Web Support Blog

February 27, 2007

Writing good titles for searching and browsing your site is important

Filed under: Content Effectiveness, Search — Chris @ 11:21 pm

A few months back I did some work to assemble a training for our knowledge base writers on how to write good titles. Why? Well no matter how good your content may be, if your users cannot find the content, they wont read it. Take for example if you were reading a list of search results — you will determine the relevance of the content (whether you will click-through to read it) predominately by the title. The title is often given more weight to enterprise search engines as well.

Often the case is that you do not have a bad search engine, you just have bad titles. Elinor Mills of CNet wrote an article this month that provides some good examples of poor titles from newspapers who post their stories online.  Here’s a great example from the article:

Caught speedingNew York Post on Barry Bonds’ amphetamine use (2007)

I believe this illustrates the principle well. Very simply, if you were searching on Barry Bonds because folks in the office were talking about potential drug issues, it would be highly unlikely that this title would compel you to click through. Jakob Nielsen also wrote an article about this way back in 1998; not much has changed since then.

If you search Google with “writing good titles” you will find several articles, for which you could come up with a standard for your organization (Jakob’s 1998 article was the 3rd result). Take for example “Writing Better Page Titles” (2nd result); though it refers to web page titles, you can apply the concepts to knowledge content titles too.

Let me conclude with three tips that are important to me:

  1. Make sure the most descriptive and important words are within the first 3 to 5 words of your title. For example, if you had several titles on “How to do…”, it would be difficult for the user to find the specific how to they want. For this article, I have “writing”, “titles”, and “searching” within the first 5 words.
  2. Write your title last. It is okay to have a temporary title to use as your objective or guide while writing, but go back to it and refine once you have finished writing your content.
  3. Search your site with the concepts or phrases that you would expect users to use to find your content, before you write it. Perhaps you will find there is already similar information available, and you just need to improve on it. Or perhaps the information returned is very different, so you may need to rethink how you would write your title (and content) before you publish it. Finally after published, repeat your search to validate your content is returned as you would expect.

How are the titles on your web support site?


October 11, 2006

Content Effectiveness and Functionalism: Update and Misc.

Filed under: Content Effectiveness, General, Web Analytics — Chris @ 4:43 am

Since I posted my whitepaper on Content Effectiveness and Functionalism, I have been working through the next steps: applying. In doing so, I discovered that I may not have always applied the right terms in some cases. The good news is, with Functionalism, the terms are not the important part, it is the methodology. So I have updated the paper with a slight variation to a few of the terms, but the KPIs did not change. If you go to the original post, you will get the update version, or you can get it here.

As I said, they key to Functionalism is the methodology, not the terms. In evaluating your site, whether you are focusing on content effectiveness like me, or another aspect, consider the purpose of each page in your site. A common method to use is a funnel and a fallout report. When you examine your fallout report, what actions do you take? Well if you used Functionalism, you would have KPIs for the page where you lost your users, and therefore you would have some idea as to where the page was failing.


On a completely different subject, this weekend I posted on my other blog two keyboard shortcut guides. There is one guide for Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts and the other is for Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts. The guides can be printed double-sided and folded in three (tri-fold), and they make a handy desk reference until you learn the shortcuts. Follow the links above to get your own copy or go to my blog Skimming the Cream Off the Top.

October 5, 2006

Assumption: The Content Exit Page

Filed under: Content Effectiveness, Web Analytics — Chris @ 4:55 pm

I made some assumptions in my whitepaper on Content Effectivenss and Functionalism, so I want to discuss them over the next few weeks. The first assumption is that most users of your site will exit after reading (or viewing) the information they need, or when they give up. This assumption means that the best way to validate whether your content was effective or not, is to look at what the customer did after reading it. This is a model I have followed for years, but was recently supported by Elliott Masie.

As Mr. Masie pointed out in his discussion of Fingertip Knowledge (see my post: Fingertip Knowledge: Learning-on-Demand), people are more and learning as they need it. So, they are not reading ahead and learning what they may need later, rather they are searching for an answer once they run into an issue. Likewise, once they find the answer, they are going back to their original task. Take for example the case of a user who sent a document to their laser printer, and it jams. The user was not trying to learn all about the printer and specifically jams, the user was working on a document and wanted a printed version. Therefore the user will go to a support site, try and learn how to correct the jam problem, and then return to their real work.

You can apply this same concept to other support situations too. Take the example of the user who is writing code and he or she runs into a problem — perhaps a syntax issue. They go to Google, enter related terms, filter through the results. Once the user finds the answer, he or she does not continue this process, they go about their original task — writing code. So, from the perspective of the support site, they see the last transaction with the user is reading a piece of content.

If you are still with me, it is easy to then apply Functionalism to measure how effective an existing piece of content is (our Explainer/Converter page). Divide your Exit Rate by the number of times the content has been viewed and you will get a percentage (result x 100). The higher the percentage, the more effective the content. For example, if you have 1000 views and 10 exits then the rating is 1%; likewise, 1000 visits with 100 exits is 10%. This is an easy way to identify valuable content. Remember to also use the Exit Propensity concept: look across all your content and identify your worst offenders. I would encourage you to consider some weighting too — i.e. apply the formula to your most frequently viewed content instead of all your content.

Back to our formula (Exit Rate / Page Views * 100) If the percentage is low, then you need to look at other measures. First, consider the causes. Likely if users are viewing the content, the title and description was compelling enough for the user to click-through. So I would consider these possible causes:

  1. Mismatch between title and description and the actual content
  2. Content is outdated
  3. Content is incomplete
  4. Content does not written at the users’ level or too complex

All of these symptoms are difficult to diagnose without having an expert evaluate it — which can be expensive. Therefore if you have a lot of this, it may payoff to look at your creation process. (We will save this discussion for another time.) With that being said, there may be some cluses to look for. If users refine searches and look at other content on your site after viewing this content, it may be a sign of mismatch or incomplete content. If users have a tendency to spend a long time with the content, then it is likely at the wrong level or too complex. Through process of elimination, you should conclude that other content likely fits the outdated category.

Enough for today… I think this gives a lot to consider how it could fit into your organization. Again, I will continue to address the assumptions in the whitepaper over the next few weeks. Later, I will dig deeper into the analysis and diagnostic issues, so we can make corrections based on what the data is telling us.

October 1, 2006

Content Effectiveness and Functionalism

Filed under: Content Effectiveness, Web Analytics — Chris @ 9:07 pm

My entire career has been in customer support, with the last 11 specifically in the web support space. Naturally everyone has asked me, “How do you identify a web site fix as an equivalent to a phone fix?” When I tell them, “Unless the user tells you that your site fixed their problem, you really cannot tell,” the next question is, “Then how do you know the site is working?” Well, it takes some assumptions: (1) if your content is right (timely, accurate, and relevant), then your users are solving their problems. And, (2) customers will leave when they have solved their problem or have gotten tired of looking for the solution. If you expand on assumption (2), by watching where customers exit on your site, the number of searches made, and content pages viewed, you can get a really good picture of what is working and what is not.

With these assumptions in mind, I set out to try and identify the content effectiveness on my site – as that is what drives customer success. In this quest, I looked for others who are already doing this, others who have a different view, or others who have a solution for identifying a self-support success. It seems the web analytics vendors have yet to work in this space and the call center organizations are still stuck on trying to find the phone fix equivalent. In other words, I have not been successful in my quest.

Recently though I found a whitepaper, Functionalism: A New Approach to Web Analytics on Gary Angel’s blog, SEMAngel. Gary is the President of SEMphonic, a company that has over 10 years of experience in the analytics space. To make a long story short, I was able to take the methodology from the whitepaper and apply it to content effectiveness. The whitepaper I wrote, Content Effectiveness and Functionalism, discusses how you can use Functionalism to identify the health of your content, and where to focus your efforts to improve your content (its effectiveness).

Below is a short list of basic assumptions I made in writing the paper.

1. Your support set is segmented by product. (In addition, it can also be segmented by language and region/localized.)
2. Your primary support site goal is to provide self-support.
3. Majority of your users use the Fingertip Knowledge approach. (Most users use your site to solve an immediate issue or problem, not for proactive learning.)

In future posts I will discuss the methodology in further detail, answering questions, and drilling-down to the next level of the methodology.

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