One Way To Fundamentally Improve Your Digital Estate’s Visitor Experience
We recently carried out a high-level study to measure the number of websites global automotive companies have in their digital estates. You can see the results in the image above
It turns out that major businesses in other sectors and many higher education institutions also have digital estates with very large numbers of websites (and social media presences and content on other external platforms).
Managing that many independent websites is challenging and over time organizations tend to lose track of their digital marketing and other online presences. Their customers, business partners and other audiences then face unnecessarily complex and confusing journeys as they look for information or try to complete tasks.
That confusion and complexity is further exacerbated by the many misconfigured websites in those digital estates. Sites that can be tricky to find and fix.
The detailed setup matters because an organization’s hundreds or thousands of website homepages are often their most important, most frequently visited content. But, fundamental configuration errors can have visitors struggling to find what they need.
Here’s why. When website visitors want Wikipedia’s home page or a content creator want to link to the site they can choose any of the following variations:
Wikipedia prefers the last choice as its definitive or canonical homepage address. Website visitors expect to be taken to Wikipedia’s homepage regardless of which formulation they enter: which for Wikipedia is exactly what happens. And, our presumption is web professionals typically view the four as referring to the same website, not four different sites.
To date, our research suggests this behaviour happens just over half the time: roughly, 50% of servers are configured to recognize all four variants and direct visitors to an organization’s canonical homepage.
Moving away from high traffic locations and deeper into digital estates things start to go awry. And, locating and fixing issues can be tough.
Here are two common issues, which we’ve illustrated from Harvard University’s digital estate, simply because it is so large and complex it yields examples of just about every web-related concern.
Sometimes servers don’t recognize all the homepage variants. Visitors then have to deal with pages that don’t respond or load or take them to pages or content they weren’t expecting. Try clicking on each of the following, your browser will eventually time out on the third variant:
- http://fas.harvard.edu/ (-> https://www.fas.harvard.edu/)
- http://www.fas.harvard.edu/ (-> https://www.fas.harvard.edu/)
Other times visitor can end up on “different” sites depending on which URL version is used in a link or entered in a browser. Or, maybe it’s the same site? Try clicking on each of the following:
- http://jchs.harvard.edu/ (-> https://jchs.harvard.edu/)
- http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/ (-> https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/)
You will discover the “same” website has two different addresses, and visitors can’t tell if they are viewing identical content or not. And, they shouldn’t have to figure this out. (Our software’s page content comparison feature shows the two pages are, in fact, identical).
To make matters worse, this digital estate also has examples of the same situation, where the content on the “two sites” is actually slightly different. That’s a poor user experience and presents an interesting content management conundrum for the content owners.
Find and Fix
Organizations looking to tell their stories and ensure users can find the information they seek and readily complete tasks need to get a handle on their digital estates. And, that process includes finding every website, every homepage and eliminating duplicates to build an accurate picture.
Because that accurate picture is the foundation on which gains in accessibility, content effectiveness, data privacy, user journeys and effectiveness can be built.