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Your Web Site Should Have an Opinion

  |  March 27, 2002   |  Comments

Facts are important. But which facts are more important than others? Your Web site should let people know.

People want your opinion when they come to your Web site. They want to know why you think your products are so good. They want to know the latest news from your organization. They want to know why you are such a great company to do business with.

A false myth has arisen on the Web, creating a picture of "power searchers." These rugged individuals wield a search engine to get to the facts. They scour the Internet daily, digging away at the data mountain, unearthing that content jewel from the 600 billion documents. In fact, these people are almost as rare as the content jewel.

Average people who use the Web are conservative and impatient. They don't know exactly what they are looking for. Perhaps they are thinking of buying a notebook computer and wondering what issues they should consider. A Xerox PARC study describes this type of person as a "content gatherer."

A recent report by Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering found that on the apparel and home goods Web sites he studied, many customers never even used search. The March issue of the IEEE CS Computer magazine reports on a study that paints a picture of a very conservative Web searcher:

Despite commonly retrieving a large number of Web sites, users tend to view few results pages per query. This trend appears to be increasing with the majority of Web users not browsing beyond the first or second page of results.

I have often said that while industrial societies suffer from scarcity, digital societies suffer from glut. In our digital economy, content has too often become a commodity. Digital content, with a reproduction cost close to zero, is being endlessly reproduced on the Web. There is too much content, and people are responding by becoming more conservative in how they consume it.

This is a huge challenge for any organization wanting to succeed on the Web. How is your content going to stand out? How do you get conservative, impatient readers to look at your content? Having an opinion is a good start.

An opinion puts things into context. Yes, people like the facts. What most people want, though, are the facts put into context. They want you to tell them why your product is so much better than your competitors'. They want to know what makes you so different.

No, they don't want generic, marketing hyperbole, but they do want to be sold. Why else are they on your Web site? Commerce is selling with people. E-commerce is selling with content. Your content won't sell if it doesn't have an opinion and attitude.

An intranet requires an opinion just as much as a public Web site. Staffers who use the intranet are equally conservative and impatient. They don't jump for joy when they see 100 technical papers on a particular subject area. They are attracted to statements such as, "Of these 100 papers, here are the 5 you should read first."

Of course, opinion is subjective. But if people don't want subjective opinions, then why do they still buy The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, or The Irish Times?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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