You may have never heard the term “findability” before, but it is just as important to your website’s user experience as great design and quality content. What is “findability” and why is it so important?
Imagine if you were informed of a “brick and mortar” retail store that stocked popular goods at deeply discounted prices. At your earliest convenience, you visited the store, eager to engage in bargain shopping. However, upon entering, you notice there are no shelves or pallets stacked with merchandise, no shopping isles or even product bins.
Instead, all of the store’s merchandise is piled haphazardly in a gigantic pile right in the middle of the sales floor. In addition, there are no store associates available to assist you. In order to find the product you wish to purchase, you have to dig through this pile and hope that the product in question is actually in stock. How deep would the discounts have to be to make this incredibly frustrating shopping experience worthwhile to you? How quickly would you abandon your search and leave the store empty-handed?
Websites Can Be Very Disorganized
While this hypothetical retail store may sound dysfunctional and even comical, many companies and organizations are unaware that the content hosted on their websites may be just as disorganized, and visitors and customers may be leaving their websites in frustration just as quickly as a frustrated customer may leave this highly-disorganized retail store. If you are fielding complaints from your customers that content is difficult to find on your website, or if you are having trouble locating a product or resource on your own website, you may need to measure and improve the findability of your website and web content.
Simply put, findability is a measurement of how easy it is to locate and retrieve content hosted on your website. Findability is usually measured in two ways:
1) How easily a human user can locate and retrieve content hosted on your website.
2) How easily a search engine “web crawler” can locate and index content hosted on your website.
Since both human visitors and search engines are vitally important to the success of your website and web presence, it is important to ensure that the findability of your website content is optimized for both.
How Should I Begin Testing The Findability Of My Website?
The best way to begin measuring the findability of your website is to identify a product or service, a resource such as a web form or document, or web content such as a blog post or video and attempt to locate this content on your website, both by using a search engine like Google and by visiting the homepage of your website and utilizing menus and internal search capabilities that are present on your homepage. How easily were you able to locate this sample content? When you entered the name of your company and the name or description of the content in a search engine, did the search engine easily locate the content? If you searched for the content from the homepage of your website, were you able to easily locate it by utilizing the menus and/or internal search capabilities of your website?
If you were able to easily locate this content through both methods, you may want to repeat the tests a few more times using other samples of your hosted web content. If these additional tests are successful, the findability of your website is most likely adequate or even exceptional!
Where Is My Content?
If you were unable to locate the sampled content, the next step will be to verify that the content is actually available on your web server. More specific search engine queries may have to be made by utilizing the advanced features of the search engine, or you may have to manually locate the content on your web server yourself. If you are not sure how to access your web server and locate content, you may have to seek the guidance and support of a professional.
If the content is available, but you are not easily able to locate it, the next step is determining why the findability of this content is poor. There may be technical reasons – you or your webmaster may have accidentally enabled a feature that turns away web crawlers, such as a “NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW” tag embedded in the HTML of your website or in a text file. Your content may be disorganized or accidentally hidden in some way among other files on your web server, or the file permissions may be misaligned. Finally, it is also possible that the internal search tools built in to your website are malfunctioning or poorly-coded. If the findability of your web content is poor, it may be necessary to seek the assistance of a professional.