex concepts and draw intelligent conclusions from such concepts.
Why Search Engines?
If you know where to go and look on the Internet, then the information is often readily at hand. The challenge comes when you need some information and do not know where to find it. Search Engines are designed to help in these situations.
Only one search engine pretends to work in a human way. This is Ask Jeeves. This welcomes you with, "Greetings. What can I help you find today?". However thereafter it behaves just like all the other search engines. Any Search Engine will give you a field on your computer screen, where you are invited to put some keywords or a key phrase. The Search Engine then lists for you all the web pages it knows about in what it "thinks" is the most relevant order.
The $ 64 question is whether this is the most relevant order to the human searcher of information. The human searcher had a certain concept of what he or she was looking for. The computer cannot handle concepts, so it forces the searcher to nominate some keywords that might be relevant to this concept. With the keywords, the Search Engine now has what it needs to turn this into a mathematical problem, which is all it can handle. By some mathematical computing rule (an algorithm), it evaluates all the web pages it has in its database. It then puts the web pages that get the highest score under its mathematical rule at the top of the list.
Will the Search Engine algorithm be relevant for us?
This is where the Catch 22 of the situation comes in. If the Search Engine algorithm is public knowledge, then those people who were trying to send us spam e-mail messages can also devise web pages that will score well for the algorithm. Their websites then would always appear at the top of the rankings list. So the Search Engine owners tend to be somewhat cagey about the exact features of their own algorithms.
In practice, through experimentation and through exchanging information on Internet forums, broad principles on how to do well in Search Engine Research Pages (SERP's to the experts) have become known. Web pages can even be "tweaked" to rank higher according to these broad principles. Search Engine Optimization, as it is called, or SEO can be effective in moving web pages higher in the SERP's.
Search Engine Optimized web pages may not Sell Effectively
Being higher in the SERP's is not the end of the story. Remember that computers produce SERP's by the application of a mathematical formula. That is what computers are good at. It is not necessarily the answer the human searcher was looking for. A visual analogy may help.
To the search engine, the web page is a collection of text items. Think of the web page as looking like a newspaper article to the Search Engine. It is almost like a Blur of ideas. Computers can compare two Blurs (like 2 newspaper articles) and say which of the two is closer to (more relevant to) a certain keyword. However a human being faced with these same two newspaper articles might labour over them both and find it difficult to tell which was more relevant.
Unfortunately the typical SEO process adds many more words to the text. It makes the Blur much bigger, but tries to do this in a way that the Search Engine will assess as more relevant. This may do nothing for the human searcher. If done poorly, it may even become a turn-off for the human searcher.
What appeals to the Human searcher?
If the two newspaper articles also had two photographs in them (images), this would do nothing for the analysis done by the Search Engine. Search Engines do not see images. On the other hand, the human searcher might instantly see that one article was very much more relevant than the other.
This is the fundamental difference between computers (Search Engines) and human searchers. Computers can compare with ease two fuzzy Blurs of ideas and decide which is more relevant. Human searchers are no good at this. Instead humans are very much happier comparing clearly defined items. Beacons are very much better for humans than Blurs.
Check it out in the sky. There are Blurs of light that are called nebulae. These are clusters of very faint stars. You really have to look carefully to spot them. There are other point sources of light in the sky that are beaming less total light than the nebulae. However our eye is drawn to these Beacons.
How can my website become a Beacon?
If the website is to become a Beacon that attracts potential customers, there must be a focus to the web page. A clear message must beam out that is attractive to the potential customer. The easiest way is to show that this web page can provide something that meets the potential customer's needs like no other web page can. Figure out what a potential customer is looking for and then make sure that this website provides it like no other. The simplest example of what could be the attractive element in the Beacon is a slogan. Chosen correctly, a slogan should encourage the visitor to be looking for more information because important needs will be met.
How can you avoid what Jakob Nielsen fears will happen?
Even if the website as a whole is a Beacon, we still have the problem identified by Jakob Nielsen and others at the start of this newsletter. Search Engines such as Google may possibly "make people leave your site faster". Google is changing its methods and is now often showing "interior" pages in response to a search query. Unless the visitor can see clearly how to get back to the place where a purchase can be made, he or she may click away. However if the Beacon is sufficiently strong and evident on every web page in the website, then the visitor has a reason to stay on the website to fully identify what is on offer.
In summary, there is a danger that a process of over-simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may cause a website to become even more of a Blur of keywords. This is less and less likely to be effective with the changing Internet scene. It is much better to create a website that is a Beacon, drawing potential customers to it. This requires a central idea that is very attractive and that can be expressed simply and clearly. This idea must permeate the website. Once the visitor has reached any part of the website, user-friendly navigation must ensure that he or she does not get lost. Different people may have different ways of expressing this central idea: it can be seen as the competitive advantage or the Unique Selling Proposition. Whatever it is, it must be upfront and central.
So what is the best way of determining what will function as this key attraction. Archimedes took a bath to figure out the solution to his problem. Perhaps your great idea for the "hook" in your website will come in this way. A surer and more reliable way is to develop this as part of a strategic marketing process. This will be explored in greater detail in the next newsletter.
If you wish to use the approach above to make your website a Beacon, SMM will be happy to work with you. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Fast Message today, , on what you're looking for.
So do you agree or disagree? Is this message right? Is there some part of this where you have a problem? Would you have liked more information on any of the issues? Whatever your reaction, please give us your feedback. In this way, we can tune the contact of future Newsletters to better meet your needs.
2003 Barry Welford, Montreal, Quebec, Canada