30 January 2006

Web sites and the empty page syndrome

I wrote a piece on a search engine optimisation forum yesterday evening about how we use the word 'directory' to describe two very different things: commercial noticeboards (95%) used for search engine marketing purposes, and real directories (5%) for consumers.

In it, I described three tell-tale signs for spotting a noticeboard...

  1. Ongoing fees. If any payments made are renewable (eg annually) then that's an advertising fee and the site is not a directory. After all, if a listing is relevant enough to get onto the site in the first place, does its usefulness to a site visitor change at midnight when its current payment runs out? Clearly not.
  2. Empty Categories. If a site has empty categories it is a clear sign it is a noticeboard. Empty categories are no use to visitors. The only reasons for publishing an empty category are to impress search engines and entice potential submissions.
  3. Description. Where does the description come from? If it is supplied by the listed company itself, the site is a noticeboard. Of course we don't know what the copy supplied in any submission was... but the word "we" is a dead give-away. If it appears in any listing, the site is a noticeboard, not a directory.


Number two particularly irritates me as a user. You go to a directory, maybe because it has been highly listed on Google, expecting to see a list of organisations in the category of interest... and there's nothing there!

I mention it now because I've just visited an accommodation video review website (zoom + go, I'm not going to link to them) who claim to have "the internet's largest collection of traveller-submitted videos". Sadly the site looks a lot more comprehensive than it really is because they publish empty categories, demonstrating how search engines are more important to them than users.

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