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Optimizing the sign outside your office door

June 8th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Since visitors to your website don’t make much noise, it’s easy to ignore them. But it would be entirely different if they came walking into your office.

As I suggested in a previous post, “Keeping visitors away from your website,” sometimes the best way to encourage the right visitors is to discourage the wrong visitors. Search logs tell you the keywords that visitors used to reach you – and they sometimes surprise me. If your titles, headings and links are clear enough that visitors can quickly say to themselves, “Oops, wrong site,” then they are clear enough to explain what your site is about, and why I might want to visit it. The keywords that make a visitor decide that your site is for them are the same keywords that cause a search engine to give your site higher rankings.

Because we share our building with International Student Services, despite their excellent signs in the stairwell, we sometimes get visitors at our door looking for something very different than what we can offer (we know a lot about HTML and CSS, but not much about F-1 or J-1 visas). But what if the sign outside our office door simply said, “Office”? How would international students know they were on the wrong floor? As far as that goes, if every office on our floor was labeled “Office”, a lot more people would be lost!

If the sign outside your door – like the title on your web page – didn’t clearly tell visitors where they were, what choice would visitors have but to walk into your office and say, “Excuse me, I’m looking for…?”

If that started happening to me, I would pretty quickly start optimizing my office sign, to tell visitors who I was, and what I could or couldn’t do for them. If necessary, I would add navigation, with big arrows, to tell them how to find the people they were really looking for. If it kept happening, I would put a sign in the stairwell to direct visitors to the right floor (“International Student Services: Second Floor – That Way”). If visitors still kept creeping into my office, preventing me from getting any work done, I would start thinking about what it would take to get a building sign installed outside. If that still didn’t help, I would launch a public information campaign, with the message, “Actually, we don’t work with visas at all, though we’re upstairs from the people who do…”

In the end, after we’d finished redirecting all the misguided visitors by clearly telling everyone what we really do, we might have more visitors than we used to, and they would be the right visitors – visitors whom we can actually help.

I gained new insight into this problem only today. Researching office signs in another part of campus, in preparation to write this blog post, I wandered into a large room with glass doors and windows – but not a single sign. A quite attractive room, by the way, except at that moment I had no idea where I was. The situation reminded me of my visits to certain websites. The woman at the desk asked, “Can I help you?” – a question that is ordinarily easy for me to answer. “This is the dean’s office,” she volunteered. I apologized for bothering her, and started toward the door. Except that none of the doors had signs, and I had forgotten which one I had come through.

Monday, June 8th, 2009 Search
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